Using the Range of Your Melody to Create Musical Energy

For those who don’t create (write or perform) songs, they’d probably have a simple answer to how you generate musical energy: turn up the volume!

But if you’ve been a musician for a while, whether that’s writing songs, or being involved in producing or playing them, you likely know that there’s a lot more you can do to generate musical energy. Making things louder means trying to make everything more energetic, but focusing on one particular component of a song — like the melody, for example — means you can be more subtle about it.

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One of the most powerful ways to control the power of your melodies, and the energy they generate, is to give thought to their range. Typically, when melodies move upward, they generate more power, and when they move downward they allow energy to dissipate.

That’s because when a singer is required to sing in their highest range, a natural kind of tension can be heard in the voice. Listeners interpret that increase of vocal tension as an increase in musical energy.

Then when the voice moves downward, that extra energy diminishes.

It’s a common principle in songwriting, regardless of genre, that the first section of a song (usually the verse) exhibits lower energy levels than the section that follows — the chorus. So that’s the reason that most songs will use melodies lower in range for the verse, and then higher in range for the chorus.

In addition to that, though, you can be even more subtle about melodic range within a song’s section. You can see evidence of this in practically any song, but take a listen to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” as a good example. You can hear that the melodies dwell mainly around one note for quite a while, with occasional jumps upward. Each of those upward melodic leaps offers a slight shot of energy in the voice, even if the backing instruments mainly continue with whatever they had been doing.

Those melodic fluctuations allow for some understated but constant up-and-down of musical energy throughout the entire song.

In your own songwriting, take a look at your melodies and pay particular attention to how they move. When melodies move up, you’ll want to think also about the lyric at those moments: does the rising melody seem to make sense when considering the words you’ve placed in the lyric? Is there an increase in emotional content of your lyric at those moments?

The interesting thing about how you manipulate melodic direction and range as a songwriter is that listeners can clearly hear the effect, even if they don’t have the musical vocabulary to explain why those melodic manipulations are working.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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