Creating a Melody Using "Plateau Pitches"

Gary EwerBy Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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Plateau PitchesI use the term “plateau pitches” to describe a way of constructing melodies where the notes dwell on one particular pitch for each section of the song. If you find melodies hard to write, you might want to give it a try, because it can produce melodies that are easy to write and easy to integrate with most lyrics. You might want to check out Jason Aldean’s 2009 album “Wide Open”, and his hit song “Big Green Tractor” as a good example of how this technique works.

The song is in E major. The various plateaus are clear: the verse dwells on G#. The chorus has the melody moving up to B, and the bridge moves up to C#.

You’ll notice that this does not mean, in the case of this particular verse, that G# must be your only note. And in fact, if you interpret the concept of plateau pitches as meaning that you can only use that one note, you’ll be writing a pretty boring song!

But singing in and around that pitch will give that one pitch a special identity and a special purpose; it becomes the “resting point”, of a sort, for that section of the song. You’ll want a plateau pitch to be a note you sing around, both above it and below it.

The obvious advantage of using plateau pitches is that it ensures that you’re moving your pitches generally higher as you go, and that’s how most songs should work, with higher ranges happening later in the song.

So try this method:

  1. Create a chord progression for each section of your song: verse – (pre-chrous optional) – chorus – bridge. It might be a good idea to have a good sense of your lyric at this point, but this can also be developed as the songwriting process unfolds.
  2. Choose a note for each section of your song. Each note will serve as a plateau pitch for that section. Each plateau pitch should move the song higher.
  3. Begin with the first verse 1. Hum or sing your plateau pitch and work through your chord progression. Move the pitch up and down, always returning to your plateau pitch.
  4. Move on to the plateau pitch of the next section. Be aware of little melodic shapes you created for your first section, and see if there’s a way to incorporate those shapes in each subsequent section. In other words, be mindful of using melodic motifs that give your melody a sense of cohesion.

You’ll find, I think, that this plateau pitch technique has a way of making the melody writing process much easier. It starts out by giving an easy framework that can be easily modified and adapted for any songwriting situation.

And it works for any style, genre or tempo. It may feel like an odd way to write a melody at first, as you’ll be writing just one note for each section as a starting point. But once you’ll filled in your complete melodies, listeners will likely not even be aware that you started each section with one simple note.


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One Comment

  1. This a great article and a crucial technique that all writers should understand! It makes me wonder about typical topline songwriters who generally only use their voice to write to an existing track/chord progression on guitar or acapella and how they find their own plateau pitches, I guess its just natural for them as they have absorbed so much melodic material. (as in they don’t sit their with a piano figuring out the pitches they will start each section on – Im talking about people like Claude Kelly, Kara Dioguardi and Jason Blume)

    Its interesting looking at Ryan Tedder or Hilary Lindsay songs and the focus is obviously not on being interesting harmonically. I think this makes the melodies quite easy to sing and the focus of the composition but I do feel sometimes that more complicated harmony/chords gives the song more emotional depth. Just a thought

    Great post!

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