When Song Melodies Fail: 5 Errors to Avoid

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SingerA melody needs to partner well with the chords that support it, and the lyrics that get attached to it. For that reason, it’s difficult to be precise about what a good melody should be. But there are important characteristics that appear more often than not in many great song melodies, usually regardless of genre or style.

The next time you write a song for which the melody seems to be lacklustre, or simply not connecting well with your audience, check the following list and see which key features your tune might be missing:

Problem #1: There’s very little repetition.

The best melodies use repetition as an important organizing feature. Whether that repetition is exact or approximate, you’ll find that the best songs use repetition. When melodic ideas repeat, that gives the listener confidence that they understand the music, and it has the added benefit of making the song easier to remember.

Problem #2: The range of the melody is too wide.

The best songs need to stay more-or-less in a range that makes it relatively easy to sing. Also, melodies that span too great a range have a way of sounding disorganized or lacking in general form.

Problem #3: Verse and chorus melodies sit in the same basic range.

Let’s say your verse melody uses the notes that encompass a major 6th, from C up to A. If your chorus melody also sits in that same range, it’s hard to allow your chorus melody to grab attention. The solution is to rewrite your chorus melody to sit higher in basic range.

Problem #4: The chorus melody is missing a climactic moment.

The climactic moment is usually a melody’s highest notes, and it’s common to have that happen at the same time that the song title is sung. So in pop songs, you’ll often see a climactic moment happen at the beginning of a chorus for songs with a strong chorus hook. Different song sections can have their own climactic moment, but the one that happens in the chorus should be noticeably more poignant.

Problem #5: The rhythm of the melody doesn’t partner well with the lyric.

As you work through your melody, make sure that the rhythm of your words feels natural. Also, the innate up-and-down inflections of your words should be reflected in the up-and-down direction of your melody. One solution to an awkward-sounding lyric is to say the lyric without singing it, and get a feel for how the words like to flow. Use that to help you create a melody that stays true to the pulse and inflection of the lyric.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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  3. Wonderful post , And from several years listening to demos for
    several publishers, I can endorse all of the above, one song
    sent in that stood out as overuse of repetition, used the same
    exact six note phrase throughout the song. it was painful to listen
    to , on top of very poor cliche rhymes and lyrics

    As Gary Ewer states above,repetition does not have to be exact, as
    the phrase can be moved up and down the scale of your key to suit the
    underlying chords chosen for the song

    Something else than can help is the starting point of each section
    of the song for example a verse where in general the lines start off
    on the first beat , a contrasting chorus that starts on a pick up beat
    say beat two – beat three or beat four ,would add the variation a song
    needs between the various format sections re verse; pre chorus ;
    and chorus, and even the bridge if it has one;

    Again if the verse is generally built on quarter notes , a chorus of
    half notes and occasional whole notes , helps to break up any
    boring factor that can creep into a song

    All these points can help make your song one that listeners want to
    hear again and again .

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