Replicating a Melodic Idea Throughout Your Song

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.Gary Ewer

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” E-booksGary Ewer is the author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” suite of e-books. Download them today, and discover how to turn your songs into hits.
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Everyone knows that the more familiar someone is with a song, the more they tend to like it. The effect of familiarity works even (or especially) if you are creating something new. You want to have repeating elements within your song. It makes listeners feel “at home” with it, and they’re more likely to feel good about it. Here’s how you can use your new melody to its best effect.

Musical ShapesThe idea here is to create an initial melodic shape or idea that can be repeated in various ways throughout your song. Here’s one of many possible ways that might be done:

MELODIC IDEA AS A HOOK:

  1. Create a short 1 – 2 bar melodic idea that will serve as the start of your chorus.
  2. Use that short idea as your song intro, repeated, or as is.
  3. Use that same idea as a mini-bridge between the chorus and verse 2.
  4. Use the same idea as an ending, or repeated as an outro.

The idea here is that the listener becomes quickly familiar with the melodic idea, and it has the same effect as a landmark does in an unknown city: you feel more willing to explore the unknown city if you’ve got a familiar landmark to keep you from getting lost.

Here’s another way to use melodic shape:

MELODIC IDEA AS A MOTIF:

  1. A motif is simply a musical shape that is replicated throughout the song, but not necessarily in the exact same way. If it’s repeated exactly, we call it a hook. If you use the idea as an inspiration for other related ideas, it’s called a motif. So create a Verse 1 melody that has a distinctive melodic shape or rhythm.
  2. Identify one or two distinctive melodic and/or rhythmic ideas that go together to make that melody work.
  3. Find ways to develop those ideas when  creating chorus and bridge melodies. As just one example, if the verse melody consists of two long notes followed by four short notes, try constructing a chorus melody that uses four short notes followed by two long ones.
  4. If the initial melodic idea consists of a rising leap, try writing a new melody that uses a falling leap.

A motif is less obvious to listeners than a hook. And that’s its charm and its power. The listener is only vaguely aware of a connection between the various melodic ideas throughout the song. As far as their concerned, there’s something that connects it all together without being able to be specific about why it’s all working.
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3 Comments

  1. Gary, you’re the man.I’ve been devouring your blog and recommending it to ally my musician friends. I dabble in songwriting but I’m primarily a drummer. I feel strongly that I’m a musician first and drummer second. I’d rather please musicians than impress drummers.I find a lot of interesting ideas and parallels with song writing and the arrangement/journey aspects that drums bring to a song. Would you agree that instrumentally,(not necessarily the core of the composition itself) the drums set the tone of the song more than anything else in many cases? Of course vox are crucial too.
    I’m curious to hear your suggestions for drummers, as someone who has clearly thought through all conceivable aspects and variables of song composition. I’ve been able to work with a number of excellent (rock and jazz) arrangers, and some decent song writers, but no one with the intentional conceptual approach as you. So, do you have any thoughts about drums? Perhaps relating to fills such as hooks vs motifs vs “randomly” improvised? Should the drums nestle into what’s already happening in a song, or bring brand new dimensions? Or do different types of songs require different approaches? I’d love any thoughts or advices. Thanks! -danny

    • HI Danny:

      Thanks for writing, and I appreciate the recommendation of my site to your friends. Regarding drums, while they are of course a vital part of any performance, they can certainly play a crucial role in the very construction of music. I often recommend to songwriters, who are struggling with writer’s block, to try setting up a rhythmic groove on their synth and improvise melodies. While the synth cannot be creative, it never ceases to amaze me how musical ideas will start to flow with just the playing of a simple beat. Even more so, an improv session with a live drummer can be even better.

      So depending on the genre, a drummer can provide an important contribution to the songwriting process, and a good drummer will sense when it’s time to take a leadership role, and when it’s time to play a more supportive role. Excellent drummers become excellent primarily because they are able to listen to the music around them and create/play patterns that work. In that regard, every performance will be a combination of pre-planned patterns infused with improvised moments. You’ll find that it’s similar with the other instruments in the band. Playing old-time country will require fairly predictable (and somewhat conservative) guitar and bass figures, along with predictable drums; more progressive pop styles will need instrumentalists, including percussionists, who can create and improvise in the moment.

      Hope that helps, and thanks again for your comments.
      -Gary

  2. Pingback: Melodic Motif « Songwright

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