Photo via Luke Lindsley
Writing a strong melody is arguably the most important aspect in creating a popular song. It also happens to be one of the most difficult. Often times this is one of the key reasons that prevents a good band or musician from reaching the limelight and their full potential.
One of the best ways to improve your own melodies is by looking at and identifying the melodic characteristics of some of the most popular songs over the last century. By dissecting these songs we can begin to understand why those melodies are so damn good and catchy.
After performing surgery on dozens of songs over the years I’ve come across a few consistencies between many of them. Here are 3 tips for writing stronger melodies:
1) Use Wide Interval Leaps
One of the most classic examples of using wide interval leaps is found in the song Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Notice the interval between the first two notes of the word “somewhere.” This interval is actually a perfect octave. This makes the melody stand out right away because it’s unexpected to the listener. Using wide interval leaps tastefully can help compliment the smaller leaps and turn an average melody into an outstanding one. This is a great technique to make the chorus shine, but don’t be afraid to experiment with it in other parts of your songs.
2) Develop a Rhythmic Theme
Paul McCartney is the master of developing rhythmic themes. One of my favorite examples of this is The Beatles song Eleanor Rigby. Listen to the theme of the main phrase of the tune (“Eleanor Rigby picks up the..”). You’ll notice it’s broken up into an unusual length of 5 measures that uses a pattern of “1 + 3 + 1.” This strange combination gives the songs melody a very unique and stylistic feel. You can incorporate this technique into your own song by breaking up your melody into simple pieces and experimenting with various combinations in different orders.
3) Implement Color Tones
Color tones are pitches added to major or minor triads to extend the shades of either the major or minor tonality. In a C triad for example, a color tone might be Cmaj7 or Cmaj9. By adding color tones to your melody, it provides richness to the song. One of the most popular examples of this is Radiohead’s High and Dry. You can hear the color tone note when the singer sings the word “high” during the chorus. The note isn’t within the chord that is being played, but it doesn’t sound like the note is wrong either. By adding color tones to your melodies, you can add a lot of texture which makes the song come to life.
Hopefully these tips were of some use to you. Cheers and happy writing!