As a songwriter, your hope is usually that once people have heard your song, they want to hear it again. That usually translates into sales, so the more clicks your songs generate, the more potential there is for monetary reward.
It’s unlikely that anyone will want to listen to your song again if there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. When it comes to the memorability of music, the conversation often gets around to talking about a hook – a short, catchy bit of music that almost immediately grabs our attention.
But there’s a lot more to making music memorable than writing a good hook. Practically every element of a song has the potential to be something memorable, and all it takes is knowing how to pull it all together.
Here’s a short list of things to think about as you strive to make your songs memorable:
- Make your lyrics sound conversational. They need to be the kind of words you’d use when speaking to someone, as opposed to writing to them. This kind of casual wording makes it more likely you’ll remember it.
- Use alliteration and other catch poetic devices. Alliteration refers to using the same letters or sounds at the beginning of adjacent (or almost adjacent) words: “sounds of silence…”, “pretty Peggy…”, “many, many more…”, “she should show me…” Alliteration draws attention to itself, and makes the line of lyric memorable, though as with all poetic devices, should be used sparingly.
- Place emotional words higher in pitch. Emotional words sung higher in pitch sound more intense, and are more likely to draw attention to itself.
- Make good use of repetition of short melodic cells. A melody that uses short ideas that keep repeating becomes easier to remember, and more enticing to listeners. Think of a song like Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” as a good example of repetition, both exact and approximate.
- Create melodies that mix together stepwise motion with occasional leaps. Melodies that move around by step (i.e., from one note to an adjacent one, like from C to D) are easy to remember if there is an occasional leap to grab some attention. Some will use lots of leaps, like Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold“, and some will be mainly stepwise with only a leap here and there, like Young’s “Southern Man.”
- Use mainly predictable progressions. We all love the progressions that are odd-sounding, because we love innovation. But those innovations work better if they’re inserted into a mainly predictable progression, like several lovely moments in The Beatles’ “Mother Nature’s Son.”
- Keep progressions from getting too long. Repetition in chords works as well as repetition everywhere else: it’s easier to remember something you’ve heard before. So especially in choruses, keep progressions relatively short and tonally strong.
- In choruses, keep backing rhythms simple and clear. Verses tend to be adventurous, but with a chorus, things are easier to remember if they sit in some kind of groove. So keep your chorus rhythms clear and catchy.
- An occasional rhythmic “hiccup”, or a brief “halt” in the rhythm, like before the instrumental outro of “Hotel California“, provides little moments that are easier to recall than if the music just kept going with no interruption.
Remember that it’s not crucial that every section of your song have something clearly memorable. If the memorable moments only happen in the chorus, that’s completely fine. Catchy things happening in a chorus will be enough to bring listeners back to your song, and that’s your main objective.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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