With song melodies, big melodic leaps can do a lot to inject some emotional energy into the lyric of the moment. The upward leap is common, probably more common than the downward leap.
I’m not sure why that is, but downward leaps seem to require a bit more work to make them successful. There’s something natural about a leap upward, especially if you think of a song like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Or think about that big upward leap in Lennon & McCartney’s “Got To Get You Into My Life”, at the end of the first two lines of the verse (“I was alone, I told a ride/ I didn’t know what I would find THERE”).
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It’s not that hard to find downward leaps, but they’re not as common. A few posts back I mentioned Dolly Parton’s big crossover hit from the ’70s, “Here You Come Again (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil) as an example of a song that got nudged from one genre (pop) to another (country) via production decisions. It turns out that it’s also a great example of a prominent large downward leap, and again near the end of the second line:
What does a big downward leap do for music? Where the big upward leap conveys joy, hope and perhaps power, a downward leap communicates a sense of vulnerability and introspection. You hear it also at the start of the chorus of “Man In the Mirror” (Glen Ballard/Siedah Garrett).
If you want an almost cliché example, Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch” (the quintessential song about vulnerability!), features a large downward leap at the start of the chorus, on the word “touch” (Barry Mann, Dan Hill).
Think of the downward melodic leap as a kind of tool that you keep for moments when your lyric needs the extra help. If you’ve written a tender love song, but you feel that it’s not pulling quite enough at the heartstrings, take a look at the melody, and see if there are any opportunities to change a note or two, to give you a nice big leap downward.
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