Songwriting and Line Drawing

I’ve written a few articles on this blog about the notion of drawing a line that represents your melody (like this article I wrote a few years ago). It’s not just that it’s kind of neat to see your melody sketched out as a line; there is a real purpose and benefit from seeing your melody drawn in this way.

The main benefit is that it reminds us that our brains like to perceive a sense of direction when it comes to melodies. As a melody works its way upward, for example, our brains predict where the next notes will be based on what the most recent notes were.


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Our brains make those predictions based not just on what the last notes were, but also on what the last few chords were. But why should we do this at all? Why is it important to hear melodies as a line that has some measure of predictability in its structure?

It’s because we like our music to be a mixture of predictable and unpredictable elements. The more predictable music is, though, the more we’re bored with it. The less predictable it is, the more we’re troubled we are with it: we feel lost. The best music gets the balance just right.

When you do a line drawing that represents the twists and turns of your melody, what you’re aiming for is to see the kinds of things we hope we hear: repeating patterns, generally upward-moving shapes followed by generally downward-moving ones, and so on.

In other words, if the line drawing of your melody simply looks like mindless scratchings, randomly moving up and down with no apparent patterns or design, it’s likely that the melody itself is leaving listeners scratching their heads, wondering what to make of it. A line drawing can be the first important step to fixing melodies.

Don’t Stop At Melodies: It Works for Lyrics, Too

But it’s important to consider that line drawings can be done of other elements, so don’t stop at melodies.

For example, we know that with lyrics, the emotional content of the words should move up and down, starting with relatively low-emotion words in the verse and moving to more emotional ones in the chorus. This can be represented with a line, and you hope that you see it moving constantly up and down.

Here’s how to do it: Write out the lyric from your latest song, and draw a time line at the bottom of the page representing the length of your song. For each line of lyric, sketch a short (1-inch or so) length of line that represents the emotional impact of those lines of lyric. When you’re done, you’ll have a line from one side of the page to the other, hopefully moving (with some measure of predictability) up and down.

So just as with melody line drawing, it can be a great diagnostic tool for fixing lyrics. Audiences love the predictable nature of emotional choruses, and so a verse that’s too heartrending can take away the impact of a well-written chorus. Seeing verses that are too emotional will help you fix the problem.

For each song that you write, you should consider line drawing to be an important diagnostic tool for analyzing how you’ve done. The results can surprise you, but most importantly, it often gives you a direction to move in order to fix problems.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Hooks & RiffsGary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.  Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.

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