Alex Clare’s “Too Close”: Thinking in Melodic Phrases

Shortening up the length of musical phrases helps create a natural musical intensity.

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Alex Clare - "Too Close"Simplicity is one of the most important aspects of good songwriting. Simplicity ensures that your audience will remember what you’ve written, and simplicity makes certain that they’ll be able to hum it later. This is particularly true when it comes to the writing of song melodies. We usually think of a melody as being a long string of notes over a chord progression but there’s a simpler way to look at it. A good verse or chorus melody may simply be a short 1- or 2- bar “idea” which gets repeated several times in an almost identical way.

A good example of this concept of melodic simplicity is Alex Clare’s current hit, “Too Close”, which is sitting this week in the No. 3 position on the Billboard Rock Songs chart.

When we talk about a melodic idea, we’re basically describing what’s known as a phrase. The start of a phrase is usually easy to identify: it’s normally the beginning of a line of lyric. A phrase usually ends when the melodic rhythm stops and the singer holds a long note or temporarily stops singing.

The verse of “Too Close” is comprised of six 4-bar phrases. In a sense, there’s actually four phrases, followed by two more that function as a kind of pre-chorus. That’s important to think about, because you definitely hear the phrases happening quicker and shorter as the chorus approaches, as pre-chorus phrases tend to do.

Even though each phrase of “Too Close” is a little different, there’s a strong similarity in melodic structure when you compare them all. Each phrase is constructed more-or-less by using the same note set, all sung over the same chord progression.

The fact that the various melodies within this song use the same note set should be a surprise, and when you look at your own songs you’ll probably notice the same thing. But what usually happens, and should be happening in your own music, is that the main notes of each section should be moving upward as the song moves from verse to pre-chorus to verse.

So when you look at the verse of “Too Close”, you see that F# is the high note, but it’s sung only occasionally, as the main verse melody sits lower. By the time you get to the chorus, that F# becomes a much more important tone, hit and repeated constantly.

That predominance of the F#, a relatively high note, generates energy.

So the two aspects of this song that help to create momentum and intensity are:

  1. Shortening up the phrase lengths between verse and pre-chorus.
  2. Moving the vocal range of the song upward as it progresses.

In your own music, there can be the danger of too much “sameness” – the audience hearing the same pitches over and over again between the various sections of your song. So the best way to solve that is to change the note that gets the main focus.

That way, you can create an entire song that uses only five or six pitches, but it feels like you’re using a lot more because the focus moves from one pitch to another as the song moves from verse to chorus.

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