by Anthony Ceseri
Writing a great melody may be the most important part of writing a song people will love. After all, the melody is the part they get stuck in their heads. With that in mind, let’s look at a few concepts that are good to know when you’re planning out your next melodic masterpiece.
1. What’s a Melodic Hook?
The melodic hook is an important part of contemporary songwriting, as it’s the catchiest piece of your song’s melody. It’ll be the portion of your song’s melody that your listeners will be singing after the song is over. It’s what keeps them coming back for more. In songs with a chorus, the melodic hook is likely to happen in the chorus. In songs without a chorus, like in an AABA song structure, the melodic hook is likely to be the refrain, which usually occurs at the beginning or end of each verse.
The melody that happens on the words “C’mon baby, light my fire” in the song “Light My Fire” by The Doors is a good example of a melodic hook. It’s the chunk of melody that tends to be the one that sticks in your head, and in this case also happens to be the chorus of the song, which is fairly typical.
Memorability in a melody is important. If your listeners remember your song’s melody, then they’ll want to hear it again. If it’s too complicated, they won’t remember it and won’t even be capable of wanting to hear it again.
The best melodies are simple, because simple is memorable. In addition to being simple the best melodies usually have a unique aspect to them that makes people want to hear them again.
2. Melodic Motifs
A motif is a phrase that’s repeated throughout your song. It helps to shape the sound of your song. It’s what makes it memorable and contributes to a good hook. A good motif is not a line of melody that’s repeated over and over again as-is, but it’s one that’s repeated and slightly modified. That makes for a melody that’s both memorable, and not overly repetitious.
The best melodies are kept simple, so they’re singable. The main ingredient of melodic simplicity is repetition. The key is to be repetitious, without being overly repetitious. That’s where the idea of a melodic motif comes in. A motif may repeat itself exactly for three phrases, and then the last note will be different on the fourth phrase. Or maybe a motif may be repeated twice, but then the next two times, it has less notes than it did the first two times. In both of these cases, the motif is creating repetition, without simply being redundant. There’s a slight change that makes the melody interesting as it moves along.
It’s important to note that your song won’t be based on a single motif, but a couple of them. You may have two different motifs that appear in your verses, and a third that happens in your chorus. A good rule of thumb is not to have more than two melodic motifs in each section of your song. It’ll help keep it memorable, without it getting too complicated.
3. Be Melody Minded!
Always keep an open ear for potential melodies. You can convert the vocal inflections of someone’s voice to a melody. You can hear the pitches and rhythms of cars passing you by as you walk on the street and use that as a start for your melody. Even the consistency of your zipper banging against your jacket as you run can be the basis of a new melody’s rhythm.
It’s all about pitches and rhythms, which are the two components of a melody. If you find combinations of pitches and rhythms that work, there’s no reason you can’t use them as the start to your song’s melody.
Even a couple of notes in the middle of someone else’s melody can be the starting point for an original melody of your own. Singing along with songs you love is a great way to start finding new melodies.. You can sing along with a song, then turn the song off and riff on that song’s melody while changing it, to come up with something new. Melodies are copyrightable, so make sure you change it enough so that it’s completely your own.
When listening to another melody you love, pick apart what you love about it, then exploit those features in a melody of your own. Was it a quick, choppy rhythm that you liked? Did it have a really cool spread in it’s vocal range? Then you can apply those same concepts to your melodies.
Another good trick for coming up with melodies is to try developing them without the lyrics at first. It’ll help you focus on the melody itself. Even if you already have lyrics written, doing this will be a much purer way of writing a melody. It’ll be easier to tell if this is the great melody you’ve been dreaming of for your song!
Now that you’re aware of these basic melody concepts, keep them in mind the next time you’re writing a melody, so you can write something your fans will be really excited about. Melody writing can be a lot of fun, so enjoy the process as you organize your notes into catchy melodies!
About Anthony Ceseri
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