Derek & the Dominos - Layla

How Many Unique Elements Make a Good Song Tune?

Pop songs are typically 3 or 4 minutes in length. And because this is not a long bit of time we’re talking about, it can be a problem if you put too many ideas together when you write that song.

Think of it as a kind of musical “economy.” You’ll use one melody for the verse, another for the chorus. If it has a bridge you’ll use one there, but each of these melodies are usually pretty simple in their structure.


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Take a song like Derek & the Dominos’ “Layla” (Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon). If you set aside the long instrumental ending for the moment, you get two fairly simple melodies. The chorus melody gives us a “call and response” structure: a short 2-note figure (“Lay-la…”), followed by a little response figure (“You got me on my knees…“).

With the verse, if you sing it by yourself with no accompaniment, you start to realize that the melody is just four short phrases, all of which are simply playing around with three main notes.

And that’s pretty much it. “Layla” winds up being a perfect example of how it’s unnecessary (and detrimental) to clutter up a song with too many ideas. The short length of most songs makes too many ideas sound like a jumble.

It’s also the perfect example of how each one of those ideas consist mainly of repeated fragments.

As you look around the world of pop music, you start to see how much the great songs take one simple idea, and repeats it either exactly or even just approximately. Just sing the melodies of the following songs to yourself and you’ll see what I mean:

  • “Got To Get You Into My Life” (Lennon & McCartney)
  • “Rolling In the Deep” (Adele, Paul Epworth)
  • “Somebody That I Used to Know” (Gotye)
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Paul Simon)
  • “Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan)

The main advantage to creating simple melodies that use repetition more than they use new ideas is that audiences find them easy to sing and easy to remember.

It’s time to take a look at your own melodies to see if you’re cluttering up your song with too many ideas. Don’t fear simplicity in the writing of music. No one rates melodies based on how simple they are; they rate them on how beautiful they are, and how well they support the lyric.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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