Beautifying Melodies With a Few Well-Placed Leaps

Three quick ideas for making a melody beautiful and memorable.


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John LegendGeneralizing in the world of songwriting can be a bit dangerous. Just as soon as you say, for example, that pop songs need to be 3-4 minutes long or no one will listen, along comes a “Hey Jude” or a “Bohemian Rhapsody” that makes you say, “Well, except for those songs.”

But generalizations can be useful as long as you don’t get overly pedantic about it. If you spend as much time as I do looking at songs from the past 5-6 decades and actually looking for commonalities and generalizations, you notice some useful ones.

When it comes to the structure of song melodies, you’ll notice the following:

  1. Songs that are opinionated, or state things in a forthright kind of way, tend to use lots of repeated notes, and start phrases on strong beats. Examples: Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan), “Southern Man” (Neil Young), and “Respect” (Otis Redding).
  2. Songs that tell a story, tend to use lots of stepwise motion (moving from one note to the one beside it). Examples: “Tom Dooley” (traditional), “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (Gordon Lightfoot).

And love songs? If you really want to pull at the heart strings and make people feel emotion, you’ll want to make sure your melody does the following:

  1. Use a good number of melodic leaps, especially upward-moving ones. A great example: “Love of My Life” (Freddie Mercury).
  2. Centre the song in the singers mid-range, using the outer ranges for emotional effect. Example: “Somebody Like You” (Adele) We get to hear the impact that her upper range makes in the second half of the chorus. Also, listen to “Falling Slowly” (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova)
  3. Use longer note values in the melody line of the chorus. As a song moves into the chorus, holding notes longer tends to emphasize the emotional effect of the lyric. Examples: Paul McCartney: “Silly Love Songs“; John Legend, Toby Gad: “All of Me


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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  1. Great blog, thanks!

    I have just launched , a completely free Songwriting Contest and was wondering if you would be interested in including an entry to make your readers aware? Rather than uploading music, contestants simply provide link to their song.

    Thanks in advance,


    • Thanks for that notification, Kevin.

      Just a reminder to songwriters to always register the copyright of any song you send out anywhere. Do your research. For example, you’ll want to know what happens to your song if it wins and if it loses, among many other things.


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