How to Make a Song Melody Easier for Audiences to Remember

Songs that are repetitious and simply constructed are much easier to remember.

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Simon & GarfunkelChoruses not only make use of a repeated phrase, but the structure of the repeated phrase itself becomes very simple, using very basic scale or chord structures in their basic make-up, and thus easy to remember.

For hit songs, even verses tend toward the simply-constructed, repeated-phrase idea. Repeated phrases in a melody result in a clearer, more easily-perceived structure. It’s almost a rule that the higher up on the Billboard a song charts, the simpler its basic construction is likely to be. Simple song construction is not a flaw.

A good example of a song that shows this is Bruno Mars’ hit “Locked Out Of Heaven.” As you can hear, both the verse and the chorus make great use of repetition. Verse 1 starts by presenting a double phrase that’s then repeated almost identically. That’s followed by a short pre-chorus that builds energy to meet the chorus.

The chorus then simplifies the repetition idea: a short, one-bar idea is sung, then repeated. This is followed by a second idea that’s repeated, and so on. These short chorus mini-phrases are concise and easy to remember. Audiences may have trouble remembering the verse, particularly the lyric, since it’s usually heard once, and not again for the rest of the song. But they’ll certainly remember the chorus, with its simple lyric that’s repeated over and over, along with its very simple structure.

For many songs, however, the verse can tend to be more intricately constructed, leaving the chorus to provide the all-important repeated phrase idea that locks into a listeners musical mind.

A good example of this from a few decades past is Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” (1975), sung by Simon & Garfunkel. You can hear that repetition does play a very minor role in the verse, the melodic structure following the story closely, wandering through different keys, even different time signatures.

The chorus becomes extremely simple, clear and “hooky” by comparison. The sole melodic fragment that makes up the entire chorus (“Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town“) is immediately riveting, memorable and singable. There is no doubt that most people would not remember that long, expansive verse, or its twisting, turning lyric. But that matters not at all by the time you get to the chorus.

To make a song easier for audiences to remember, you must incorporate a good amount of repetition, particularly where the chorus is concerned. The fact that your verse melody may not be all that memorable shouldn’t matter if the chorus steps up and gives the audience something that pulls them back.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, which includes “Chord Progression Formulas”, a great way to create dozens of progressions in any key.

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6 Comments

  1. Pingback: Weekly Guitar News Roundup: April 12, 2013

  2. Yes I got it now, about what phrases are. Thank you for the reply.
    p.s Love your songwriting blog posts. Cheers.

      • Hi Michael:

        The term phrase is used to indicate a small bit of melody that has a clear beginning and (even if temporarily) an end. The end of a phrase is called its cadence. In the Bruno Mars example I gave in this article, the line, “Never had much faith in love or miracles” represents the first phrase of the verse. In the article I mentioned that the song starts with a “double phrase”, which encompasses the first two lines of the song. It’s then repeated. In music theory circles, they’d call the first line a “subphrase” because it is rather short, but in our context, “double phrase” describes it well.

        Hope that helps,
        -Gary

  3. Pingback: ARTICLE LINK: How to Make a Song Melody Easier for Audiences to Remember | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

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