Christina Perri

Curing the Melody that Aimlessly Wanders

Writing melodies may not be the part of songwriting you find easy at all. You may find it easy to create chord progressions that you like, and you may even be a decent lyricist. But if you’re finding that your melodies sound like aimless wandering — a disorganized collection of notes — that’s a problem that may not be all that difficult to solve.

One of the most prevalent qualities of good melodies is repetition. It’s practically impossible to find a song melody in any genre that doesn’t use repeating notes and/or repeating phrases.


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Sometimes those repetitions are exact, where you’ll hear a short phrase of melody, followed by the exact same phrase, over the same (but sometimes different) chord progression.

Like the chorus of “A Thousand Years” (Christina Perri, David Hodges, Steve Kazee), you get a short melodic fragment (“I have died every day waiting for you”), followed by something identical (“Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you…”).

In that particular example, the first melodic fragment is set over a Bb chord, with the second fragment over Gm passing through Bb/F at the end. The fact that the same fragment gets harmonized with different chords distracts listeners from hearing that both melodic fragments are identical.

Repetition is an extremely important part of the structural strength of music. Repetition, for example, is one of the most important aspects of a song hook.. Without repetition, listeners can tend to feel a bit lost, not knowing where a melody is headed. Repeating a melodic idea makes an audience feel that there is an important quality of musical organization.

You hear that when you listen to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock“, where each phrase of the verse melody is either an exact replica of the phrase before it, or at least almost completely exact. Also, check out Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” (Max Martin, et al), where the first two phrases of the verse are identical.

Even when repetition is approximate, where just the general shape of the melody is the same, can serve as an important structural element, as we hear in the verse of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

If your melodies sound like they’re meandering around, seeming to lack any sense of organization or structure, I’m willing to bet that the culprit is the lack of repeating melodic ideas. As I say, it’s hard to find any song in any genre that doesn’t use repeating melodic ideas. That’s where you need to start your troubleshooting.


Gary 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.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. Great blog, never felt 100% sure if I have the perfect chords to the melodies I compose in my head, the first 2 notes theory and a chord that supports most of the notes in each bar will be a great way to analze my current choices. Cheers Michael.

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