Tom Petty

Creating Musical Energy When You Use the Same Melody For Verse and Chorus

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Recently I wrote about the importance of musical energy in all songs, whether they’re loud or soft, and that quiet ballads, it could be argued, need control over musical energy for them to work at all.

That post got me thinking about other issues around the topic of musical energy, and in particular this came to mind: when you use the very same melody for both the verse and the chorus, how do you ensure that you build musical energy?

There’s an easy answer: make the chorus louder than the verse, and you’ll probably get all the energy build your song needs. You make it louder by:

  1. Sing louder(!)
  2. Add instruments.
  3. Add rhythmic intensity to the accompanying instruments.

And there’s a fourth way: keep all the melody notes the same, but move the vocal up an octave.

Classical composers have also dealt with the issue of building musical energy when the basic melodies are the same, or don’t change at all. A great example is the opening movement of Carl Orff’s most famous work, “Carmina Burana”.

After a short introduction, we get a long, quiet melody, followed by that same melody, where everyone (1) sings louder, where there are (2) more instruments, and where (3) the rhythms we hear especially in the percussion section become much more active.

And the main melody gets pushed into a higher octave:

By doing those four things, Orff gets considerable mileage out of one melody. The entire movement consists of one melody played twice through, once low and quiet, followed by once more high and loud.

In the pop music world, Tom Petty did the same thing in “Free Fallin'”. The verse and chorus melodies aren’t identical, but they’re very similar. The verses feature a low, quiet melody with a fairly transparent accompaniment, followed by a chorus where the music is louder, where the instrumentation gets (a little) fuller and busier, and the melody is pushed into a higher octave:

If the song you’re working on uses either the same or a similar melody, you’ll want to think carefully about this issue. To simply repeat melodies with little to no change in the musical approach runs the risk of having the song sound as if it’s running out of steam.

Always be thinking of ways to allow musical energy to build from beginning to end by crafting a clever approach to instrumental choices, and perhaps moving the chorus melody up an octave.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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