Jason Aldean’s latest hit on the Country charts, “Big Green Tractor,” demonstrates a great technique for building melodies that work: plateau pitches. It’s a way of structuring a melody to ensure that you get a controlled build through your song that will match the rise in song energy.
Melody construction is one of those things that leaves many songwriters perplexed. In general, your chances of writing a melody that works increase if you tie the melody’s basic range to the energy level at any given moment. It’s not the only way to have a good melody, but if you allow melody notes to move upward as the energy level increases, you’ve accomplished one of the big responsibilities of a melodic line.
“Big Green Tractor” (written by Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy) does this, and it does another thing: it makes use of what I call plateau pitches to help establish areas of song energy. Here’s how that works.
The song is in E major. For the verse, the majority of the notes hover around the note G# (the 3rd note of the scale), making use of a descending major-3rd as the main melodic motif. This G# plateau, coupled with the descending melodic motif, establishes a relaxed energy level appropriate for narrative-style verse lyrics.
To help the energy level build at the chorus, the focus shifts to a new, higher plateau: the dominant note (B), and now the melodic motif reverses and becomes an ascending figure (G# to B, with occasional C#). The higher plateau note works beautifully with the attempt to bring about a new, higher energy level for the song. And the rising motif (G#-B) injects extra vigour into the melodic lines.
The bridge goes one step further, raising the pitch plateau to its highest level: C#, a great way to allow the bridge to maintain and add to the song’s drive.
If you’re stumped with your latest songwriting attempts, and a melody just isn’t happening, try starting with just plateau pitches. Improvise on those pitches, and you’ll find that certain shapes and ideas will begin to solidify. And try the obvious first: use descending figures in your verse melodies and ascending ones in the chorus, and the songwriting floodgates should open for you.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how to write great songs. It’s just one of a suite of 6 songwriting e-books written by Gary Ewer. (His newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books.) Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..