Linda Creed - Thom Bell

When Melodies Leap Upward

There’s no denying that the shape of a melody has a lot to do with the mood of music. However, melodic shape is a tricky one to calculate. It’s not based on a rule as much as it’s based on psychology.

On a psychological level, we know, for example, that:

  1. melodies that are static, sitting in and around one particular note, are good ones when the lyric is opinionated or forthright.
  2. melodies that are mainly stepwise in motion, balanced between up and down, are good ones when the lyric describes a story.
  3. melodies that feature an upward leap are good ones when the lyrics are emotional, often exuberant.

When melodies leap upward, there is a shot of musical excitement. It can be the kind of excitement that’s hopeful and exuberant, like the iconic octave leap at the beginning of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

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It might be cheerful and happy, like the stepwise burst upward at the beginning of the chorus of Lennon & McCartney’s “Penny Lane.”

It might also be cheerfully tender, like the major 6th leap at the start of the verse of The Stylistic’s “You Make Me Feel Brand New” (Thom Bell, Linda Creed).

It needs to be pointed out once more that we’re not talking about a rule here. But there’s a certain kind of logic, apart from musical logic, that governs why we feel excited when voices move up quickly by step, or leap upward.

As voices move higher, there’s a natural kind of tension that’s audible in the vocal quality. We can make great use of that tension, and depending on what we’re singing about (and sometimes depending on the quality of the chords underneath), we can enhance generally positive moods.

Making Best Use of Upward Leaps

As you see in the sample tunes mentioned above, an upward leap can be useful in either a verse or a chorus. The tender upward leap is great in a verse, but if your chorus is lacking some punch, you may want to consider rewriting your chorus to feature the upward leap.

You’ll find that it often works best placed at the beginning of the chorus, worked into the chorus hook.

Modifying the shape of your song melody is a good reminder that you get to control the notes you use. If your chorus is lacking excitement, one well-placed upward leap may be all that’s necessary to make it suddenly exciting and exuberant.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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