Written by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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In my last post, I wrote about the use of repetition in your songwriting. Too much of it, or not enough of it, result in the same audience reaction: boredom. There’s a song on the Billboard Heatseeker charts these days: “Shark in the Water”, by English singer VV Brown. It demonstrates successfully how to take a melodic idea or motif from a verse, and replicate it in the chorus without the use of direct repetition.
The beauty of this kind of repetition is that it makes a strong connection between the verse and chorus without listeners being overtly aware that it’s happening. Rather than hearing repetition, the listener simply hears connection, and that’s a good thing.
The song is in E major, and the formal design of “Shark in the Water” is a simple verse-chorus-bridge plan:
Verse-chorus connection comes from the use of a descending 3rd. The verse plays with plateau pitches – first dwelling on the note G# (“Sometimes I get my head in a dilly..”), then moving to E (“Feeling so lost, ticking you off..”)
This intervallic relationship becomes an important structural element for the song, and is used to create the chorus melody: “Baby, there’s a shark in the water..” This opening line of the chorus is comprised of a repeating descending 3rd. But because choruses need more energy than verses, the pitches are moved up to the 5th and 3rd of the key, to the notes B and G#.
Listeners aren’t meant to necessarily notice this relationship between verse and chorus, and that’s the great thing about musical motifs: they do their work in the background, and people will sense the connection without it being obvious.
One other thing about melody and formal design: because the verse and chorus both feature descending melodic figures, it’s great if you can do something that contrasts that idea in the bridge. And that’s what happens here. The bridge melody features an ascending scale passage that gradually builds energy back to meet the chorus.
The use of the melodic 3rd as an important interval is what helps connect the various elements of “Shark in the Water” together. When you write your songs, it’s good to examine the various melodies that you use throughout, and find ways to connect them together. Use the bridge to develop a new melodic idea that can build energy back to the final chorus repeats.
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