Let’s say you’ve just spent the afternoon writing a song and you feel you’ve got a good start on a first draft. The concept is strong, the structure feels right. Of course the lyric still needs work but you’re planning to go back and rewrite it.
But what about the melody? Will you go back and rewrite that, too? Or will you stick with the first idea that came to you?
Many times, a songwriter who wouldn’t dream of settling for a rough draft of a lyric, uses the first melody that comes along. Often these melodies are the result of old habits; they may sound dated and familiar. The writer might not even know that a melody can be rewritten, strengthened, and polished just like a lyric. To give your song the best chance for success, make sure your melody works hard to attract listeners and put your emotional message across!
=> Melody makes your song structure easy to follow
Listeners don’t like songs that seem to wander aimlessly. They like to know where they are and they like the feeling of structure that a good melody provides. To do that, create plenty of contrast between sections – verse, chorus, and bridge. Then the listener will know when they’re moving from one section to the next. Successful songs use some combination of these three techniques for adding contrast to a melody:
- Use a change of note range (low vs. high).
- Change the note pace (fast vs. slow, choppy vs. smooth).
- Play with melodic rhythm patterns (different patterns of long and short notes).
You can use any of these three ideas for creating a different melody in each section, making each one distinctive so that listeners know when they’re in a verse and when they’re in the chorus. Contrast between sections is an essential part of today’s successful songs. Try listening to a hit song you like (from any decade) and notice how the melody clearly defines each section for you.
=> Your melody tells listeners what’s important
Some of the words in your lyric are bound to be more important than others. Using your melody to emphasize those words allows you to point listeners in the direction you want them to look. If every word is emphasized or the wrong words are emphasized, a listener can miss the whole point of your song.
Check your melody to see if you’re pointing out the emotionally important words in your lyric. To add emphasis to a word, try these songwriting tips:
- Put an important word on a high note.
- Hold out a word longer than others to add emphasis.
- Add a pause just before a word you want to draw attention to.
- If the word is at the end of a line put it on the root note of the chord.
=> Use patterns of phrases to make your melody memorable
One of the hallmarks of hit songs – songs that a lot of listeners really like – is good melodic organization. A mix of long and short lines is always good idea.
Many hit songs use one of the following melody patterns in the verse or chorus:
- Two long lines, two short lines, then a long line.
- Two short lines then one long line. Repeat that pattern to complete the section.
- Four short phrases then one long line. Repeat that pattern to complete the section.
Listen to some of your favorite songs and notice the patterns of long and short phrases. Write down the patterns and try a couple in songs of your own.
Do It Now!
There are many more ways to rewrite, refine, and strengthen your melody. Your goal is to write a melody that appeals to you and your listeners while underscoring your lyric with plenty of emotion. Go through some of the songs you’ve written and play with the melodies to add emphasis to important words, create more memorability, or add a fresh twist.
If you make a change in your melody that doesn’t work for you, just go back to what you had before. That’s what I love about songwriting… there’s UNDO button! Exercise your creativity, record as you go along, at the end of the day you always have what you started with.
Have fun! And may your songs flow.
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.