Daniel Merriweather - Adele

Making Melody Your Song’s Most Important Ingredient

Not every song is about the melody. For songs where the melody is kind of a neutral player, you’ll typically find that the rhythmic treatments, (especially background) will step up and take a leading role. In other words, the groove and feel become very important contributors.

How you know that a melody is acting as a crucial part of the success of a  song is when you notice:

  1. its range is relatively expansive – at least an octave;
  2. it moves up and down in an attempt to mirror the emotional content of the lyrics;
  3. repeating elements, particularly repetitions that begin on different notes.

In the hope that someone might walk down the street humming your latest song melody, it’s worth looking at each of those characteristics more closely.

The Importance of Melodic Range

The fact that a melody moves up and down is a given, or else it wouldn’t be a melody. It’s more important to make note of why it’s moving up and down, and in that respect, points #1 and #2 above go hand-in-hand.

Hooks and RiffsBecause pop songs are typically short — usually 3-4 minutes in length — the hook becomes a crucial feature. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how to write a hook that really grabs the attention your songs need.

Since the voice displays ever-increasing levels of emotion as it goes higher, it’s wise to partner that with the emotional content of the lyric. That feature of our voice applies even in non-musical settings. If you say in a low-pitched voice, “That’s my muffin,” someone will hand you a muffin. If you raise your voice to a relatively high range and say the same thing, someone will wonder what you’re getting all worked up about. That’s the nature of the human voice.

So as a songwriter, part of making your song’s melody effective is to move your focus back and forth between the melody and the lyric, and making sure that the more emotive parts of your lyric aren’t getting downplayed by a melody moving in the wrong direction.

Some great song melodies that demonstrate the up-and-down nature in partnership with lyrics:

  1. Here in My Heart (Pat Genaro, Lou Levinson, Bill Borelli), recorded by Al Martino, 1952. Lyrics
  2. Rocket Man (Elton John, Bernie Taupin). Recorded by Elton John, 1972. Lyrics
  3. Tears in Heaven (Eric Clapton, Will Jennings). Recorded by Eric Clapton, 1991. Lyrics

The Importance of Repetition

I talk a lot about repetition in good melodies, because it’s one of the strongest organizing structures in music. Playing/singing something once means that it’s come and gone. Sing it twice, and it suddenly rises to being a crucial structural element.

The Song “Water and a Flame“, written by Eg White and Daniel Merriweather, and recorded by Merriweather for his debut album “Love & War”, is a great example of not just how repetition strengthens the structure of a song, but also how repetition can occur in different ways.

Melodic Sequencing

As you’ll notice, the opening line happens while the melody is sequenced downward. Melodic sequencing means that a line of melody is repeated at a lower pitch, and then often repeated again at a still lower pitch. You’ll hear this on the first 3 lines of lyric:

Seven days has gone so fast,
I really thought the pain would pass.
It’s been nearly an hour…

The melody of this opening section then repeats, but it becomes rhythmic, not melodic, repetition. From there, almost every line of melody is repeated, either exactly or approximately as Merriweather improvises and extrapolates on what he’s sung on the previous line.

Advice for Strengthening the Power of a Melody

The best advice for songwriters who are looking to make their next song melody something that really steps up and gets noticed? Be sure to move your melody up and down as the emotional value of the lyric at any given moment dictates.

And to use repetition of musical phrases as an important structural element. When audiences hear music repeating, they feel more secure and feel that they understand the music much more than in songs where little is repeated.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

3rd_ed_cover_smChapter 5 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” is where you’ll discover the secrets of writing a melody that partners well with a lyric. Get the full 10-eBook Bundle, and a FREE COPY of “Creative Chord Progressions.”

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  1. The blog with “water and a flame” was very informative wrt the use of repetition and melody. Smetimes simple little things ste so effective.

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