If you spend any time at all comparing verse and chorus melodies, you’ll notice right away that verses often centre in on one or two pitches. And it may not be that they sing those one or two constantly, but you’ll hear everything coming back, over and over again, to those couple of notes.
A great example of this is the verse of Adele’s hit “Rolling In the Deep.” Lots of notes here, but the melody basically moves within a perfect 5th range (G down to C). After 8 bars of melody, it’s those two notes, G and C, that you remember the most.
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Usually, choruses will then become freer, moving around a lot more, using repetition as an important organizing feature. Adele moves the chorus melody a lot higher, and you get more notes.
If you’re writing your songs primarily for yourself, you’ll probably be tempted to set your melody right in the middle of your comfortable range, but I would recommend that you find ways to explore the outer reaches of your range, and in particular the higher notes.
In recent blog posts I’ve written about how choruses are usually higher than verses. The reasons for this have to do with musical energy, in which the audience perceives higher energy from a higher voice (usually a good thing.)
But there’s an additional reason that I’m mentioning this again: music that makes greater use of melodic range is simply more interesting.
Not all songs are about melody. If you’ve written something with a powerful lyric, you may find that pairing that lyric with a melody that doesn’t venture very far may be all that’s needed. In other words, it’s not necessarily good to upstage your lyric with a gymnastic melody.
But if the song you’re currently working on is one for which you want melody to be front and centre, remember these tips:
- Melodies that use a wide range of notes need organizing features such as repetition. My favourite example of an expansive melody is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, which starts with an octave leap. The songwriters kept replicating that leap upward in different ways, for each phrase of lyric. The repetition is crucial to that melody’s success.
- Bridges usually benefit the most from melodies that have a large range. Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” is a great example. The bridge starts up high, swoops down, and that big musical gesture right at the start of the bridge injects a huge amount of musical energy.
- Don’t be afraid of your high notes. If a melody moves into your highest notes, you’ve got a real opportunity to get a lot of attention. Experiment with moving it even higher, and (assuming the song is energetic) don’t be afraid of letting a bit of vocal strain show. You’ll know if you’ve got it placed just right: most of your song allows you to work in your comfort zone, but a few notes will take you out of that region and into the notes that really grab attention.
- Melodic leaps are a great way to get attention. Most melodies consist mainly of stepwise (adjacent notes) motion, but be sure to put in occasional leaps. Those leaps inject musical energy into a line, and they’re important to keep momentum moving.
- Always keep lyric in mind when writing a melody. We have musical instincts that tell us musical energy moves up and down in a direct relationship with melodic range. So here’s an idea: make a line drawing over your lyrics that show the intensity of your lyric. Use that line to guide you as you create a melody. For example, if your 3rd line of lyric ramps up in intensity, see what you can do to move your melody higher at that point.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter