Creating Melodies with Symmetrical Patterns

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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Taio Cruz - Break Your HeartMelodies constructed of repeating patterns are usually the easiest melodies to remember, so if writing hit songs is of interest to you, you’ll want to be sure that the listener can perceive recurring shapes. Symmetry is a type of pattern that creates mirror images of a melodic fragment. “Break Your Heart”, a current hit by Taio Cruz, is a good model of melodic symmetry to study.

Symmetry is achieved in “Break Your Heart” by comparing the melodic cells used for the verse, the pre-chorus, and the chorus. While it would be considered a normal course of action to keep moving your pitches higher through each successive formal component, we find that the highest notes are actually in the pre-chorus.

The verse melody plays with a close grouping of notes: Eb-D-Bb-C, and mostly presented in that order – stepwise with a small descending minor 3rd leap between D and Bb.

The job of a pre-chorus is generally to build forward momentum and increase song energy. Cruz achieves this by incorporating an octave leap, but then retaining the descending minor 3rd leap, this time between Bb and G.

The chorus moves back down to the range of the verse, and this provides the melodic symmetry. Here’s a map of how that looks:

Break Your Heart - Melodic Comparisons

The real question is why this kind of symmetry works so well. One would think that bringing the melody back down to a lower range for the chorus might be considered a bad move, as lower melodies generally dissipate energy.

But I think in this case, the benefit of the strength that comes from using symmetrical melodic shapes actually contributes to melodic energy.

Another option for a melodic shape that works would have been to construct a pre-chorus that moves the melody up to the note G, and use the present pre-chorus as a chorus: that octave leap would suit a chorus well.

The great thing about the kind of symmetry we find in “Break Your Heart” is that it’s not immediately obvious. But as we know, musical construction affects listeners in tacit ways. It’s not necessary for a compositional technique to be obvious to us in order for us to be affected by it.
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One Comment

  1. Awesome article! I actually ran across this article as I was listening to “Break Your Heart!” How cool! Now I know what the correct term is, pre-chorus. I love the pre-chorus, it’s got great melodic sound.
    Thanks 🙂

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