American indie rock group Moon Taxi’s 2015 single “All Day, All Night” is a good reminder that you can get considerable mileage by writing a melody that uses lots of repetition, where the changing chords underneath those melodic fragments are what keep things interesting.
The following diagram shows note names lined up with lyrics. You can easily hear and see the use of approximate repetition (the first circled pair), and then exact repetition (the second circled pair):
You could do a note-name analysis like this throughout the entire song, and you’ll notice that most of the melodic phrases are based on this very pentatonic-sounding melody. In a musical world where we value contrast (as I’ve been writing about recently), there’s not a lot of melodic contrast to be found.
You’d think that with this much repetition going on, the song would get boring very quickly. But you probably find, as I find, the song is very catchy, and the repetition doesn’t cross over into the realm of being monotonous or uninteresting. Why?
The main reason is that the chords keep changing underneath. Even though the verse limits the progression to two chords: D and G, the constant moving back and forth between those two chords lulls and entices us to keep listening.
The instrumental riff that directly follows verse 1 before the chorus happens is a short melodic idea that first gets harmonized with that same D and G chord pattern. The melody then repeats, all over a Bm chord, and later over Em.
I love and respect simplicity in music, sometimes more than complexity. Simplicity is hard to do, because you come very close to making things boring. But if you can get the balance right, simplicity will attract a lot of listeners.
If you’ve found a really great little melodic riff for your song but you worry that it’s repeating a bit too much, turn your attention to the chords that are supporting that melodic riff. If there’s a way to change chords as the idea keeps repeating, the repetition is less obvious.
And one other tip: I referred to the fact the melody used in “All Day All Night” is based on a pentatonic scale. You’ll find pentatonic melodies (using five notes, usually the first, second, third, fifth and sixth notes of a scale) are easy ones to get creative with, because they’ll harmonize well with so many chords.
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