Where Should You Put a Song Melody’s High Point?

Songs with a strong melody really benefit from the creation of a “high point.”


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Train - Drive ByA song doesn’t need to make the melody its most redeeming feature. For example, you could argue that the melody for Train’s “Drive By” takes a back seat to the lyric and rhythmic treatment (though it does has some nice hooky moments). But even in a song where the melody is not its best feature, it’s good to create a spot that serves as a climactic moment. Such a moment pulls everything together, creating a focal point for melody, chords, lyric and more.

There are many possible locations for a climactic high point. In fact, a song can (possibly should) have several spots that rise above the basic landscape of the song. Just as a tall mountain rarely pops up above flat land, but usually exists within an area that features many mountains, you’ll find that your song’s high point is probably one of many.

As the human voice sings higher, it generates considerably more energy. So a melodic high point sets the stage for creating an emotional high. It’s why you often see melodic high points in choruses rather than verses. But verses can also have high points, though it makes sense to allow the chorus high point to exceed the verse one in range.

Here are some possible locations for your song melody’s high point, with some notable examples. There are lots of songs listed below, so rather than providing links to all of them, you can find them all with a quick YouTube search.

  1. In the chorus, coinciding with the song title. Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” is a good example, as well as 60s group The Ronette’s hit, “Be My Baby” and Van Halen’s “Jump.” In “Rolling In The Deep” that line is, curiously, the second line of the chorus. It can make you wonder if the song should have been called, “We Could Have Had It All.”
  2. At the song’s beginning. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, known for its strong melodic design, begins with an octave leap up to its highest note. But like “Rolling in the Deep”, it lines up with the song’s title.
  3. At the end of the chorus. This may or may not line up with the song’s title. For example, Finger Eleven’s “Paralyzer” (which doesn’t actually ever use the word “paralyzer”) has a double high point in the chorus, but the one at the end acts as a stronger high point simply by virtue of the fact that it’s the end of the chorus.
  4. Just before the title line at the end of the chorus or refrain. A good example of this one is Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, where the melody keeps creeping higher through to the penultimate line, “Until I’m ready”, after which the melody jumps down to a lower octave and gives us the title line.
  5. A one-time high point that gets created for the final chorus repeat. There are songs where the high point is at the beginning of the chorus or refrain, but then gets replaced by a higher point at the end of the song. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a prime example, where each refrain features higher notes, culminating in the song’s highest notes at the very end.

If your song is more about lyric than melody or chords, you may find that a high point isn’t all that important for you. But a climactic high point can help make a song more memorable, and provides an important location for several aspects of a song to come together.


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