If your melody is catchy and easy to remember, listeners are more likely to want to hear your song again. Here are a few tricks that will help you write a memorable song melody with plenty of listener appeal.
Memorable, emotionally powerful melodies use repetition and variation to keep listeners involved. A melody with no repetition sounds unfocused and weak, as if it’s wandering around with nowhere to go. A melody with too much repetition can become predictable and boring. Good melodies balance repeated, easy-to-remember phrases with phrases that provide variety and interest.
Try a mix of short and long phrases. As you listen to a song, you can usually feel where melodic phrases begin and end; there is a natural break. Melodic phrases can be short (one bar) or long (four bars or more). Varying the length of your melodic phrases is a good way to keep your melody interesting. For example: try starting a verse with two short phrases followed by a long phrase. You can hear this in a song like “Breakaway,” a big hit for Kelly Clarkson.
Good melodies also make use of pace and rhythm. We often think of melodies as being a series of note pitches. We focus on the rising and falling patterns of notes in a melody. But melodies also rely on rhythm (patterns of long and short notes) and pace (the speed of the notes).
Just think of the nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It’s a series of two-note phrases (“Twink-le / twink-le / lit-tle”), followed by a held-out note (“star”). Then the whole pattern is repeated. Each two-note phrase is on a different pitch. This is a great way to write a melody that’s easy to remember: The rhythm pattern stays the same while the note pitches change. You can hear a much more sophisticated example in Paul McCartney’s classic Pop song “Yesterday.”
Songwriting techniques to try
Choose a hit song you like and listen to the verse and chorus closely.
- Notice the mix of long and short phrases. Is there a pattern?
- Which ones, if any, are repeated exactly – both note rhythm and note pitches?
- Which ones have the same rhythm pattern but use different note pitches?
This is a great way to start thinking about melody. Once you can identify repetition and variation in some of your favorite songs, try writing or rewriting a melody of your own to make use of these techniques.
READ TIP #4: Use CONTRAST to Grab the Listener’s Attention.