Examples of melodies using repetition:
There are lots of ways to write melodies, but most of those ways use repetition as a key ingredient.
So why did bars 5, 6, and 7 work so well with the example melody in step 4? Well, firstly, because they make use of the previous steps in this tutorial. But also, they work specifically alongside the phrase in the first three bars, because they make use of the same ‘pattern’ of notes.
Repeating patterns of notes is a trick which great classical composers often used with great effect. You’re not necessarily repeating the same notes (although this is also an effective technique), but you’re using the same pattern of notes from a previous phrase, just shifted along the scale, either up or down. If you compare bars 1 and 2 in the score using our example, you can hopefully see that the notes in bars 5 and 6 follow the same pattern, only they’re using notes which are six notes of the scale higher.
Repeating patterns of notes like this makes the already pleasant melody become more memorable to the listener, and therefore a little more ‘catchy’ after only a few listens.
A great example of what I consider to be a fabulous melody line, which uses repeating phrases so effectively is the “Glasgow Love Theme” from the Love Actually sound track (below). Listen carefully to the melody, you’ll see how the composer has crafted an extremely moving melody line from only a few basic melodic phrases. Carefully repeated over various chord harmonies and different parts the scale, this is a wonderful example of how to use this ‘repeating patterns’ technique to great effect!
FULL ARTICLE ON “Repetition and the Structure of Good Melodies“
No matter what genre you write in, repetition is a key ingredient in the success of most songs. It’s one of the things songwriters struggle to get into a proper balance. Too much repetition can bore an audience, but not enough has the exact same effect on a listener: boredom. Without things repeating, it’s information overload, as the listener feels as though they’re on a seemingly never-ending journey of new melodies. Repetition of melodic fragments puts the audience at ease. And there are several ways this can be done.
We often think that choruses exhibit more repetition than verses, but that’s probably just an illusion. The thing about chorus melodies is that they tend to be a bit simpler in their basic construction. After all, most choruses, especially in pop music, will use an easily-singable hook, and that usually makes repetition more noticeable.
It’s important to note that there are many different ways to use repetition, some of which are more common than others. Check out the following list of songs (phrases that are almost identical are considered to be the same):
AAAB. A basic melodic fragment is repeated three times, with variation happening on the fourth iteration. Example: Chorus of “Paradise” (Cold Play), as well as the chorus of “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele).
ABAB. A melodic phrase is sung, followed immediately by a new melodic fragment. The two phrases are then repeated. Example: Verse of “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele), as well as the chorus of “We Found Love” (Rihanna).
AABA. A short melody is repeated. A new fragment is created for the third phrase, followed by a repeat of the first phrase. Example: “You Are a Tourist” (Death Cab for Cutie). Listen starting with the first sung portion (“When there’s a burning in your heart..”).
As you listen to the examples above, you’ll notice that often a “B” fragment, though different from “A”, will still show similarities to the A section. So even phrases that aren’t specifically repeated are strongly linked to other melodic material in the song.
This is a relatively easy technique to practice. The following steps will help you create a 4-phrase AABA melody. Just modify the steps to create other formal schemes:
- Create a short melodic phrase that has a distinct shape, and can be accompanied by the tonic chord and perhaps one other (such as I-IV, or I-V, or I-vi, for example). This will serves as phrases 1 and 2.
- For phrase 3, play a IV-chord, and create a new phrase that’s different, but still has a similar shape. You can usually achieve this by being sure to start on a higher note than phrase 1.
- For the final phrase, repeat phrase 1.
Other schemes, such as ABCD, are very possible. You can make non-repeating forms work better and sound stronger by making sure that each melodic phrase has a similar shape.
The bottom line here is that in all genres of music, repetition is a crucial element. Without repetition anywhere, listeners get frustrated as they feel that the music is taking them on a journey that never ends. As a useful exercise, choose five of your favourite songs, and sketch out the melodic phrase design.
Then turn to your own songs, and do the same thing. You should be noticing repeating phrasing throughout your music. That kind of repetition strengthens the structure of your melodies.