Melody Interval Rule
In this lesson you’ll learn a common fault that many songwriters and producers make when writing melodies. More importantly, though, you’ll learn our theory hack for quickly and easily fixing this fault. But first… Tea!
Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory, the fast, easy and fun way to make music! If you’re new to theory, or if you just want a refresher, then read our free book "12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords". It’ll give you a super solid music theory foundation in just 30 minutes. The free download is below. Enjoy!
Firstly, just to clarify. A fault is not a mistake! Music is an art, so if you’re making music from your heart, then there cannot be any mistakes. But, when songwriters and producers don’t understand theory, which is the grammar of music, they’re not able to fully express themselves. Just like if someone was trying to write a poem in a language they didn’t speak. The resulting work of art will undoubtedly have weaknesses. And a fault is defined as a weakness. So, what’s the fault in this melody?
If you’re not sure, well that’s because the melody is actually pretty good: its rhythm is super lively with syncopation to keep things interesting, it has good phrasing (i.e. places where the melody breathes), and the range from its lowest to highest note is nice and big, too.
So what’s the problem? Intervals! All the intervals are small. Despite this melody having a big range of almost an octave, it climbs up to that high note using small intervals of a 2nd (like A to B), and a 3rd (like E to G). And by the way, an interval is just the fancy word used to refer to the distance between two notes.
You can learn all about intervals and the other theory essentials by reading our free book. While small intervals can be totally fine in some sections, if you want your melody to make more of an impact, your highest note needs to be a climax! But, in this melody our highest note sounds hugely disappointing as a climax. And the reason for that, is because we arrive at our highest note by taking small steps only.
You can think of it like hiking up a mountain. When you finally get to the top, it’s not really any more dramatic than where you were a few minutes before, because you got to the peak by ascending gradually. On the other hand, if you jump in a helicopter on the ground and fly straight up to the top of that same mountain, the impact would be epic, because you got to the peak so suddenly!
Well, it’s the same with melodies. If you want an epic climax in your melody, then you need to get the listeners to your highest note suddenly. And the best way to do that is by using a big interval.
To be clear, you probably wanna save these dramatic climaxes for the more intense sections in your songs, like choruses, but it’s your music, so you can use this technique wherever you like. And obviously not every chorus needs a massive climax, either. So be sure to listen attentively to what your music tells you it wants, and then do that, because each song is different.
And by the way, our example is in the key of A minor, which is all the white notes from A to A.
Alright, let’s get back to our example so we can share our hack for adding impact to your melodies. Now, you already know that we need to add a big interval, but what counts as big? Well, we recommend using 6ths or 7ths for your big intervals.
We don’t have time in this lesson to get into why 6ths and 7ths are better than other big intervals, but if you wanna learn more about that, it’s all in our Songwriting & Producing PDF. And that PDF also includes our Melody Checklist, which thousands of producers follow when writing their melodies, as it’s literally a checklist of exactly what to do and what not to do in your melodies.
So, now that you know which big intervals to use, there’s a couple of important things to keep in mind as you work on your melody:
Firstly, you can use more than one big interval in a melody. In fact, in our example, we ended up using three. We actually start our melody with one of them, A up to F, which is a minor 6th. Then our next big interval, C up to A (which is a major 6th), is the interval that takes us to our climax. Then our last big interval is coming out of the climax, where we go from that high A down to B, which is a minor 7th. And remember to download our free book to learn about intervals.
Then the second thing to keep in mind about big intervals, is that the climax in your melody can be anywhere. You can end your melody on the highest note, or you can start it on the highest note. The climax can be in the middle of your melody, or somewhere on either side. Each melody is different, so each climax will be different too. Have fun exploring where the climax in your melody should go. In our example, the climax definitely wanted to be in the middle.
To conclude, if you want your melody to have more impact, then follow our Melody Interval Rule, which is to use at least one 6th or 7th interval in your melody. Thanks for being here in the Hack Music Theory community, you are truly valued, and we're excited to hang out with you again soon!
Wooohooo!!! You’re a mere 30 minutes away from being even smarter than you already are. Just head on over to your inbox now for your free download.
Listen below, or on any podcast app.