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Creating melodies can turn your brain to mush. You can have a chord progression that you really like, and you may even have some great lyric ideas. But then you try to get something going melodically and nothing happens. Or worse, every melodic idea you concoct sounds random, cluttered or muddled. This leads to frustration, and can make you feel like you’re in the midst of a solid case of writer’s block. But in fact, you’re really just forgetting that melodies need a framework. It’s time to start back at the beginning, and this time add some structure to your melodic ideas.
There is a simple tried-&-true way to create a melody that works every time, and it involves establishing melodic levels, what I call plateau pitches. I’ve mentioned this before: think of each section of your song (verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, etc.) as having one pitch that the melody lives in and around.
Just establishing that one important pitch, the one that gets associated with that section of the song, doesn’t just add structure; it produces for you an easy way to create the rest of your melody. Simply start improvising melodic shapes. When in doubt, return to your plateau pitch.
And don’t be afraid to repeat that plateau pitch over and over. You’d be surprised how many good melodies feature notes that repeat a lot. This is particularly true of choruses, but successful songs can feature this repeated note idea even in verses. Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” is a good example.
Recently I did an article about Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” It’s a great example of how you can use two different plateau pitches in one song section. The song is in C minor. The verse uses two different “plateaus”: middle C as a low note, and the note G as the upper one. She then constructs a melody that moves up and down between these two pitches, but dwells mainly on one or the other.
She then moves up to the high C (an octave above middle C) as the plateau of the chorus.
Here are some things to keep in mind when using plateau pitches as a way of constructing a melody:
- Your choice of plateau pitch will need to be worked out in conjunction with your chord choices.
- Plateau pitches usually move upward as a song progresses. Use lower plateaus for your verse, and a higher one for your chorus. Since most song bridges are more energetic than the verse or chorus, use your highest plateaus in a bridge.
- Using plateaus doesn’t necessarily mean that you must repeat those notes endlessly. Try thinking of a plateau as an upper limit to which your melody keeps rising to meet.
- The plateau pitch technique doesn’t require you to use it everywhere. For example, you may choose to use it in a chorus only, if you’ve got a good verse melody that moves around mainly by step with very few repeated notes.
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