Joni Mitchell

Some Quick Fixes for Common Problems With Song Melodies

Not every song will have a notable melody. In general terms, the slower the song, the more important the melody becomes.

Perhaps that’s because slower songs use melodies that use longer notes, making them more noticeable. With fast songs, melody notes typically fly by, and the basic groove of the song is probably more important.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleThousands of songwriters have been using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle, along with the Study Guide, to polish their songwriting skills and raise their level of excellence. Today can be the day you take your songwriting to a new level!

Regardless of the speed of a melody, though, they all usually use the same kinds of structural elements. This means that you can usually write a melody that you initially think might be for a slow song, and it will still work for a fast one.

Similarly, songs with fast melodies can be slowed, and the melody will still work. Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” is a moderately slow song in Joni’s initial arrangement, faster when sung by Judy Collins, and sounds gorgeous as a slow ballad in Joni’s more recent orchestral arrangement.

There are some typical problems that keep showing up when songwriters struggle with melodies. Here are a list of five of the most common problems, and why those problems make a song weaker.

  1. The melody doesn’t use enough patterns and repeated figures. Repetition is an important structural feature of good melodies. You should notice either exact or approximate repetition throughout a tune, and those patterns are what makes them a bit easier to remember, and perhaps even easier to sing.
  2. The range of the melody is too wide. This one is a bit of a misnomer, since it’s often not the range itself that’s the problem, but that widely ranging melodies often just use too many notes. When melodies stray from the top of the singers range down to their very bottom notes, with all the notes in between, it’s hard to notice patterns — patterns that, as mentioned above, make the melody a bit easier to sing, and more memorable.
  3. The rhythm of the lyric isn’t supported by the rhythms of the melody. Depending on which feature — lyrics or melody — is more important to the song, this is either a problem with the lyric or a problem with the melody. The melody’s rhythms should be supporting the natural pulse of the lyric, and in that sense both song elements are crucial partners. Read your lyric to the rhythm of your melody (read, don’t sing), and you should notice that the melody’s rhythms work with the accents and pulses of your words.
  4. The basic vocal range of each section of your song is too similar. If all parts of your song put the singer in the same range, there’s just too much sameness. In “Both Sides Now” you’ll notice how effective it is that the verse is low and the chorus is high.
  5. The melody is missing a climactic moment. There’s more than melody involved in creating a climactic moment for your song: chords, lyrics, and the musical arrangement — these all play an important role. But it’s usually a good idea to have one note, or perhaps one short musical phrase, that sits a little higher than the others around it, to give your listeners a sense of musical excitement, a moment that “waves the flag”, so to speak.

The one other important aspect of good melody writing not listed above is how the melody cooperates with the chords of the moment. Sometimes a melody can feel weak, and experimenting with chord choice can be the musical activity that suddenly brings it alive.

In that regard, any troubleshooting of a melody should begin with a close look at the chords, making sure that at least that aspect of the song is working well.

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.Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessThousands of songwriters are using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” to polish their songwriting technique. Discover the secrets to writing great melodies, lyrics, chords, and more. And get a FREE copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.

Posted in Melody and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.