Feist - 1234

Creating a Song From 3 Short Melodic Ideas

Here’s an alternative to always thinking in the verse-chorus format: try creating three short melodic fragments, all in the same key, and then putting them together to create a complete song. Don’t worry or think about which one is the verse or chorus.

If you want a real example of what I’m talking about, you may know “1234” – written by Canadian singer-songwriter Feist, and Sally Seltmann, and made famous for its use in an Apple ad for the iPod Nano.

The structure of the song is surprisingly simple, made up primarily of three short melodic ideas:

Idea A: “1-2-3-4, tell me that you love me more…”

Idea B: “Old teenage hopes/ Are alive at your door”

Idea C: “Oh, you’re changing your heart…”

The majority of the song is made up of those three simple melodies, variously repeated, and interspersed with some short instrumental sections. Each fragment has its own chord progression, but they’re all very similar. So the form of the complete song is:


If you want to try your hand at this kind of simple song structure, you’ll find it best to give each melodic fragment its own unique shape, and probably its own range. In “1234”, the first fragment’s main identifying feature is its downward motion. The second section has a distinctive upward leap, and the third section sits mainly on the dominant (V) chord.

The great thing about a song like this is that you don’t need to think much about verse-chorus format — what’s most important is the use of three fairly distinctive and catchy melodies, and whether it’s a verse or chorus becomes essentially irrelevant.

If you’ve written, or plan to write, a song using this kind of formal design, feel free to post a link to it in the comments below.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleSometimes all you need are lists of chords to get the songwriting process started. The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle includes “Essential Chord Progressions” and “More Essential Chord Progressions.” Use the suggested chords as is, or modify them to suit your own songwriting project.

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  1. I wrote this song and it has three main melodic ideas for the first part of the song A-B-C-A-B-C. Then it uses a variation of B as a kind of bridge. Then back to C. I introduce a new melodic idea for a second bridge (D) and then back to C to finish it out. So the whole thing is A-B-C-A-B-C-B*-C-D-C.

    When I was writing, I thought of A as the Verse, B as the Pre-chorus, and C as the Chorus, but your concept of melodic fragments may make more sense. What do you think?


    • Hi Don:

      In my way of thinking, when you’ve got three interesting ideas for a melody, and they all nicely contrast each other, then the whole question of which section is behaving like a chorus, which one like a bridge, etc., isn’t particularly important. If one section keeps coming back in a more-or-less unchanged state, especially with the same lyrics, you could identify it as being a chorus. But if you start a song from scratch and write three fragments, all of which move well one to the other, it doesn’t really matter what the sections are ultimately called.


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