Isolating Important Pitches Helps Add Structure to Song Melodies

Do your song melodies feel like aimless wanderings? Good melodies need at least a couple of “focus notes”.


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Kelly Clarkson - Since U Been GoneMany songwriters find melodies hard to write — not an intuitive, natural thing at all. I know from emails I get that many of you find the tune to be the toughest part of the songwriting process. The most common complaint I hear is that many of you find that your melodies sound aimless and unstructured.

And the problem with aimless, unstructured melodies is that they are difficult for audiences to remember once they’re done. But the bigger problem, of course, is that without a solid sense of form, no one really cares if they hear them or not.

Here’s an idea for helping you add a bit of structure to your melodies, an idea that just might turn your melodies from being aimless wanderings to well-crafted tunes. It involves isolating important pitches, focusing on a different one for each unique section of your song.

If you’ve decided that you’re going to use a standard verse-chorus-bridge formal design, the normal approach is to have the lowest melody be the verse, with the chorus moving higher, and the bridge often (though not always) moving still higher.

Here’s an example: “Single Ladies” (Stewart, Nash, Harrell and Knowles, performed by Beyoncé), in the key of E major, features a verse that focuses primarily on the note E, with each phrase moving away from and toward that note. It then moves the focus up to B for the chorus, and then pushes it even higher in the bridge, to D.

Another example: “Since U Been Gone” (Max Martin and Dr. Luke, performed by Kelly Clarkson), in the key of G major, features a verse focused mainly on the note B (below middle C). A pre-chorus moves the melody higher, and the chorus isolates the B an octave higher. The bridge features some of the highest notes of the song, with the new focus note being D.

To write a melody using this technique, try the following steps:

  1. Create a chord progression for each section of your song.
  2. Choose a melody note to start your verse melody, and play through the verse progression, allowing your melody note to rise and fall as suits the chords of the progression, always returning to the focus note.
  3. Choose a new note that will serve as a focus for your chorus melody. This note should be higher than the verse focus note.
  4. Play through the chorus progression and create a melody that moves up and down, always returning to the new focus note.
  5. If your song uses a bridge, choose a new focus note that’s even higher than the one you chose for the chorus, and create a new melody that uses that new pitch as a major component of the melody.

What these steps do is to give your melodies a stronger element of structure. It also ensures that your melodies trace a very natural energy line that increases from the start of the verse to the end of the chorus.

The main benefit of this way of writing is that your song melodies become easier for audiences to remember. They also help resolve the sense of aimlessness that many of you encounter when trying to create melodies from scratch.


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