There are times when a climactic moment in a song melody may not be necessary.
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Bruce Springsteen has released a new studio album, “High Hopes“, and I’ve been giving it a thoroughly enjoyable listen. The lead single, “High Hopes”, is a great demonstration of several important principles of songwriting, not the least of which is the power of repetition in melodic fragments to create a compelling melody.
It also begs an important question: How do you write a song melody and have it work when there is no particularly obvious climactic high point?
I talk a lot about that important moment in a song melody that stands out and above others as being an important focal point for a song. Sometimes I call it the “climactic high point”, or alternatively the “climactic moment.” In any case, it’s usually at or near the highest pitch we hear, and often occurs in the chorus.
But in “High Hopes”, we don’t really encounter a climactic high note. Most of the melody comes from the five notes between A and E. That high E happens frequently, so we can’t really claim that there is a climactic moment with that one note popping out over and above the others.
But “High Hopes” really works, even without a climactic high note in the melody. Why? The main reason is that the rhythmic energy is more-or-less relentless. Songs with a strong characteristic of forward motion (momentum) have a lesser requirement for a distinctive high point.
Also, the song’s instrumentation helps to craft several significant climactic moments that don’t have a lot to do with the melody, including the dropping of instruments for the final verse, after the instrumental solo, and again at the song’s coda.
When you’ve got a song that generates a lot of energy in a constant way, you lessen the need for a climactic moment. And you’ll find that songs that lean more toward being ballads will have a stronger need for something climactic in the melody to strengthen the song’s formal design.
You’ll also notice (and “High Hopes” demonstrates this) that high energy and repetition go hand-in-hand, working together to create a solid composition that approaches being a musical version of the proverbial perpetual motion machine.
-Gary Ewer. (Follow Gary on Twitter)
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