When all the melodies in one song sit within the same range of notes, you’ve probably got problems.
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The importance of the contrast principle is well-known in the songwriting world. Simply stated, the contrast principle means that it’s usually a good thing to place opposite effects side-by-side, or at least in close proximity. A good example would be the use of chord progressions: it’s a nice effect to use mainly minor chords in a verse and major chords in a chorus. That minor-versus-major technique provides a nice harmonic contrast. That kind of contrast is something that people find interesting, and makes them want to keep listening.
Not every aspect of your song will make use of the contrast principle at one time. In fact, if you’re trying to create contrast in every possible element of your song, it will sound like barely-controlled chaos. But every song should feature a healthy dose of contrast in one or two aspects.
Here’s one you should be thinking about: contrast as it relates to the range of the various melodies in your songs.
This can be a tricky one to identify. A while ago, someone sent me an MP3 of their song, asking for a critique. They felt that everything was working well, with nothing obviously “wrong.” The chords worked fine, there was a nice sense of contrast in the dynamics, and the lyrics progressed nicely from a “here’s what’s happening” verse through to a “here’s how I feel” chorus.
But I had to agree with him, the song was a little boring. And in fact, there was something almost annoying about the melody, though I couldn’t place my finger on it at first. Then I got an idea, and listened again.
That’s when I discovered the problem. The verse and chorus both used the same set of notes for their melodies. The verse melody moved up and down using the note Middle C as a low note, and the A above it as its high note. The chorus melody did the same thing — moved up and down between C and A.
Both melodies on their own were quite catchy, and they both made good use of stepwise motion with occasional leaps, as most good melodies should. But the fact that they both existed in that same basic range created boredom. There was simply too much sameness between verse and chorus, caused by using the same set of notes.
So if you find yourself being bored by your own song, check out the melodies that you’ve created for the verse and the chorus. Chorus melodies should reside a little higher in pitch than the verse. It gives the audience something new to listen to. And check out these tips:
- Create a climactic moment in the chorus. Allow one note to be higher than the others.
- Let the chorus notes elongate a bit, so that the notes of a chorus melody are a little longer than the notes of a verse. This allows for emotional intensity.
- Match up emotional words with high spots and significant leaps. Any words that you want to “pop” should be placed at the high point of a melody, or right at the moment of an important melodic leap.
- Make sure the natural pulse of words is honoured by the rhythm of your melody. For example, words with the natural stress on the first syllable should be placed directly on a beat, not on an up-beat.
- If your verse and chorus use the same or similar melody, try putting the chorus melody up an octave. This may mean adjusting the key of your song so that the melody can be sung easily in two different octaves. But it can certainly solve the boredom factor to suddenly have the melody jump an octave.
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