Songwriting Principle No. 9: Tracking the Rise and Fall of your Melodies

Writing a good melody requires several things all working together; chief among them are lyric and harmonies. A melody is good if it seems to complement the emotion of the lyric. The harmonies, of course, need to support the melody. Beyond that, there is another important issue which is often overlooked: melodic shape.

Melodies need countour. While there are good melodies out there that focus on one or two notes, a good melody really needs to have some sort of curve or interesting outline. And, as with the last couple of songwriting principles below, it makes a difference if you’re talking about a verse melody or a chorus melody. That difference forms Songwriting Principle No. 9:

The latter half of verses will often be pitched higher than the first half; chorus notes are often higher than verse notes.

This study of the range of melodic shapes refers directly to the song’s energy. Since the energy of a song needs to be generally in an upward direction (i.e., the end of a song should be more energetic than the beginning), this becomes a very important songwriting principle to follow. Here are some basic tips:

  1. Make sure that as your verse progresses the basic range goes upward. Higher notes should appear toward the end of a verse, because it increases the vocal energy, setting up the chorus energy.
  2. The notes of the chorus should on average be higher than the notes of the verse.
  3. The end of a chorus can allow for a diminishing of energy if it’s going back to a verse.
  4. Since the bridge of a song tends to be one of the more energetic sections, a chorus moving into a bridge doesn’t need to diminish in energy (but might in order to give the beginning of the bridge more punch.

And one other way to raise the notes of a chorus even more is to change key upward, especially on the repeat of a chorus. That rising key will force the notes upward, and will come across to the listener as a higher energy level.


-Gary Ewer (from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website)

Posted in Chord Progressions, Melody, songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , .

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