Where to Place a Climactic Moment in a Song Melody

A climactic moment makes music memorable, and adds energy and excitement.


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Song Line DiagramSongs usually have several so-called climactic moments, but the moment that usually counts as the most significant is the one that happens in the chorus. In a way, a climactic moment serves as a kind of fuel that adds momentum and energy to the song, while at the same time serving as a musical goal for the melody, chords and lyrics. There is no rule that says that a song’s climactic moment must occur at any one particular moment, but there’s something to be said for placing it near (but not directly at) the end of a chorus melody.

This is a compositional concept (almost a principle) that’s existed in music for centuries, and if you look at great songs from the past 5 or 6 decades, you’ll often see the most significant moment occurring during the 3rd phrase of a 4-phrase chorus melody.

In songs that use a refrain rather than a chorus, you often see the climax occurring near the start of the refrain, which acts as an ending to the verse.

Defining a climactic moment can be a bit tricky, since it isn’t always the highest note of a melody, though that often happens. It’s a coming together of significant chords and lyrics, partnering with a notable moment in the melody, but not necessarily always the highest moment.

Check out the choruses or refrains of these hit songs, and you’ll see that placing the climax in the second half of the chorus, or near the start of the refrain, feels very natural:

Like most things in music, subtlety is better than a bag of hammers, and many songs treat the climactic moment as a nuance rather than a smash moment. The climactic moment, no matter how it comes across, acts as a musical goal that adds excitement and energy to a song.


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