If your melody dwells mostly on one note, with only a few rises and dips, don’t be surprised if no one remembers it once the song is over.
In order for a song melody to be memorable, it needs to have shape.
The issue of boring, forgettable melodies, occurs most frequently when you start the process of songwriting by creating a chord progression first (usually with an accompanying rhythmic hook.) Starting a song this way isn’t wrong, but it puts songwriters in the position of trying to construct a melody that fits that chord progression. The danger is that the melody then becomes subservient to the chords. Don’t let that happen!
Trying to remember a flat, shapeless melody is like trying to recall a flat, uninteresting meadow that has no brook, trees, rises or falls. A meadow suddenly becomes gorgeous with the simple addition of a tree, or a small brook, or even just a hill. So melodies don’t need a lot… they just need something that draws attention to itself in a good way.
That being said, melodies with lots of repeated notes can be good as long as the lyric that it’s accompanying is strong. In that case, it’s the lyric itself that becomes the memorable factor. And in that case, a melody with many repeated notes are actually good for accompanying lyrics that describe anger or strong opinions.
Another important factor: melodies for verses will usually work better if they’re pitched a little lower than chorus melodies. In addition, they usually shouldn’t hit the key note (tonic note) as often, dwelling instead on other notes within the key. This is because the tonic note has a way of making a stronger statement, something we associate with chorus lyrics.
Melodies will be more memorable if there’s something that stands out. The following is an example of what I’m talking about.
[VISIT “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website to hear samples.]
Example 1 is a melody with no contour… essentially, it’s the same note played over and over:
The next example takes just two of the notes of the melody and changes them. Suddenly, the melody becomes stronger and more memorable:
To summarize, here are some tips for writing memorable melodies:
- In general, a chorus melody should be pitched higher than a verse melody.
- A chorus melody should probably make more use of the tonic (key) note than a verse melody.
- A melody needs a high point somewhere, usually toward the end of whatever section it resides in.
- Melodies that sound like arpeggios (outlining chords) are less interesting and harder to remember than melodies that move by step.
- Melodies that use lots of repeated notes are good for strong lyrics that depict strong or opinionated points of view. That way, the lyrics themselves become the memorable element.
Giving your melodies a little shape is all it takes to make it memorable. Think of it this way: If you’re looking at a row of birds sitting on a wire, you’ll remember that one bird that is slightly different, no matter what it is that makes it different.
-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website