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06/23/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/23/2020 12:21

How (and Why) to Rewrite Your Melodies

Imagine that you have entered a competition. The grand prize will be awarded to the songwriter who writes the most memorable, freshest melody-the melody that will jump out of the pile and convince a panel of music industry pros that they are listening to a future smash hit. The deadline is one week from today and the prize is $1 million dollars and a guaranteed #1 single. How many times would you rewrite your melody? Would you settle for the first melody that pops into your head? The second? The third?

Many of the students who attend my songwriting workshops spend hours and hours reworking their lyrics until they are as strong as possible. They begin with catchy titles and unique concepts then put every line under the microscope, digging hard and deep to find lyrics that incorporate new angles, novel ways to express themselves, exceptional lines that demand to be noticed. But few of those writers put that same effort into tweaking their melodies.

Having been a student of hit songs for decades, I am more convinced than ever that while lyrics are important, they need to be delivered to your listeners' hearts on the wings of a melody that burns into the brain and stays there. A hit record producer concurred, confiding to me that the first time he listens to a song, he focuses solely on whether the melody sounds like a hit. If it does not, it goes in the trash. Only after a song gets over the melody hurdle does he look at the accompanying lyric sheet.

Elements such as the chords, musical arrangement, the groove, and the parts played by the drums, percussion, bass, keyboards, guitars, and other instruments all contribute to the success of your song. But few people walk down the street humming a bass line or sing guitar licks in the shower. All these aspects are important, but they will not overcome a less-than stellar vocal melody (the melody the vocalist sings).

For many writers, it is easier to rework a lyric than a melody. We tend to get accustomed to our melodies, and having sung them repeatedly, they seem memorable to us. Also, it can be easier to identify problem spots in our lyrics than in our music. So, let's look at some specific ways to rewrite melodies to insure they are the very strongest we can write.

  • Try writing a vocal melody that includes elements that repeat. Listeners remember what they hear over and over. You might try writing multiple lines within a given section (i.e., verse, chorus, bridge) that each incorporate the same rhythm. You can only accomplish this if these lines have the same - or approximately the same - number of syllables. The most commonly used tool to incorporate melodic repetition is to repeat rhythms within the vocal melody while changing the actual notes. For an example of a song that uses rhythmic repetition exceptionally well, listen to Justin Moore's 'Why We Drink ' (Written by Casey Beathard, Justin Moore, David Lee Murphy, and Jeremy Stover).
  • Explore different rhythms, breaking the lines in various places to create shorter - or longer - melodic phrases. Try out rhythms that are fresh, hooky, and unexpected. Sometimes this is accomplished with syncopation, placing emphases on unexpected beats.
    I - KNOW I CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW - I CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW I - CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW I CAN - WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW I CAN WRITE - A HIT
  • Try placing the melodic emphases on different syllables of your lyric. For example:
    I - KNOW - I CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW - I CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW I - CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW I CAN - WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW CAN WRITE - A HIT
  • Assess how your melody sounds if you hold out one or more notes.
  • Try crafting a melody that includes ascending notes - or descending notes; try ascending and then descending in the same melodic phrase
  • Incorporate a non-lyric vocal hook, a nonsense syllable such as ooh, oh, I, or some combination of these as can be heard in Ed Sheeran's smash hit 'Shape of You' (written by John McDaid, Ed Sheeran, Steve Mac, Tameka Cottle, Kandi Burruss, and Kevin Briggs) which topped the charts in 34 countries.
    OH, OH, OH I KNOW I CAN WRITE A HIT
    I - I - I KNOW - I CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW I CAN WRITE A HIT - OOH, OOH, OH, I, OH, I
  • Repeat a portion of your phrase.
    I KNOW - I KNOW - I CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW I - KNOW I - KNOW I - CAN WRITE A HIT
    I KNOW I CAN WRITE - CAN WRITE - I CAN WRITE A HIT
  • Try different time signatures and different tempos.
  • Try including an unexpected high - or low - note that can take your melody from 'good' to exceptional, as Dewayne Blackwell and Bud Lee did in Garth Brooks' 'Friends in Low Places.'

An infinite number of combinations of notes can be applied to each of these approaches. Record all the melodies you explore. Hopefully, a clear favorite will emerge. If you are not certain which one is the best you can seek feedback. But the winner is probably the one you can't get out of your brain later that night.

While I sometimes get a 'gift,' an unbeatable melody that comes to me spontaneously, more often, I find I can improve my initial melody, even if it is only by tweaking one phrase or altering one note. Rewriting the same song seven times-including portions of the melody-resulted in my first chart single, which broke through the doors that led to my entire career.

Although we are not in an actual competition, our careers may well be riding on crafting that magical melody. Is there something you can do to make your melodies stronger? You won't know if you don't try.

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, and has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, and the New York Times. For information about his workshops, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.