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When we talk about a song’s melody as being “singable”, we usually mean easily singable. In most cases, it’s what you should be pursuing as a songwriter. And it’s tricky, because the melodies that are the easiest to sing are the ones that are not too adventurous, and use a somewhat restricted range. Unfortunately, those are the qualities that can produce unappealing, mundane melodies. So writing good melodies that are at the same time beautiful and interesting is a challenge. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you work out the melody for your next song.
- Control the lower versus upper range; an octave is usually plenty. If the distance between the lowest and highest notes of the melody is too great, it presents technical problems for many singers. That reduces the number of singers who will want to consider adding your song to their performance list. Also, melodies with a large range may make patterns and motifs difficult to use.
- Avoid melodies that hover around one or two notes. This is the opposite problem to the tip listed above. Melodies that use a restricted range can be boring for the fact that the listener gets tired of hearing the same pitches over and over again. There is a way to do this, however. It’s not unusual to have a verse melody dwell around a “plateau pitch”, as a story or situation is described. But if you do, use the chorus to develop a more interesting melody with contour.
- Occasional melodic leaps are good. A singable melody uses mainly stepwise motion (i.e., moving from one note to an adjacent one). But all stepwise can be too predictable, and will impede melodic energy. A good melody will use occasional leaps. An upward leap can be a good way to generate emotional energy.
- Look for ways to connect verse and chorus melodies. In other words, even though verse and chorus melodies are usually different, it’s common to have verse melodies rise after the midpoint (or during the pre-chorus) to meet the start of the chorus melody. This isn’t a rule, of course, because it can be effective to have a chorus or refrain start in a dramatically different range than the verse. But if you find that the problem with your song is that the chorus seems to come out of nowhere, try looking at the end of the verse and the start of your chorus. There should be a way to write them so that they “meet in the middle.”
- Try to construct a melody to have a “climactic moment”. This can be true of a verse, but is especially true of a chorus melody. That climactic moment usually occurs after the midpoint. Think of the chorus of Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” (written by Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison & Tom Petty) as a good example. The climactic moment happens in the 3rd phrase, and it sounds just right.
These are guidelines that can apply to music of any genre. So whether you’re writing pop, jazz, country, folk, or even classical music, singable melodies come from a pleasing blend of stepwise motion and leaps, as well as keeping a reasonable range.
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