Stop Looping Melodies This Way
DOWNLOAD This Tutorial as PDF (includes MIDI file)
When you loop a melody, do you just copy and paste it? If so, that way of looping could be ruining your melodies!
But the good news is that in this lesson you’ll learn a creative way of looping, which will actually make your melodies better than they were before you looped them. Seriously, this looping hack can even make boring melodies kinda interesting.
But first, what’s wrong with looping a melody by copying and pasting it? Well, when you do that, the rigid repetition of the melody shortens its lifespan. In other words, even if your melody is really good, it will get stale and boring after a few loops. Remember: repetition kills a melody’s longevity, but variation extends it.
Our brains are designed to pay attention to things in the environment that change, and filter out those things that stay the same. So, if your melody has been copied and pasted, your listeners will pay attention for the first couple of loops, but then their brains will shift attention away from your music to something in their environment that’s changing (like their Instagram feed).
This process will happen automatically and unconsciously in your listener’s mind, well, unless they’re an advanced meditator. So, the best way to hold your listener’s attention is to keep your music changing. And as our attention is usually on the lead melody, by continually varying that, your listeners will be utterly captivated.
If you keep varying your melody, though, won’t you end up with a long string of notes that’s impossible for your listeners to remember, resulting in them not wanting to listen to your song again? Well, yes. That’s why you need this looping hack. And for the record, there are ways to vary a melody just enough so that when it repeats, it’s familiar and fresh.
This looping hack bypasses that entire problem, though. It’s a way to create variation in your melody without actually changing any of its notes. I know, it sounds impossible, right? But, it’s not only possible, it’s also easy!
Are you ready? Here’s the hack: each time you copy and paste your melody, you rhythmically displace it.
What exactly does that mean? Well, it’s easiest to show you with an example, so let’s jump into the practical part of this lesson now.
This looping hack is used brilliantly by Björk in her new song “fossora”, so this example is our version that we made using the music theory from that song.
Alright, so open your DAW and set the tempo to 100 BPM. Then create a track for your melody, make a six-bar section, and set the grid to 1/8 notes. This example is in the key of G minor, and if you find keys, scales and chords a bit confusing, then download our free book: 12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords. The link is below.
So, start by making a two-bar melody using 1/8 notes. And as this lesson is focused on looping, we’re not gonna cover how to write a good melody here, but if you need help with that, then simply use the Melody Checklist in our Songwriting & Producing PDF. The PDF also contains our other essential music making hacks. Over 10,000 producers around the world use this guide as their studio handbook. So if you’re struggling with your music, this PDF is for you!
Right, now it’s time for the juicy part. So, copy and paste your melody into bars three and four. Then, instead of leaving your melody as it is, you’re going to rhythmically displace it by an 1/8 note or a 1/4 note. In other words, move your looped melody a little earlier or later. Björk moves the second repetition of her melody an 1/8 note later, so we did that too.
Next, copy and paste your original melody into bars five and six. Then displace that third repetition as well. Björk actually did something even cooler here: she didn’t displace the first half of her melody, only the second half. She did this by moving it a 1/4 note later. We did the same thing, so you can hear how cool it is!
Then, to make her music even more creative, when Björk repeats this section later in the song, she actually changes the displacements again. This totally captivates your brain, because even though you’re expecting the displacements in the repetition of that section, they’re not where you expect them to be. Utterly brilliant!
And here’s a bonus hack from Björk. This section in her song is only six bars, not the usual eight bars. So it actually sounds like it ends too early, which grabs your attention yet again. If you want your music to sound less weird than Björk, which I’m guessing you do, then use eight bars for this section. That will create familiarity.
And just a warning. There’s one caveat to rhythmically displacing your melody. If you’ve already written a chord progression and/or bass line below, then you’ll need to make sure that your displaced melody still works over that underlying harmony.
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