5 Most Important Qualities of Good Song Melodies

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Vintage microphoneHow is it possible to identify principles that speak to the quality of song melodies, when every melody that you write needs to be unique, never heard before? It’s chiefly by looking at the thousands of great songs from the past several decades of pop songwriting, and identifying those melodies that seem to make a strong connection to audiences.

And what are those important qualities?

  1. Good song melodies will show a clear overall sense of shape and design. It’s hard to define this quality exactly, but you will notice that over the length of a song, good song melodies will demonstrate an overall shape that can be drawn as a line. And when you look at that line, it’s not a random up-and-down series of squiggles, but one that shows a large-scale outline. For example, often moving mainly in one particular direction, switching to the opposite direction. This kind of observable design is an especially important part of ballad melodies.
  2. Good song melodies move mainly by step, with occasional melodic leaps. Stepwise melodies are those that move from one note to the one adjacent to it, above or below. Stepwise melodies are easier to sing, but too much stepwise motion can create too much predictability, and can also negatively impact song energy. That’s where the occasional melodic leap comes in. Leaps, especially upward ones, generate melodic energy, and increases audience interest.
  3. Good song melodies partner well with lyrics and chord progressions. This is important. No melody, regardless of how good it is, will make the necessary connection to the audience if it doesn’t take the lyric and the chord of the moment into consideration. As one example, emotional lyrics will often make a stronger impact if they are placed higher in the melody.
  4. Good song melodies use repetition as an important part of its design. Repetition, when used well, offers a pleasing sense of predictability that is a crucial part of successful song melodies. Melodies with little or no repetition offer little for a listener to remember when they try to recall it later. And in fact, an important part of the attractiveness of a melody is its judicious mixing of new and repeated material.
  5. Good song melodies often include a climactic moment. This is particularly true of ballad melodies, and often true of most others. A climactic moment acts as a “mountain top”, so to speak, that contributes a strong sense of structure. And you’ll see this climactic moment reflected in, and playing an important role in, the overall contour of a song melody.

In many cases, these qualities of song melodies often happen instinctively by good songwriters. That feeling of excitement you feel when song melodies just “come together” – there are always clearly identifiable reasons why the good ones are good.

But if you feel that you’ve done everything right and your melody still seems problematic, look over those 5 qualities of good song melodies, and you’ll likely find the missing element.


Written by Gary Ewer
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    • I think it’s possible to have the stuff of our lives arrive to us by both creation and discovery. Nothing is truly created, if by creation we mean the formation of something with no ties to what has come before. But I like to think that creation is more about how we assemble bits. The bits themselves may have links to other bits that came before, but the assembling of those bits into a new entity can be as close to fresh creation as we can get.


  1. Pingback: Interesting Links For Musicians and Songwritiers – February 22, 2014 | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

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