No One Remembers Notes

When it comes to creating beautiful song melodies, the actual notes you use isn’t all that important. No one remembers notes, because no one knows what notes you’re using in the first place. What people remember are shapes and rhythms.


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So when you hear the gorgeous melody for “I Can’t Help Falling In Love” (Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss), made most famous by Elvis Presley, it’s not the notes (the specific pitches) you’re remembering. It’s the arrangement of pitches, partnered up with the rhythms. We remember patterns, not smaller units:

I Can't Help Falling In Love - Melodic Patterns

As you can see in the diagram above, the melody wanders up and down, but each phrase outlines a noticeable shape: an inverted-V kind of contour. The first two shapes are short, incorporating just 3 or 4 notes. The final inverted-V is twice as long, but still adhering to that basic shape.

That’s what people latch onto when they hear the song. And because it’s a repeated shape, it makes it more likely that we’ll remember the melody. The pairing up of that melody with the chords makes it all the more beautiful, and the lyric simply tells us what we’re already picking up from the tune: the warm, melancholy emotion.

Do you always find that your melodies seem aimless and unremarkable? Just remember, shapes are more important than specific notes or pitches. So as you compose your song melody, remember:

  1. Use melodic shapes that are easy to pick out (just as the composers did in “I Can’t Help Falling In Love.”)
  2. Find areas of your song (the chorus or bridge) to change the shape to something different, or, as in “I Can’t Help”, to reinforce the shape (“Like a river flows/ Surely to the sea…”)
  3. The rhythmic feel of your melody is sometimes as important — or even more so — than the actual shape of the melody itself. Rhythm is an important part of structural design in melody-writing.
  4. Using wordplay and other lyrical devices (e.g., a lyrical hook) can make melodies easier to remember.
  5. Remember that a “good” melody may not necessarily be a “beautiful” one. A song may be more about the rhythmic feel than about the melody. Some melodies work well because they don’t draw a lot of attention to themselves.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Starting a Song – SongwriterTribe

  2. What a refreshing insight!
    Thank you for all your priceless advise this year.
    All the best from the Loirevalley / France.
    Marc

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