Songwriting 101 - The Melody

Songwriting 101 – The Melody

This is a series of posts about song formatting and structure. Every couple of days I’ll be writing about the different individual elements that make up a song.

Please bear in mind that these are my definitions and interpretations of the different parts of a song structure. There are no hard and fast rules determining which part of a song goes where.

However, there are generally accepted guidelines. Think of this Songwriting 101 series as the “nuts and bolts” of putting your songs together.

You’ve been refining your songwriting process and you’ve come up with some great ideas and now you are ready to put them all together.

Your journey starts now…

Today, we’ll be discussing probably the most important aspect of songwriting – The Melody.

We all have songs that we hold dear to our hearts, the ones that we just can’t help but hum or whistle along to, the ones that are deeply etched into our memories.

Have you ever stopped to think about what it is that makes these songs so irresistible?

It’s the melody!

For me, it took a while for this fact to really hit home. As a songwriter I had spent years focusing on chord progressions, obsessing over each and every note, trying to create the most intricate riffs.

But the truth is, no matter how sophisticated your musical arrangement is, if the melody isn’t strong, your song might not make the impact you hope for.

Once I realised this fact, it completely revolutionised my songwriting process. So, let’s dive in and explore the magic of melody together.

Trust me, understanding the power of melody could be the key to unlocking your full potential as a songwriter.

Understanding the Importance of Melody

Think of your song as a beautiful painting – the melody would be the bold brush strokes of colour that immediately capture the viewer’s attention.

It’s the melody that brings the song to life, it’s the heartbeat that gives the song its rhythm, and it’s the soul that gives it its identity.

It’s like the main character of your story – the song revolves around it, and its charm determines whether your song will be a hit or a miss.

What’s fascinating about the melody is that it’s the part of the song that stays with the listener, long after the song is over.

It’s the melody that they hum while taking a shower or the tune they whistle to on a road trip. It’s the melody that gets stuck in their head, sometimes annoyingly so, but hey, that’s when you know your melody has truly made its mark!

The beauty of the melody is in its uniqueness. It’s what defines your song as being yours and only yours.

Even if you decide to use the same four-chord progression that thousands of songs have used before, it’s your melody that will set your song apart from the rest.

It’s your melody that will shine through and make your song memorable amidst the sea of songs that are being churned out every day.

Songwriters often tie themselves up in knots, striving for an original chord progression or a never-heard-before riff. While these aspects are important, they should not overshadow the melody.

A catchy melody is worth its weight in gold in the world of songwriting because (along with the lyrical content) it’s the very thing that your listeners will connect with.

Common Misconceptions in Songwriting

A lot of songwriters (including me) get so engrossed in trying to craft an original chord structure or create a riff that’s never been heard before that we lose sight of the bigger picture.

This pursuit of uniqueness, while important, can sometimes lead us down a frustrating path of endless trial and error.

You might be surprised at how many songwriters, see songwriting as a constant battle against repetition and redundancy. They fear that traversing the same old paths will bore their audience.

It’s like they’re in an arm-wrestling match with originality and feel like they’re always on the losing side. But, here’s a little secret: songwriting is not always about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes, a simple, well-worn chord progression can work wonders if it’s graced with a captivating melody.

This isn’t to undermine the importance of originality, but rather to stress that originality can be found in melody too, and sometimes, it might be the most impactful place to put it.

In the pursuit of creating something unique, it’s crucial not to overlook the melody or relegate it to the back seat.

The irony is that by getting caught up in the quest for an entirely unique chord progression or an inspired riff, we can end up neglecting the very thing that makes a song memorable – its melody.

In my experience, it’s the melody that often makes the song stand out, not just the chord structure or the riff. The audience connects with the melody on a visceral level, and it’s the melody that they remember long after the song ends.

The Power of Melody

The fascinating thing about a melody is that it carries within it the ability to awaken emotions, even with the simplest set of chords.

You could play the same three chords on repeat, and if your melody is good, it can elicit a profound emotional response from the listener.

Have you ever heard a song that instantly touched your heart? A song that made you happy, sad, nostalgic, or gave you goosebumps? Well, that’s the power of a great melody at work.

A melody can reach into the deepest corners of our hearts and minds, bringing to the surface emotions that we didn’t even realise were there.

Moreover, a great melody is like that catchy tune that just won’t leave your head, no matter how hard you try to shake it off.

We’ve all had that experience, waking up in the middle of the night with a tune playing incessantly in our heads. That’s when you know you have a melody that sticks.

The beauty of it all is that your melody is unique to your song. In fact, it’s actually unique to you as a songwriter and as a person.

Regardless of the chords you use or the arrangement you settle on, your melody is your own. It’s like your song’s fingerprint – utterly unique and impossible to duplicate precisely. It sets your song apart from the rest, and even amidst a sea of music, it’ll make your song stand out.

I know of many artists who put themselves through a rigorous test trying to come up with an original chord structure or an extraordinary riff. But I’ve learned that if you have a great melody, it doesn’t matter what chords you pair it with.

The melody will elevate them, will give them life. Even the most commonly used chords can turn into a beautiful song when carried by a captivating melody.

Remember, in songwriting, there are no absolute rules for creating great melodies. However, your lyrics can guide you, providing clues to where your melody should be heading.

The power of a good melody is that it has the potential to make your listeners feel exactly what you want them to feel.

Training the Ear for Good Melodies

Now, let’s shift gears and talk about tuning our ears to appreciate and identify good melodies.

Just like any other skill, training your ears to pick up on captivating melodies takes time and practice. But there’s a fun and effective way to do this: by immersing yourself in the world of music.

A great exercise is to pick out a list of your top ten favourite songs and listen to them with a focus on the melody.

As you listen, try to identify what it is about the melody that moves you. Does it have a rhythmic pattern that makes you want to tap your foot? Does it make you feel a certain way? Is there a particular part of the melody that gives you chills or makes your heart flutter?

Write down your thoughts and observations. This will become the start of your melody diary, a way to keep track of what works and why.

My personal top five songs that do this to me are as follows…

My Love – Paul McCartney
Damage – David Sylvian/Robert Fripp
Yellow – Coldplay
Save A Prayer – Duran Duran
Matte Kudasai – King Crimson

This exercise is certainly not about judging what’s right or wrong, but about understanding what it is that touches, inspires, and moves you about a melody. It’s about identifying what gives you that “WOW” moment.

It might seem like a simple task, but it can provide invaluable insights that you can use in your songwriting.

Doing this will not only help you understand what makes a good melody but also aid in creating melodies that resonate with you, and hopefully, with your listeners as well.

So in conclusion, the melody is the heart and soul of a song. It’s what makes a song stand out in the memory of the listener and helps convey the emotion and message you wish to impart.

A great melody can elevate a simple song into something that deeply touches people’s hearts and lingers in their minds.

In this post we’ve unpacked the importance of melody in songwriting, debunked common misconceptions, explored its power, learned how to train our ear to recognise good melodies, and understood how it plays a crucial role in the act of songwriting.

But remember, songwriting, like any art, is a journey of self-discovery. It’s about exploring your own creative instincts and finding out what moves you and your listeners.

So, don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles and approaches. And most importantly, enjoy the process!

Now, as we wrap up, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think about the importance of melody in songwriting? Do you agree with what’s been discussed, or do you have a different perspective?

What songs have melodies that really resonate with you? Do you have any personal insights or tips on creating captivating melodies that you’d like to share?

Let me know…

The world of songwriting is as rich and diverse as the songwriters themselves. I believe that by sharing our experiences, we can all grow and become better at our craft.

Every melody is a new story waiting to be told, and every song is a new journey waiting to be embarked upon.

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