Focusing on Pitch Plateaus Ensures Well-Crafted Melodies

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P!nk - "Raise Your Glass"There is a particular kind of melodic contour that allows melody notes to sit mainly in and around one particular pitch. Pink’s song “Raise Your Glass” is a good demonstration of this. The beginning of each verse sits mainly on the 3rd of the key: the note B from the key of G major. That’s certainly not to say that the melody doesn’t move away from that pitch – it certainly does. But that B becomes an important feature of the first part of the verse. This kind of “plateau pitch” design allows you to more easily craft your song’s melodies. Here’s how it works.

Incorporating plateau pitches works best in the beginning stages of writing your song, and is especially good if you’re trying to add a melody to an already-existing chord progression and lyric. Regarding lyrics, you should at least have a pretty good idea of what your text will be.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Try starting your song with a tonic chord, improvising a melody that sits on and around the 3rd of that key. It gives you a nice way to start a verse. As you play through your verse’s chord progression, move up and down around the 3rd, always returning to the 3rd.
  2. Don’t restrict your melody to just the 3rd; you want to simply ensure that you keep returning to it, and let it be an important feature.
  3. When you get to the chorus, you’ll want to move your plateau to a higher pitch. In Pink’s “Raise Your Glass”, she raises up to the upper tonic note. A higher plateau pitch generates song energy.
  4. If you use a pre-chorus, you can use that part to move your melody higher, so a plateau pitch may not be necessary here.
  5. Bridge melodies, especially the kind of bridge meant to build energy for that final set of chorus repeats, can feature an even higher plateau pitch. For example, if your chorus features the tonic note, you might consider starting your bridge on a vi-chord, and feature the upper 3rd note of your key (i.e., the same plateau pitch as your verse, but one octave higher.

Plateau pitches are a great way to write melodies because it makes it easy to control the overall contour of your song. You know that the verse plateau will be lower, the chorus one higher, and the bridge plateau even higher.

One cautionary note: melodies written using plateau pitches can have a distinctive kind of sound, so you won’t be able to use this technique with every song.

But certainly if you’re stumped at the melody-stage of your song, try simply improvising in and around one pitch, and the ideas will start to flow.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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