Photo by Natalie Perea
Although every aspect of songwriting is important, writing the melody is probably the most important one. The melody is the part that sticks in your head, it’s that tune that you hum and has to be memorable. But melodies can also be pretty hard to write, because many sound like they’ve already been written or are not interesting enough. If you feel like you don’t know what to do to improve your melodies, you’re not alone! Here are some tips to help you write better melodies.
Work on the Harmony Before the Melody
If you come up with a chord structure you like and you know you’re working in a specific scale, it will be easier to identify the notes that you can and can’t use. This doesn’t mean that you absolutely can’t use notes that are not in the scale (e.g. a natural B in an F major scale), but they will be passing notes and in any case they’ll be harder to sing.
Sing It, Don’t Play It
It’s easier to come up with a melody if you’re singing over the chords you’ve chosen. This way, you immediately get a sense of how “hummable” it is, and you also tap into more creative instincts. Playing a melody on piano or guitar is a little more analytical and also doesn’t always translate to something that can be sung, as it doesn’t account for breathing and the unique timbre of the human voice. Even if you’re not a great singer, this can help you develop better melodies.
You will also notice that melodies tend to move in whole steps or half steps. Jumping continuously is difficult when you’re singing, although it can be done and can really make a chorus pop. Consider that, in general, the chorus has to be the most effective melody of the whole song; m it higher in range than your chorus can really make it stand out. Making it too high will make it hard for most people to sing, but it will allow you or the singer you’re writing for to show off incredible technical abilities; overall, however, it’s best to keep the chorus simple and memorable.
Rhythm and Repetition Are Important
Interesting melodies are made up of many different note lengths; melodies constructed, for example, only of eighth notes are usually not that effective. Use syncopation to move the accents and place them differently on the musical phrase.
Have you ever noticed how effective choruses tend to have a lot of repetition in them? This is true for almost all genres and has been used as an important principle of songwriting over the years. In fact, studies have shown that the human brain is wired to enjoy repetition in music. It’s also much easier to memorise the song and sing along right from the first time you hear it if the chorus has at least some degree of repetition. Repetition is the reason a song gets stuck in our head and won’t leave!
Write Every Day
Just like practising an instrument, songwriting needs to be practised as often as possible to improve. Don’t expect every single day to be good; chances are, you will throw away a lot of material. However, it’s pointless to just wait for inspiration to come along once in a while. Writing as often as possible is inspiration waiting to happen, and it’s a sure way to improve everything, but in particular melody and lyrics, every day.