If you’ve written a melody that’s hard for people to remember, it’s difficult to imagine it as something that would make any sort of splash in the music world. If people need to hear it many times before they can start humming or singing it, it’s probably missing the opportunity to make a strong connection.
You can debate for a long time what “make a strong connection” really means, but this much we can know for certain: singing is the evidence that it’s happened.
“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” gives lots of examples of how the greatest songwriters use hooks within their songs to grab and keep an audience’s attention.
And we know one other thing for certain: melodies that are easy to sing are usually easy to remember. But what makes a melody easy to sing? If you look back on the past six or seven decades of pop music history and take a close look at some of the best melodies, you’ll note:
- Good melodies usually move primarily by step: they move up and down by adjacent letter names. “Groovy Kind of Love” (Toni Wine/Carole Bayer Sager) and “Yesterday” (Lennon & McCartney) are great examples of primarily stepwise melodies. Stepwise melodies, because of the simplicity of their construction, are both easy to sing, and easy to remember.
- Good melodies often incorporate occasional leaps. A melodic leap tends to inject a bit of musical energy into a line. It also offers a kind of “landmark” that works as a memory aid. Upward leaps (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow“) are usually more notable than downward ones (the chorus of “Man in the Mirror“), but both play an important role in making melodies effective and memorable.
- Good melodies use rhythms that lock into the natural rhythm of the lyrics.
- Good melodies pair up well with the harmonies of the chord progressions that support it. Melodies and chords actually support each other and is a powerful aid in giving melodies a sense of tonal direction.
The basic simplicity of a melody — structural elements that make it easy to sing, even for non-singers — is going to be a key ingredient in making it memorable. When a melody just seems to not be working, the tendency is to look at either the lyric itself or the song’s topic as being the culprits.
But I’d recommend as a first step that you take a close look at the actual construction of your melody. If it leaps too much, or seems to work against the chord progression, you’ve probably written something that is going to be difficult to lock into the musical minds of the listeners.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle includes“Writing a Song From a Chord Progression”. Discover the secrets of making the chords-first songwriting process work for you.