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Dane’s Corner: What Makes a Good Song? Part 1 Melody

OMI team is back from summer break and blogger Dane Casteel spent some of his time reflecting on the philosophical question of what makes a good song. Given his musical background it isn't surprising that his approach blends the intuitive and the technical.

Bonding over music is one of the great equalizers. All over the world, for thousands of years humans have been interpreting songs and forming opinions. We all have songs that click instantly that we consider good and others that we just can’t get into. What is it exactly that makes a song good or click? Is it music production? Perhaps the ripping guitars and banging drums? Is it the poetry woven into their lyrics? For me, it’s always been about “good songwriting”, which can mean a lot of different things. In this post, I’ll simply define a good song as music we can connect with and enjoy (enjoyment being experiencing any number of different emotions such as happiness, sadness, remorse, etc...). To do this we’ll briefly examine elements that come together to make a song and figure out how these elements create a good song.

Most modern popular songs are composed of two major elements: melody and lyrics. The organization of the melody and lyrics into a song is called composition. Once the song is composed, the goal is to evoke an emotional response within the listener. Today we take a quick look at melody.

Melody is a succession of pitches and rhythms. It’s the part of the song you hum along to; if it’s good, it’s the part that gets stuck in your head. Melody is arranged in pop music using a combination of verses, choruses, and bridges. A great songwriter knows how to use the tension between verse, chorus, and bridge to create an emotional experience for the listener. The challenge in songwriting is to find a unique combination of melodies that differentiates the artists from their predecessors and contemporaries while being pleasurable and feeling familiar. A common way to create musical tension is to have a bridge that crescendos into the final chorus. If done right this can really take a song over the top! In the song “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer, this sequence combined with the bridge’s dueling guitars leading into the final chorus is a fitting example of how constructing melody and structure builds tension and creates emotion. It’s this emotion that connects us to a song. I believe it’s this emotional connection that we associate with what we consider good songs.


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