Today’s melodies and, in fact, many of the great melodies of past decades rely on a handful of techniques to create that special something that keeps them sounding fresh and easy to remember.
Here’s a checklist that will help you make sure your melody has everything it needs before you launch it into the world.
1. Does your melody convey the structure of your song?
If your song has a VERSE / CHORUS structure, make sure listeners know where they are by creating plenty of contrast in the melody between these two sections. Try jumping to higher note range for the chorus or changing from a choppy melody in the verse to a smooth one in the chorus, or from short melodic phrases to long ones. Contrast between sections grabs attention and keeps your melody from sounding like it’s wandering aimlessly. Listeners like to have a sense of “place” in a song. They want to know where they are.
2. Does your melody have a good mix of repetition and variation?
Repetition helps listeners remember a melody. But too much repetition can become annoying. Variety can keep your melody interesting. But too much variety can make your melody lose focus and memorability. What you need to find is the “Goldilocks” spot – the mix of melodic repetition and variation that keeps a melody memorable and interesting.
The Goldilocks spot will be different for every song but there are a few general ideas that work. For example, it’s okay to repeat a melody line, but if you repeat it a third time listeners will start to tune out Try varying your third line, then you can come back to your original line again.
Another example: watch out for the “see-saw” effect – a pair of similar melody lines that are repeated. If there’s enough variation between the two lines, you could be alright but if they’re a lot alike – say, just the final notes are different – you might end up with a predictable pattern that doesn’t keep listeners involved.
3. Does your melody have plenty of phrasing interest?
We often focus on the note pitches of a melody – the rising and falling motion – when we rewrite. But the length of your lines is just as important as changes in pitch. A melody that consists of lines that are all the same length could run the risk of becoming predictable.
Try varying the the length of your phrases. Use two short, repeated phrases instead of one long line. Or run two lines together to make a phrase that’s longer than expected. Or add a few notes and words to the end of a line to create extra length. Any of these ideas will help you create a melody that sustains interest while remaining memorable.
Study hit songs to hear these melody writing techniques
All of these melody writing tips are used in hit songs. They’re what give these songs their catchy, interesting, but easy-to-remember quality. Sing along with a recent hit song you like. Learn the melody well enough to sing it on your own. Then slow it down as you sing and notice the contrast between sections and patterns of repetition and phrase length. Then write a melody of your own using some of these ideas.
by Robin Frederick
This post is based on my songwriting books: Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting, Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, Study the Hits, and The 30-Minute Songwriter. Find out more about all of my print and eBooks on my Author page at Amazon. In each book you’ll find dozens of useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.