How Melodies Reflect the Form of a Song

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Katy Perry - "Firework" (Teenage Dream)When we think of a song’s melody, we’re often thinking of it in the singular. The fact is, however, that most songs use a variety of different melodies, each one hopefully connecting smoothly to the next one. Verse melodies, when properly constructed, will, in a sense, beg for a chorus. Bridge melodies are an opportunity to bring in new melodic material, a chance to move away from often-repeated melodies of the verse and chorus. There are things you must do to make all of these melodies work. When done well, each melody feels like the natural answer to what has come before it.

Let’s take a look at the various melodies, or melodic fragments, your song will likely use, and the kinds of things you should be doing to make them work:

Song Intro: You can create a melodic fragment, or hook, that repeats at various times throughout your song. Think of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Not all song intros will use melodic material, and in fact, not all songs even need an intro. But a hooky intro can provide important “glue” that allows chorus melodies to connect easily back to a verse melody.

Verse Melody: These melodies tend to be the lowest in pitch range when compared to other melodies of a song. It’s fairly common to see verse melodies that dwell on the 3rd or 5th notes of the song’s key (for example, a song in C major often benefits from dwelling in and around the notes E and G, somewhat avoiding the tonic note.) Because verse lyrics tell a story and reserve strong emotional comment for the chorus, lower range verses tend to work best.

Pre-Chorus Melody: You should consider using a pre-chorus between your verse and chorus if your verse melody is short, and/or doesn’t venture very far harmonically. Pre-chorus melodies usually work their way upward in range, so they work best if your verse ends low, and you want to connect to a higher-pitched melody. Katy Perry’s current hit “Firework” from Teenage Dream is a perfect example.

Chorus Melody: Choruses provide the emotional release of a song, so you’ll usually want the melody to be higher in pitch than the verse, as the higher range allows for stronger emotions. In addition, you’ll want to feature the tonic chord more often. Phrases should start or end with the tonic note, or at least allow the tonic note to be placed in strong positions when it happens: at the beginning of a bar, or coinciding with a tonic chord.

Bridge Melody: A song’s bridge will more often than not allow for an intensification of musical energy. It does this in part by presenting new melodic material in shorter phrases. And it’s also common to see bridge melodies dwelling in the upper singing range, keeping in mind that a bridge melody must connect logically back to the chorus.

Instrumental Solos: An instrumental solo usually occurs as part of a bridge, or as a component in place of a bridge. Solos are usually improvised, but the soloist should consider using parts of previously-heard verse and chorus melodies as a way of helping it to integrate well into the rest of the song.

As a final piece of advice, look purposely for ways to create musical a attachment between the various melodies in your song. For example, if your verse melody uses primarily downward-moving melodic shapes, try using upward moving ones in the chorus. If the verse uses lots of short, snappy notes, look for ways to contrast that with longer notes in the chorus.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” is one of a set of 6 songwriting e-books that will show you how to write great songs, harmonize your melodies, and give you hundreds of chord progressions in the process.

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