12 Tips for Composing Better Melodies
12 melody composition tips for songwriters to improve their melody composition, plus techniques to help you compose more memorable, catchy and hook filled melodies. This article will show you what to look for, what techniques to use and what to watch out for and avoid.
1. Try writing your melody without an instrument, (A Cappella). When writing a melody with an instrument, there is a natural tendency to follow the chords the instrument is playing. This can ‘box’ in your creativity and limit possibilities. By not composing over chords, your melody can suggest chords other than the one(s) you may be playing. Chords are always a product of the melody, not the other way around.
2. Vary your melody’s range. Don’t write your verse and chorus melody in the exact same range. In fact, one technique you can use to make your song’s title stand out more is to use either higher or lower notes for the title (hook) than used elsewhere in the song. When done right, this has the bonus effect making the title jump out and broadcasting to the listener, “This is the song title!”
3. Don’t write a melody with too wide of a range. Most singers can sing comfortably in a range of an octave and 2 to 3 notes. That’s 10 to11 notes. Write your melodies in a key you can sing comfortably in, and then in a range you can sing. Many people make the mistake of singing in falsetto as they compose in order to use notes they prefer but can’t actually sing. If you can’t sing it in your key and range, another singer might not be able to either. If you melody is using more than 11 notes, it may be difficult for even professional singers to sing.
4. Vary the melody’s note length. If your verses use short notes, use longer, sustaining notes in your chorus. Or vise versa. This technique also helps create contrast making each of your song’s sections more distinct.
5. Vary the melody’s rhythm. For example in 4/4 time, if the melody in your verses uses mostly eighth-notes (two notes per beat); in your chorus, try using quarter-notes (one-note per beat) and/or half-notes (one note per two beats). This will give each section a distinctly different rhythmic feel and create interesting contrast. The Beatles were masters at this.
6. Use repetition. If you come up with a catchy melodic phrase, repeat it. All of the most successful songs use melodic repetition. Repeating phrases and notes helps the listener catch on to them faster and remember them. Repetition is the number one technique for building successful hooks.
7. Use short phrases. Short phrases are often the most catchy. Short phrases make it easier for the listener to remember your melody. Short phrases also allow you to have room for pauses.
8. Mirror your phrases. This is also referred to as: “Call and Response.” To use mirroring effectively, your lines must be equal in note count, length and timing. (thus the mirror effect). It involves singing a line, then singing another line that is almost the same, except it may contain one or two notes that are different somewhere in the phrase that are higher or lower than the first phrase. This works especially well with short phrases.
9. Use Consecutive Ascending or Descending Notes. Composing melodies that ascend (rise) or descend (lower) consecutively in the sequential order of the melodic scale for the key the song is in will be more memorable than melodies that jump all over the scale. For example: if the song is in A minor, a melody ascending A-B-C, will be easier to remember than a melody going A-E-G.
10. Don’t fill up every space with notes. You can have too many notes (and thus too many words). Spaces and pauses in music actually make music more interesting. Something that never stops begins to sound like: “Blah, blah, blah” after a while and listeners may find it annoying and tune out. Another important concern: filling up every space means the singer has no space to breathe and that makes a song difficult to sing or even un-singable.
11. Make your melody match the lyric. Whether you start with lyrics first, or compose the melody first then write lyrics; the mood of the melody should match the message of the lyrics. A melody will evoke a mood. Ask yourself or others what mood they feel when listening to your melody. A sad, somber melody will be out of place paired with happy, uplifting lyrics and vice versa. Successful songs achieve a perfect match of musical mood and lyrical content.
12. Make your melody easy to sing. Keep it simple. Have you ever noticed that the majority of successful songs are easy to sing along with? That’s no accident. People love songs they can sing. Make your melody one the average Joe can sing and you just may have the next smash hit.