One Quick Way to Diagnose a Song Melody That Needs Help

Comparing the melodic ranges of each section in your song can reveal a major problem.

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Lorde - RoyalsWe like to think that the best music happens spontaneously. You’re walking down the street, and then a tune just hits you. You grab your digital recorder and, despite what it looks like to others walking by, you sing a phrase or two. It’s a winner!

Then you get home, settle down, take out your digital recorder, listen to what you’ve sung, and… well, let’s just say you feel underwhelmed. What happened to that great melodic idea?

The imagination is a complex thing. When you first dreamed up your melody, you probably only really had a hook: a short, melodic/rhythmic idea that caught your attention. And because you’re a songwriter who loves what you’re doing, you got excited. You probably even imagined an instrumental backing, some non-specific backing vocals… it’s what musicians do.

But when you got home and listened to just the melody, with no other imagined bits, you felt discouraged. When melodies don’t sound great, there can be lots of reasons for the failure. But none of those problems are insurmountable. There’s very little difference between a melody that works and one that fails. Sometimes you just need to adjust one or two notes and everything sounds ten times better.

One quick way to diagnose a song melody that needs help is to compare verse and chorus range. So do the following:

  1. Take a blank piece of paper, and write the words “Verse” and “Chorus” across the top (and “Pre-chorus”, “Bridge”, and any other section).
  2. Sing through your song melody, and for each section, write the lowest note you sing, and then the highest note.
  3. Compare the ranges. For each section that follows the verse, either the highest note or the lowest note should move higher, and often both.

In most songs, you should see that the chorus range is higher. If you did that with Lorde’s current hit, “Royals”, you’d get this.

As you see, each section that follows the verse either shows a higher lower note, or a higher upper note. That’s an important aspect of generating song energy, and, more importantly, it’s what an audience expects, even if they don’t know they want it.

Easily 75% of problematic song melodies could be fixed by doing that simple exercise. If your song is a verse-only design, you need to be sure that there is a high point somewhere in the second half of the melody.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

  1. I agree, as always Gary talks a lot of sense “The Melodic Contour:”:is very important when we are designing a song , just think how boring and too repetitive our song would be if every line moved down, Contrasting the contour , Chord count per bar/measure
    Singable lines, starting low and building to a high finish on our Hook/ Chorus .

    All these things are obvious, but why do so many learning song writers ignore them

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