Three Bits of Advice for Analyzing Your Melodies

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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Printed MusicThe nature of melody is different depending on the genre you’re writing in, and it’s almost impossible to state any rules. Just as soon as you come up with a rule that governs how good melodies work, someone will show you a melody that does something completely different, and does it amazingly well. Nonetheless, here are three bits of advice to give your melody a fighting chance.

  1. Compare the verse and chorus melodies, especially for range. In general, the verse melody needs to sit a little lower in pitch than the chorus. In addition, a typical verse melody will rise as it approaches the chorus, to provide a smooth connection. An easy way to quickly check and compare basic range is to find the highest and lowest note of the verse, and contrast it with the highest and lowest note of the chorus.
  2. If your verse melody is the same as, or very similar to, the chorus melody, you need to find ways to distinguish each one. Here are some suggestions:
    1. Add vocal harmonies to chorus melodies, and leave verse melodies basically unharmonized.
    2. Intensify the instrumental accompaniment for choruses that are similar to verses. Add percussion, extra instruments, and use higher guitar and keyboard voicings.
    3. Intensify lyrical choices for chorus melodies. This should be happening naturally anyway, since verse lyrics should be describing situations while chorus lyrics should be describing emotions.
  3. Be sure that words that carry emotional meaning or impact are placed in melodically significant places. A melodically significant spot is usually an upward leap of at least a 4th. These upward leaps demand vocal energy which is easily transplanted into the word that occurs at that moment.

There are some very effective melodies that use very, very few notes (“Free Fallin'”, by Tom Petty, for example). So even though we often talk about the importance of contour in a melody, it matters more that the melody works with the lyric and chord progression. A static melody can work, as long as the lyric provides enough interest for the listener to keep listening.
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