Do you get stuck at the melody-writing stage of songwriting? Do you find chords easy, but melody hard? What can you do to come up with melodies that are enticing and attractive to an audience?
Melodies and lyrics are the trickiest parts of songwriting for most songwriters, because those are likely the parts of songs that exhibit the most individuality. Your chords, your instrumentation and other aspects of production… those can all be aspects that you might hear in other songs. But melodies? As we know, they must be unique.
Once you’ve got a melody, how do you know which chords will work with it? “How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you how to do exactly that. Shows the secrets of harmonic rhythm, identifying the key of your melody, chord function, and more. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.
And because they need to be unique, it’s hard for anyone to say, “This is how a great melody should sound.”
But there is hope! We have decades of popular songs — thousands of them — that have succeeded where other songs have failed. And no, we can’t copy those good melodies, of course (though you can copy their underlying chords).
But we can learn a lot about what makes a great melody by comparing all those great melodies. You’ll find, if daily listening is a part of your songwriting regimen, that certain characteristics are present in practically all song melodies, regardless of genre or era.
So here’s a list of melody characteristics, most of which should be true of your own song melodies. Use it as a checklist:
- Good melodies make considerable use of stepwise motion. This means using notes that are one letter name higher or lower than the note before and after it. The verse melody of “Groovy Kind of Love” (Carole Bayer Sager, Toni Wine) is a good example.
- Good melodies mix in occasional leaps within stepwise lines. Yes, stepwise melodies are common, but all-stepwise might be a bit mundane. Occasional leaps upward and downward add musical energy and interest. Listen to the melody of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Paul Simon), and notice in amongst the stepwise motion how many leaps there are, both upward and downward, large and small.
- Good melodies make great use of repetition. You’ll find repetition to be an important feature of any section of a song. Listen to “Rolling In the Deep” (Adele Adkins, Paul Epworth), and notice how often repetition, both exact and approximate, happens from beginning to end. Repetition is a powerful part of making melodies memorable, and of course is a crucial part of any song hook.
- Good melodies move higher as a song progresses from verse to chorus. The rising range helps to generate musical energy. You will easily notice the power of the rising melody in “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
- Good melodies use rhythms that make lyrics sound natural and effortless. As you sing your lyric, pay special attention to the pulse of the words, and how those words work with the shape of the melody. Rhythm and melody as a unit is an aspect of songwriting that needs a lot of attention. Listen to “Big Yellow Taxi” (Joni Mitchell). Try just saying the words with the rhythms you hear in the recording. You get a very strong sense of groove and forward motion just from the rhythm of the words alone.
Those five characteristics are present in most great song melodies. Now turn your attention to your favourite songs, and focus on their melodies. What do you like about them? What other characteristics can you name that contribute to how great they are?
A great song melody is a vital part of songwriting success, because it’s the melody that people will hum to themselves long after they’ve heard your song. The melody is what keeps bringing people back, and it’s often a key component of great songs.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Creative Chord Progressions”. Learn how to take your chords beyond simple I-IV-V progressions. With pages of examples ready for you to use in your own songs.