Learn what makes a good melody and how to find the melody in your song writing
Learn how to create a "singable" melody
1. a succession of single notes of a different pitch arranged in a way that it is a recognizable entity – the principle part of a piece of harmonized music
2. the primary and most recognizable part in a harmonic piece of music
The melody of a song is what people used to call the tune; the series of notes that you recognize when playing the notes of a song on one hand on a piano or keyboard, as single notes on a guitar, or that familiar, distinctive phrase of a song you hum.
It is also the musical phrase your lyric uses as its foundation for delivering your song. A sense of melody is one of the most difficult aspects of song writing to teach. It seems more than any other element; a sense of melody is the most innate and natural.
Melody is a simple concept. Without getting into musical theory, the main point is that from Beethoven to rappers, composers and songwriters have been using the same system of scales for centuries. From Cole Porter to Neil Young, Robert Johnson to Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday to Yoko Ono (well, maybe not Yoko, there’s always an exception).
Yet it seems that beginning songwriters often overlook melody as an essential aspect of contemporary pop songwriting.
A strong melody is one of the most distinctive elements of a memorable, successful, and long lasting pop song. Think of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett’s hits, the Beatles’ songbook, Disney movie ballads and Christmas carols. They all have recognizable and singable melodies.
Singers and Melody
A good singable melody shows off a singer’s talent in a way no other element of a song can. Singers like melodies that give them a chance to showcase their special gift--their voice. For this reason, it’s a usually a good idea to craft your songs’ melodic lines in a way that will appeal to singers to whom you might be attempting to pitch your material.
If your song has the elements that take advantage of the singer’s strengths, and really shows off his or her abilities, your song might have a better shot at getting recorded over one that may have a stronger lyric, better structure, a connection in the publishing company, or even a co-write with the artist. Artists need hits and they want to look good doing them.
Singing Melodies Live
You learn a lot about songwriting in general, and melody in particular, by singing on stage. There is a range in the human voice that carries and delivers emotionally in front of people. If your melody is below that, it stays under a singer’s ability to get the feel across, and if your melody is unsingable the emotion will be lost. Singing your songs live to an audience will teach you what those vocal feels are so that you can incorporate them in your melodies.
It is important to remember in this age of multitrack recording studios, Pro Tools, microphones, loud electronic music and P.A. systems, that the natural elements of vocalizing have been developed over thousands of years, and people like good singing. It resonates in our hearts and in our spirits.
It is also an important lesson to understand the natural range of the voice and use it to advantage in the melody of your songs.
One of the most effective ways of writing a song is just singing out loud to yourself, for instance in the car. That method has a lot of things going for it. You can sing out uninhibited (assuming you are alone – ignore the stares from other drivers – you may be rehearsing for an opera for all they know); you are doing something else (hopefully concentrating on the road) so sometimes it flows more naturally than when you are concentrating or forcing it, and you can feel a natural flow and get a sense of the obvious sing-along quality of your melody and song.
I sometimes take a small cassette recorder in the car with me for working out melodies and harmonies on songs I am still in the process of writing or recording. You’d be surprised at how much time you spend in a car (especially in Los Angeles) and how concentrated your time working on a melody or harmony can be.
A good melody has a flow. It delivers smoothly and effortlessly. Nothing gets in the way to hinder it. You can hum it easily.
A good melodic sense in a song is a big indication to an industry professional hearing your song that you know what you are doing on a craft and artistic level.
This article is excerpted from “Michael Anderson’s Little Black Book of Songwriting” available at michaelanderson.com
Michael Anderson is a songwriter, artist, producer, and author who has written songs for John Fogerty, Juice Newton, Pam Tillis, Phil Seymour, Rebecca St. James, and others in rock, pop, country, and CCM.
His songs have been featured in films and television, including recent season finales of “American Idol” and “The Voice”.
He has been a staff writer for EMI and BMG Publishing in Nashville, as well as MCA /Universal and Criterion Music in Los Angeles.
He wrote the #1 country single, “Maybe It Was Memphis”, several #1 CCM singles, and won a Dove Award for “Hard Rock Song of the Year.”
As a solo artist he has released seven albums, including two on A&M Records, two on EMI / Forefront, and three independent releases.
At the Musicians Institute in Hollywood he teaches professional songwriting and artist development, and wrote the songwriting curriculum for the Independent Artist and Vocal programs. He also teaches private lessons on professional songwriting at Westwood Music in Los Angeles, Ca.
He is a member of the Greater Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles and sings in the Mens Chorus.