John Newman - Losing Sleep

The Most Common Melody Problem Songwriters Need to Know About

For most songs, a good melody is crucial because it gives the listener something to hum after they’ve heard it. There are all kinds of melodies — from the ones that use one phrase over and over again (“Free Fallin'” – Tom Petty), to the ones that move up and down and encompass much of the singer’s range, like “Hey Jude” (Lennon & McCartney) or “Tears in Heaven” (Eric Clapton).

In that regard, you’d think that the most common problem songwriters deal with is when melodies and chords don’t work well together, but that’s not it.

How to Harmonize a MelodyIf you’re stuck trying to add chords to your melodies, you need “How to Harmonize a Melody.” Shows you how to do it, step-by-step, with sound samples to guide you.

More often than not, the most common melody problem that songwriters experience deals with melodic range, and specifically this: when all the various sections of a song (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) all use melody notes that are in the same range.

So in other words, most songs use several different melodies, and it works best when each of those melodies is in its own distinct range. If for the verse and chorus your melodies are created by using the same basic tone set (i.e., the same collection of notes), your melodies are going to lack contrast.

That’s going to result in listener boredom.

Listen to ten songs that you love, and more often than not you’ll encounter this:

  1. A verse melody use a tone set that is low-to-middle of the singer’s range.
  2. A pre-chorus uses a melody that starts low and moves upward.
  3. A chorus melody often offers some of the highest notes of a song, except…
  4. A bridge melody might use a note or two higher than what you might use in a chorus, as a way of increasing musical energy; but…
  5. Sometimes a bridge might be a way of lowering musical energy, and so uses lower notes, especially if the song is a high-energy rocker (like John Newman’s “Losing Sleep“).

It is possible to have songs where the chorus is lower than the verse (“No Reply at All”, written by Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford), and that just serves to remind us that the contrast existing at all is more important than which section is higher. But you’ll find that choruses tend to be pitched higher simply because we perceive more musical and vocal energy from a higher voice, and that typically serves a chorus hook better.

So if you’ve written a song that seems boring on some level and you’re questioning whether you’ve written a melody that’s attractive enough, it may not be that any one melody within your song has a problem. It may actually be a situation where all of melodies you use in that song are sitting in the same range.

If you find that’s the case, you can usually change just a note or two in your chorus to bump the upper range upward — it often doesn’t take a lot of reworking to solve the problem; the differences can be subtle.

The other option is to find a way to throw in a quick key change to put your chorus in a higher key, moving the melody range higher along with the key. If you’d like to experiment with that solution, please read my blog post, “Moving Your Song’s Key Upward For the Chorus.”

Gary Ewer video - How the Rhythm of a Melody Changes as a Song ProgressesWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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