Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Moving Melodies Up an Octave to Deal With Verse-Chorus Sameness

It sometimes happens that both the verse and chorus in a song use the same melody — or at least a very similar one. The kids’ song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon“, is a good example.

It seems to fly in the face of the otherwise important principle that chorus melodies are typically higher, generating more musical energy.

Using the exact same melody may not be all that common, but there’s another more common scenario: songs where the verse and chorus melodies both sit in the same basic range, using the same notes. This can cause problems because it can cause “listening fatigue”, where we just keep hearing the same notes over and over again.

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The main symptom of a song where the verse and chorus melodies both come from the same set of notes is that you find yourself, as a listener, being distracted and wanting to hear something new.

One reliable solution, if you find yourself having written a song where all the melodies sit in the same basic range, is to choose a section to rewrite; either you’ll want to find a way to lower your verse melody, or to raise your chorus melody.

But there’s another solution: keep the verse melody where it is, and, assuming it’s not too high, raise the chorus melody by a full octave.

Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” is a good example of a song that does this. And not only do the verse and chorus melodies use the same notes, it’s a very restricted tone set: three notes from the key of F major: F, G and A, sung in his midrange for the verse, and then jumping up an octave for the chorus.

And in that upper octave, it’s still three notes — F, G and A — that the chorus uses for its melody.

If the entire song had been done in the same range as the verse melody, I doubt we’d know this song; I think it would have flopped. But that octave leap into the chorus gives the song the shot it needs.

So yes, rewriting a verse to be lower or a chorus to be higher is a good way to deal with a song where too much of it all sits in the same range. But before you commit to doing that, consider the possibility of keeping your chorus melody the same, but bumped upward by a full octave.

Also, one final point: if that octave leap makes it too high, you can consider lowering the entire song by a key or two, to make both ranges work vocally.

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.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. Although this trick might work with Free Fallin’, it sounds like it could potentially be used as a gimmick for songs that just don’t have other interesting things going on whether melodically or harmonically. Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” for example also only has one melody throughout the whole song with a range of an octave (12 semitones) and it’s repeated for 6 minutes without listening fatigue because it also has a very haunting modal sound with an interesting chord progression.

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