Fredrik Melius Christiansen, the son of a Norwegian factory worker, was born in Eidsvold, municipality in Akershus county, Norway. He took up music at an early age: By three years old he could play his first clarinet, and at six he was marching in his father's band. In addition to clarinet, he went on to learn the violin, piano, and pipe organ. In his teens, he became so proficient at the pipe organ as to be able to take his teacher's place as the organist in Sunday services, although his true passion was the violin. To pay for his lessons, he himself taught piano and violin to beginners, but soon realized that he would meet with limited success in his home country. Thus, at 17, F. Melius emigrated to the United States.
He briefly stayed with his uncle in Oakland, California but was unable to find work as an organist. He then moved to Washburn, Wisconsin where his brother Karl resided, staying for two years before he moved on to Marinette, Wisconsin. In Marinette, he directed both the city band and the church choir, in addition to teaching private lessons. It was there that he witnessed a performance by a male quartet from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, which left a favorable impression and led to his enrollment in 1892.
After completing the freshman courses at Augsburg, he attended the
Northwestern Conservatory of Music, graduating with honors in his studies of music theory and counterpoint. He returned to Marinette to marry Edith Lindem, and in 1897, moved to Leipzig, Germany to study for two years at the Royal Conservatory of Music. While there, he became a regular attendee of the St. Thomas Choir, directed by Gustav Schreck, who was F. Melius' teacher in counterpoint, conducting, and composition. Following the completion of his diploma, F. Melius moved back to Minneapolis with his wife and first child, Elmer, where he enjoyed success as a violin faculty member of Northwestern Conservatory of Music, an organist in a local Lutheran church, and the director of the Kjerulf Male Chorus.