Songwriting can be a mysterious and joyous discipline. When inspiration strikes, the song seems to write itself. But what do you do when inspiration wanes and the song is forced into the “in progress” draw? Employing the many songwriting tools you have at your disposal will open doors to new ideas as you edit, refine, and work toward a complete composition.

Whether you’re working on your melody or considering your chord progression possibilities, one thing to keep in mind, in all aspects of songwriting, is that combining contrasting elements is a great way to keep the listener engaged. A great melody combines contrasting elements to create a hook and entice listeners to sing along.

You have lots of options to choose from when writing a melody, here are three of them:

1) Choosing the Notes: Scale vs. Leap

a) Scale: You can use notes that fall beside each other in the scale of the key you’re writing in. For instance, “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is made up entirely of scale notes, in the progressive and regressive order of the scale.

b) Leap: You can use notes that are not beside each other in the scale and therefore have an interval between them (3rd, 4th, 5th etc.). “Here Comes The Bride” is a great example of how a ‘leap’ can create a memorable melody. The leap between the first 2 notes is a 4th and creates a very different effect to the melodic idea of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.

Less experienced songwriters tend to use mostly ‘scale’ as opposed to ‘leap’, because the latter is less intuitive. Too much leap will lead to a jarring melody, but a subtle combination of the two will result in an original and memorable melodic idea. “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is a good example.

2) Length of the Notes: Long vs. Short

a) Short Notes: You can compose your melody entirely of short notes that follow the natural flow of the words when spoken and produce a ‘conversational’ sounding melody. This technique works really well in verses where lyrics tend to be the focus and the section dense with words.

b) Long Notes: You can also choose to ‘hold out’ some notes and give the singer a chance to really soar. Long notes are often great in choruses and help provide that ‘lift’ that makes a chorus sound huge!

Using a combination of short and long notes will make your melody stronger and provide much needed contrast. In songwriting, particularly among writers who are not singers themselves, the tendency is usually to use more short notes. If you fall under this category, try to imagine a great singer in your genre performing your song and how a long-note developed melody may showcase their voice. Think of Whitney Houston performing “I Will Always Love You” written by Dolly Parton… what a chorus thanks to those long notes!

3) Consonance vs. Tension

a) Consonance is created when the melody note is a note that appears in the chord it’s being sung over, also known as a “chord tone”. Consonance gives the feeling of “rest” and “harmony.”

b) Tension is created when the melody note is a note that is *not* in the chord it's sung over, also known as a “non-chord tone”. A tension note is sometimes used as a stepping stone to a consonant note, in which case it’s called a “passing tone” and only creates a small amount of tension. The longer a non-chord tone is held, the more tension, literally, is created between the note and the chord it’s being held over. Building up that kind of tension and then releasing it by either resolving the melody or changing chords can create incredible interest in your melody as well as build up momentum that you can use to help transition from one section of the song to another (e.g. transition from verse to chorus).

The right balance between consonance and tension in your melody will keep the listener’s interest and produce an unforgettable melody.

We Are Listening provides songwriting critiques and artist development evaluations to help you improve your songwriting craft. Submit your songs to us to receive an in-depth evaluation from one of our certified songwriting professionals.

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