What makes a good melody?

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BranshenBranshen Frets: 796
I've played music for a long time and this is still an absolute mystery to me.

Would love to hear how other musicians think of this. 
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 333
    Something catchy and memorable, and one you can sing very easily after a couple of times of hearing it. Rhythmical variation and space.
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 796
    edited July 6
    But why is it catchy and memorable? 
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 333
    Depends where it came from, major scales tend to sound happier and uplifting though there are some great rock riffs in minors. I don't know the science behind it but my ear likes catchy stuff!!
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  • gringopiggringopig Frets: 245
    edited July 6
    God yes. This is an obsession of mine. The mystery. I only know the lines that get me but this from 1:56 to 2:45 with the crusher at 2:27 to 2:45
    The first bit it is one note on the offbeat with an alternating cycle of a few notes repeated twice then this mindblowing staircase of descending melody. Dr. Luke produced and Katy Perry/Bonnie McKee wrote it.



    Others which have melodic magic for me:








    I wish I  had some objective sense of why these are so catchy. They were catchy when I first heard them and haven't lost any power since...
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 796
    Thanks for the reply @gringopig. Could you repost those videos? The forum has a bug when you edit posts with video links, they get converted to photos. I'd love to give them a listen. 
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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 2964
    Branshen said:
    But why is it catchy and memorable? 
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p012yrv9
    I fear the Geeks, even when they bear GIFs.
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  • gringopiggringopig Frets: 245
    I suspect it's some alchemy between phrasing and melody. The vocal line weaving around an arrangement rather than just being dropped in with supporting chords just being a background. I hated Oasis because their melodies were just moronic.
    If the mind can grasp the melodic structure easily - it's not catchy.
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  • gringopiggringopig Frets: 245
    Branshen said:
    Thanks for the reply @gringopig. Could you repost those videos? The forum has a bug when you edit posts with video links, they get converted to photos. I'd love to give them a listen. 
    Fixed!
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  • gringopiggringopig Frets: 245
    Musical crack - - - - >


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  • gringopiggringopig Frets: 245
    edited July 6
    His voice syncopates with the insistent guitar lines and slurs words then staccato. The melody never remains consistent in time and against the metronomic backing. IT'S CRACK!!!! 

    What a great thread question. Seriously!
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  • gringopiggringopig Frets: 245
    and this. Good God. Pure CRACK I tells ya:

    This one won a major songwriting prize and Lennox raised it up where it belongs


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  • gringopiggringopig Frets: 245
    It's a mystery though. My only theory is that it must have some physical structure and be rhythmically divergent from the accompaniment. 
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  • jellyrolljellyroll Frets: 2100
    3rds and 7ths.......

    https://youtu.be/ydiRZEB9F8Q
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  • BellycasterBellycaster Frets: 2348
    Having learned so many songs over the years, I can confidently inform you that you have to write a song that stays in the same Key, but does the most wondrous things within those constraints or you write a song that changes key without the listener being aware and then returns to the original key again...and then changes again...Hang on, I had a Diagram somewhere........Bastard! I can't find it!

    Not taking the piss, I feel this pain too, there are so many songs out there I wish I had written.
    I like Welsh people!
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  • GrangousierGrangousier Frets: 118
    In a book I read ages ago - can't remember exactly which - it was described as catching the balance between hookiness and gluiness. Yeah, I know, but bear with me. Gluiness was defined as being what everyone's heard before and expects. Hookiness was defined as something unique that they'd not heard before, and needed to hear your song again to hear again. If you don't have the former, it's just widdliness and people feel alienated from it, but if you don't have the latter it might as well be any other song in that genre. 

    If I wanted to be mean I'd throw Frank Zappa in as an example of the former and all Country since the mid-90s into the latter. YMMV.
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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 2964
    Frank Zappa ... all Country since the mid-90s into the latter.
    So, how would you categorise Truck Driver Divorce from the album Them Or Us?
    I fear the Geeks, even when they bear GIFs.
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  • GrangousierGrangousier Frets: 118
    I'd probably wait until I was sober, listen and then admit I'd been an idiot all along. You know what I mean, though - Jazz From Hell at one end, random bloke in a Stetson at the other. 

    I should probably get out of the stereotyping business, I'm shit at it. 
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  • vizviz Frets: 4727
    edited July 7
    I think there are lots of things that make a good melody. The piece below contains one of the most beautiful melodies ever conceived, IMO, - it’s the middle section of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor, played here by the amazing Kissin. It’s the section 1:22-2:30. It’s unbelievable to think that something so simple can be so captivating. Here are my thoughts:

    Firstly it’s about where it sits in the overall piece, bookended by those two magnificent and staggeringly demanding ‘alla marcia’ sections. They provide huge contrast and accentuate the lyrical beauty of the tune. And in fact like a sandwich the fast sections would make no sense without the lyrical section. It’s a real win-win situation. You really have to listen to the whole thing to get the maximum out of the 1:22-2:30 bit. 

    Next there’s the structure of that middle section - the fact that the main tune is repeated - the first time it’s played, you hear it with an uneducated ear; the second time it evokes a feeling of huge nostalgia because you recognise it and yearn to hear the move from dominant to III chord again - and this time the primary melody notes just seem to contain more in them even though they’re the same. And then the concluding passage - those little rising couplets suggest to us that the time is up for the gorgeous melodic section and the alla marcia section is due to start again. It feels so wistful as the melodic section draws inexorably to a close and hands back control to the fast chordal section. It’s a kind of resignation. All Rachmaninov’s pieces bar none had one moment, one climax that the music led up to, and for almost all of them that happened near, but not at, the end of the piece. 

    Then the actual melody itself is incredibly simple. The first section is basically (approximately) 3 consecutive ascending notes, played 3 times over the dominant or VI chord - each time a note down. That motif is then repeated (with a more developed harmony), then hinted at again, this time over a progression based on the III chord, except this time each group of ascending notes is higher than the one before. Then the whole thing is repeated an octave higher. Then there’s a few descending rising couplets. It couldn’t be more simple.

    Of course then there’s the harmony. Melody is almost nothing without harmonic context. The juicy chords and shifting progressions underneath the tune are fundamental to how it sounds so gorgeous. 

    Plus there are actually two melodic lines - there is an underlying secondary tune that rises up and supports the main tune - and this gains more prominence the 2nd time round, almost overpowering the main tune. Rachmaninov was so clever. It provides a twisting, lilting, flowing movement to the melody. 

    Then of course there’s the phrasing of the performance itself; Kissin is a master. He builds all the tension then releases it. You almost hold your breath and then relax in unison with his playing. He brings out every element of the 2 tunes, he manages to hold the lines to their limits before letting them drop away again, he allows the harmonies to accentuate the tune in parts to squeeze every bit of meaning out of them.

    Sorry if this all sounds a bit contrived but I hope it works for some of you. 

    https://youtu.be/mxnL7UrkmY4
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  • Phil_aka_PipPhil_aka_Pip Frets: 8618
    viz said:

    Of course then there’s the harmony. Melody is almost nothing without harmonic context. The juicy chords and shifting progressions underneath the tune are fundamental to how it sounds so gorgeous. 

    Wis for just this on its own. (The rest of what you said made a lot of sense too!)
    "Working" software has only unobserved bugs. (Parroty Error: Pieces of Nine! Pieces of Nine!)
    Seriously: If you value it, take/fetch it yourself
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  • KebabkidKebabkid Frets: 1354
    Slightly linked to this, look at Rick Beato's series of 'What Makes This Song Great'? and pick a song you like or are familiar with and watch it. You might find all sorts of things in there, including bits on the melody.
     www.cairoeast.co.uk - Madness Tribute band (Bass Player) and guitarist elsewhere
    Feedback - http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/57885/
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 796
    @gringopig thanks for all the tunes. Especially enjoyed the chorus in the Annie Lennox song.

    @jellyroll aimee puts out excellent content. That video is a very interesting analysis of some good melodies. Thanks for that! I particularly like the comparisons to jazz standards and bebop which I listen to alot. 

    @Funkfingers thanks for the link. But BBC is being an ass and not letting me view it cause I'm in Malaysia and not the UK. 

    @viz that is an intense piece of music! I'll have to give it a few more listens to internalise and appreciate the melody better. But on my first few listens, the first thing that sticks out to me is the juxtaposition of the nimble and powerful left hand playing and the hesitant, slightly delayed melody line played on the right. Then on the second and third time through the same motif, the melody line picks up in tempo and confidence.. Very interesting rhythmic idea. 

    Thank you everyone else for all the other comments. 
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  • vizviz Frets: 4727
    Branshen said:

    @viz that is an intense piece of music! I'll have to give it a few more listens to internalise and appreciate the melody better. But on my first few listens, the first thing that sticks out to me is the juxtaposition of the nimble and powerful left hand playing and the hesitant, slightly delayed melody line played on the right. Then on the second and third time through the same motif, the melody line picks up in tempo and confidence.. Very interesting rhythmic idea. 

    Yes and listen for the inner tune, especially the the second time round - so cleverly written - it alternates between both hands, played a lot using the thumbs. If you looked at the music you’d never realise there’s a tune to follow there as it skips from hand to hand. Amazing skills to bring it out so fluidly. Glad you appreciated it :)
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  • AlexCAlexC Frets: 1309
     No art or creativity is a science.  
    And by the time it’s presented to an audience then it all just comes down to an individual’s taste.
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  • RabsRabs Frets: 838
    edited July 8

    This is a cool vid that talks about improvising melodies.. REALLY good..


    For me though its about picking out interesting notes but also notes that arnt just random but lead you somewhere. For me David Gilmour is one of the best melodic players along with Jeff Beck.

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  • Phil_aka_PipPhil_aka_Pip Frets: 8618
    Try Andy Latimer for a melodic guitarist. No disrespect to any others, but he always does it for me.
    "Working" software has only unobserved bugs. (Parroty Error: Pieces of Nine! Pieces of Nine!)
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 796
    @AlexC Can't argue with that! But I believe there is reasoning behind the artform as well. You probably can't program a machine to make art but you can develop a theory to why it sounds good.

    An example of a good melody to me is:


    @rabs and @Phil_aka_Pip thank you for the suggestions. I do enjoy a good melodic guitar solo but I was thinking more of lead or head melodies, which tend to be sparser. But I guess the ideas do overlap somewhat. 

    Wow! I've never seen Barney Kessel so young. 

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  • RabsRabs Frets: 838
    Branshen said:

    @rabs and @Phil_aka_Pip thank you for the suggestions. I do enjoy a good melodic guitar solo but I was thinking more of lead or head melodies, which tend to be sparser. But I guess the ideas do overlap somewhat. 

    Wow! I've never seen Barney Kessel so young. 

    Yeah I know  what I posted was a bit different to what you were asking but thought it relevant...

    This guy does REALLY good videos where he goes in to the technical aspects of many great songs and I think he does it really well..

    Heres his tips for a great melody...


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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 796
    @Rabs Thanks! I've seen all of these and yes they are spot on! 12tone puts out very interesting analyses of music that I enjoy. 
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  • Phil_aka_PipPhil_aka_Pip Frets: 8618
    I can't hear sound on my PC right now but would deffo like to know what was said about writing melodies.

    FWIW my take on the subject includes
    • repetition ie patterns that the ear can latch onto and recognise maybe in a different form
    • not so much repetition that it becomes boring
    • a modicum of twists and other unexpected things
    • not so many twists that it becomes random or avant-garde
    • melody fragments that work over a chord change rather than a statement-per-chord
    • harmonic movement (see what @Viz said)
    • if words are involved, then rhythmic patterns or rises and falls in pitch that go with the words

    "Working" software has only unobserved bugs. (Parroty Error: Pieces of Nine! Pieces of Nine!)
    Seriously: If you value it, take/fetch it yourself
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