When the Feel of a Song is More Important Than Anything Else

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Frank TurnerIn the last post, we saw that contrast in modern pop music has a lot to do with melodic shape and chords, and not so much to do with loudness or performance style. In other words, over the length of a 3-to-4-minute song, we’ll see great contrast in melodic shape, and/or major-against-minor kind of chords.

There’s one more thing to say about melodic shape, and it’s this: the stronger and more energetic the music, the less important it is to show contrast in your melody.

When we talk about contrast in a melodic shape, we mean that throughout a song, some parts (typically the verses) will linger low in pitch, while other parts (typically the choruses) will move much higher in contrast to the verse.

A great example is Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’, where the chorus melody sits an octave above the verse. The following diagram gives a rough approximation of the shape and range of the melodies:

Free Fallin' Melodic Contrast

Now compare that song to something that’s faster and louder, with a more aggressive performance style, and the need for this kind of melodic contrast diminishes.

Take, for example, a new song,Josephine“, by Frank Turner:

Frank Turner - Josephine - Melodic Contrast

What we see is this: in songs that are louder and use a more aggressive performance style, melodic shapes even out, to the extent that there’s not often a lot of difference between the range of the verse and the range of the chorus.

It shouldn’t surprise us too much that we’d see this kind of thing in pop music genres. Pop music, at its very core, is improvisatory in nature, and favours the basic feel of music over almost all other elements.

And once a feel rises to being one of a song’s most important elements, other elements (including the contrasting of melodic ranges) becomes less vital.

In a sense, that makes the feel or groove of a song a kind of default, where in the absence of any other strong component, the feel is always there. In “Josephine”, you’d get the same song even if you took away the melody and lyrics, and just played it as a melody-less instrumental.

That, incidentally, was at the core of the jury’s decision regarding the plagiarism case of “Blurred Lines/Got to Give It Up”. The feel of Marvin Gaye’s song was so strong that it became, whether you agree with the decision or not, the essential core of the song.

As a songwriter, if you see that your melodies just linger around the same notes from beginning to end, your automatic fix might be to find ways to raise the chorus or lower the verse melody, to create what you see as the requisite contrast. It’s what I usually advise.

But another solution might be to simply:

  1. pump up the volume;
  2. increase the tempo; and
  3. move all melodies higher in the singer’s vocal range.

By doing so, the feel of the song takes centre stage, and it takes the pressure off the other song components.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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  1. Pingback: Interesting Links For Musicians and Songwritiers – September 14, 2015 | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

  2. I was listening to Sam Smith and it was so good to hear a male singer
    singing well above the range of the average successful pro singer .

    My favorite singer during the Elvis years was Roy Orbison, in general
    Roy write his own songs and he used a unique format that built to a
    Crescendo – In Dreams – Running Scared – Only The Lonely – were
    three examples, where the vocal ends in Falsetto, something that
    influenced The Beatles in many of their hit songs

    Elvis as popular as he was , and I was one who loved his early
    Rock and Roll songs, they sounded so fresh with a young voice
    uncultured , compared to the slick sounding tenors, that were
    bombarding our Radios in those days

    In later years sadly we were listening to a voice that was over singing
    on the ballads , beefed up by The Jordanaires, singing average songs
    that would never stand the test of time ,

    Listening to Sam Smith I think that many new singers will take
    something from Sam’s unique style of singing, something to consider
    in the next song you and I may write

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