This week we will talk about chords and melody. This won’t be about theory but just some simple things to think about.
Many songs have very simple chord progressions. You don’t need to write a complicated chord structure to make a song memorable. Usually it is the combination of melody, lyrics and chords that bring the song to life. In the Film and TV realm they are looking for how the song feels instead of some complicated chord structure.
You can try to vary the chord progression from 2 bar chords in the verse to 4 in the chorus or vice versa. You can do an entire verse with one chord and then move to a 2-chord progression in the chorus. Mostly K.I.S.S -Keep It Simply Simple! ;)
You can of course use chords to express the emotion of the song. Use chords with an overall major “feel” for happy fun songs and chords with an overall minor “feel” for somber songs.
You can also alter the notes in the chord to change how the chord sounds or “feels” in the song. This is like adding some spice to food. There is no rule, but play with it and decide if you like how it sounds.
Have you ever seen the Axis of Awesome 4-chord video? They are playing songs through the years that have the same 4-chord progression. So it shows you can make a good song with simple chords and it’s the lyrics and melody that makes the song come to life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOlDewpCfZQ
Now what about melody?
Being that you are aiming for Film and TV, your melody does not have to be as complicated or as attention grabbing as a Hit Song. But you do want it to be memorable, to the audience as well as a music supervisor. Often times I may have shorter melodic phrases in the verses and then longer melodic phrases in the chorus and a melody that will provide a lift in the song. This will separate the sections of the song and make for a more memorable chorus.. A lot of times a Pre Chorus will help lift the song and get it ready for the chorus. (We will talk about song structure at a later date). You can also pick different places in the beat to start your melodic phrase, for Instance, Beat 1, or maybe the “And” after beat 1 if you want more rhythm. Also use melodies that walk up or down after one that is more straightforward.
Repetition is also key; you want people to remember your songs, even if they are in Film and TV. Often I will repeat the melody in the first three lines of the verse, then change up the fourth, or in the second set of verses change something there. In the Chorus, I repeat the melody, but then alter it in the third line for movement and again, giving the song and listener a place to go, then returning to the hook melody on the last line.
There is no right or wrong, just start experimenting, listening to songs, and how their chords and melody are being used to make the song memorable.
Not good at creating a melody? Here is some homework that may help
In Robin Fredericks Books Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film and TV and Shortcuts to writing Hit Songs she mentions writing new lyrics to an existing song. It’s called ghost writing.
Basically Take a song, and write new lyrics to the same melody/chords
Then, take what you just wrote and alter the chords (if you play, if you just sing/write melody then go to the next step).
Start to sing it and alter the melody
-Alter the phrasing
-alter the notes, where the ghost song goes up, you go down, play with it!
- Alter the beat the phrasing starts
Play with this and have fun!!!
As always feel free to post any comments!!
Check out these resources!
http://jasonblume.com/songwriting_books.html (Writing Hit Melodies CD)
Michelle Lockey is a multi-award winning singer-songwriter sharing the knowledge she has learned over the years writing for Film & TV.
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