There’s one common characteristic that exists between the different music genres of pop, rock, country, folk and their related subgenres: they all usually use a singer. There are instrumental tunes, of course, but not that many. For most songwriters, it’s all about writing a melody that’s going to get sung.
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And then you notice another common trait: the melodies they’re singing generally start low in range in the verse, move higher (often in the second half of the verse) and then reach their highest notes in the chorus.
And if the song uses a bridge, or middle-8, you may find that the highest notes of all are in that section.
If your bridge has its highest notes, you’ll find that in those final chorus repeats, the melody descends slightly, and that’s something we’ll discuss momentarily.
So generally, melodies are moving higher as the song progresses. Why is that?
All singers have a basic vocal range within which they tend to sing, and naturally, that range is different for everyone. If you ever hear the word tessitura being tossed about, that’s what that word means: one’s basic vocal range.
It takes a lot more vocal energy to sing higher. And that’s an energy that audiences can hear. The quality of the sound that a singer produces changes as his/her voice moves upward as well. You can hear a bit more straining, and you can sense a lot more energy being expended to produce those higher notes.
That higher energy gets transmuted directly into musical energy. In other words, as a singer sings higher, the perceived energy of the music increases as well.
That’s the nutshell version of why it makes musical sense to move melodies higher as they go from verse to chorus, and then often to a bridge. The bridge poses a certain other issue, which is that if a bridge melody is higher than the chorus, energy must dissipate slightly when it returns to those final chorus repeats. Vocal energy diminishes, so what should songwriters do about that?
Fortunately, there are other contributors to the power of music, and final chorus repeats are a great place to add those other contributors to your music to compensate for slightly lower melodies. They might include:
- Building the instrumentation, adding more instruments, or adding an instrumental solo above the vocal, to produce a fuller sound.
- Play louder.
- Change key in an upward direction.
- Add vocal harmonies.
- Add vocal improvisation.
There are the few songs that go against this moving-melody-higher template, but generally you’ll be achieving the requisite energy build if you keep moving your song’s tune higher.
Here’s a short video I did on this topic a few years back, using Sia’s “Soon We’ll Be Found” as an example.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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