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Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The Power Of Melody (From Presentation at NSAI event, March 2013)
by Kim Copeland
The melody’s main job is to sell the emotion of the song!
Lyrics sell the message (though melody can also help to sell the message). Music sells the attitude (though melody can also play an important role is delivering the attitude of the song). Melody sells the emotion! Since songs are an exchange of emotional energy, and emotion is what sells a song to the listener, melody is a very powerful and important part of the equation!
The key elements of melody are intervals and movement. An interval is the distance between two notes. Movement is the combination of intervals that make a melody interesting and memorable.
Don’t write melodies like a guitar player! Be careful not to use the same notes and melodic lines over and over because they are easy to sing over the groove you like to play. Too often, when we write with a guitar in hand, we confine our melody to the root notes of the chords we are playing and lock our melodic phrasing into the musical phrasing. This can lead to static, limited melodies.
Groove supports melody. Melody does not follow groove. They should be independent of each other.
The first time a listener hears a melodic phrase it is fresh and interesting. The second time, it is familiar and comfortable. The third time, it is redundant and boring. Keep your melodies interesting by limiting repetitive lines.
Marry each line of melody to a lyric so that the listener cannot hear one without thinking of the other. By making less predictable note choices and varying intervals and phrasing, you can create melodies that make your lyric stand out and your message more believable.
A melody should stand alone! It should be easy to hum, sing, whistle, and remember. It should make you feel something – a feeling that matches the emotion of the lyric.
Think about elevator music (music tracks of popular songs) that bring to mind the lyrics even when you aren’t hearing them. You may be humming it because the melody is interesting or fun, but you are hearing the lyric because the melody is tied to that lyric. It expresses the energy and emotion of the lyric and makes you feel it.
Try humming “Imagine”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “You Had Me At Hello”, “I’m So In Love With You” or any of your favorite songs from any genre of music. They likely evoke some powerful emotional reaction even without hearing the lyric.
Listen to some great melody writers such as Elton John, Michael Jackson, Don Henley, Bruce Springsteen and see how they use intervals and movement to make their melodies stand out in your memory.
Shape your melody to build emotional energy. Imagine that the listener is boarding a ride at Disneyworld. Your first verse should introduce them to the ride; settle them into the scenery. The chorus should be the most energetic part of the ride. Climb them up to the chorus with a melody that build gradually in intensity and creates anticipation for the chorus. Then, take them back down to your second verse; not as subtle as the first because they have already seen the chorus, but enough to let them rest up for the next chorus. If you have a bridge, it should be a last highlight that gives us reason to want to hear the chorus again; A move that we have not yet seen or heard and that offers a new view of the subject. When you have said all you need to say, bring them back into the station with a satisfied smile.
Use melodic phrasing. Match the natural lyrical phrasing to the melodic phrasing. This will allow for an honest delivery of the message and emotion. Save the high, soaring notes for the most important words in the song. Use note choices and the length of notes to highlight specific lyrics. This will allow the singer to deliver them in a conversational flow that draws the listener in.
Explore before you settle on phrasing. Again, so not let the musical phrasing always dictate the melodic phrasing. Try singing each line of lyric to at least three different melodic phrasings. Then choose the one that makes you feel something! (Which word should you go up on? Which word should trail downward? How much more emotion does a word have when you hold it for four beats instead of two beats? Which choices make the melody more inviting? Does your melody alone generate an emotion?)
I was twelve years old when I got my first guitar. I wanted to learn a few chords so I would have a reason to sing. Singing was my first love. I quickly learned a few chords and promptly began singing only melodies that fit easily within the framework of what I could play on the guitar. It was only when I put the guitar down that I began to really use my voice (my main instrument) to create good melodies.
What is your main instrument? That is what you should rely on to create great melodies! If you use it to explore intervals and movement, it will likely lead you to some very interesting new places.
Melody is the most powerful emotional tool a songwriter has to work with. Learn to use it and your songs will take on a new life!
I am offering a new collection of articles called “Kim’s Toolbox”. Each article will discuss a songwriting tool that I think is essential to successful commercial songwriting. I hope that you will enjoy reading the articles and using the tools to help you turn your good songs into great songs.
If you have ideas for future “tools” to add to the “Kim’s Toolbox” series, please let me know. I want to talk about what you want to know about. My hope is to introduce you to some new tools and sharpen your skills with familiar ones to help you take your writing to the next level of success.