We’ve talked in the past about the ideal number of melodies to use in a single song. But how many melodies can you reasonably use at the same time?
- Can A Song Have Two Melodies At The Same Time?
- Can A Song Have Two Melodies For Different Sections?
- What Is The Difference Between A Tune and A Melody?
- Other Articles To Consider
Can A Song Have Two Melodies At The Same Time?
Yes, a song can use two melodies playing at the same time. This can even include two vocalists singing different parts at the same time. The whole concept of two melodies sounding together is called polyphony.
There are generally two ways you can achieve polyphony in your song. You can add:
- Harmonization where a second melody does “backup” for the main melody, or
- Counterpoint where two totally separate melodies play at the same time
Let’s explore each of these options in more detail.
1. Harmonizing A Melody
Harmony can mean a lot of different things.
But, in the context of vocal lines, a harmony is a transposed double of the lead vocal. Backup singers often “harmonize” with the lead singer using this technique.
So how does it work? The harmonized melody follows the main melody with the same pacing and the same relative intervals, but starts in a different root position than the lead melody.
Here’s an easy example of how this works:
- play a “C” note on a piano or guitar
- now count 5 notes higher from that “C” (including the C in your count, you should end on “E”)
- play that “E” note together with the “C” note
- you’ve now harmonized your main melody (a “C” note) with a transposed backup melody (“E”)
To harmonize an entire melody, you would do the same thing for every note in the whole tune.
How To Harmonize A Vocal Melody
Obviously, there’s more to a proper harmonization than just counting notes up or down. This was meant as merely an introduction to the topic. If you want to learn the details on how to harmonize your lead vocals, then I have a guide in the works (I’ll update this when it’s done).
2. Counterpoint Melodies
Unlike a harmonization, a counterpoint melody is far more detached from the lead vocal line. Counterpoint is when two independent melodies play together. They can have different intervals, rhythm, and timing. A counterpoint is not a transposition. If the main melody is moving up in scale, the counterpoint could be moving down the scale instead. A harmony would not do this.
The technique is more common in some genres than in others. I’ve heard it quite often in alternative rock. Here are some examples:
“Feeling This” by Blink-182
During the outro, Mark Hoppus sings the chorus while Tom Delonge sings a separate melody (allegedly, Tom is singing actual words in English, but I’m not totally convinced).
“A Decade Under The Influence” by Taking Back Sunday
When Adam Lazzara sings the chorus (“I’m coming over but it never was enough…), Fred Mascherino provides a counterpoint melody (“I’ve got a bad feeling”…) that picks up before Adam’s last words trail off.
“The Lowest Part is Free” by Archers of Loaf
During the verses, each of the guys is singing a different melody with different words.
“Who Will Buy?” From the Oliver Musical
This musical number starts with a single simple vocal melody and, one by one, adds more into the mix.
Tips For Successful Counterpoint
Counterpoint melodies are harder to master than backup harmonies.
Two independent vocal lines can clash, drawing attention away from each other. If they both pull equal weight in your composition or your mix, then neither melody will stand out and the whole song will sound muddy.
Here are a few tips on how to blend multiple melodies without making your track sound cluttered:
- Stay in key. It’s a lot easier to blend tunes if they all reside in the same key. If one singer is hitting a “B4” note at the same time that another is singing a “Bb4”…it’s gonna sound messy.
- Use different beat divisions for each melody. If one singer is belting out half notes, then try adding another melody singing or playing quarter notes instead.
- Emphasize leads with volume leveling. Keep the volume of your lead vocal louder than any backups or counterpoint parts.
- Use reverb and panning to also separate the notes in 3-dimensional audio space.
Harmonization vs Counterpoint Summary
In short, a harmonization is like the main melody’s little sister copying her. While counterpoint is the main melody’s boyfriend talking at the same time she is.
Can A Song Have Two Melodies For Different Sections?
Yes, you can also use multiple melodies in the same song but for different sections. This works best if the second melody is a variation of the first. For example, one melody for the verses and another for the chorus. Depending on how different the two parts are, you may think of it as an entirely new melody or just an alternate version of the lead line.
This tactic is extremely common and adds variety to an otherwise repetitive song. That’s not to say repetition is a bad thing for your music. But people tend to get bored if the main melody never changes.
If you want to employ multiple melodies in the same song, here are a few suggestions for beginners to make the final mix sound smooth:
- Keep both melodies in the same time signature if you’re new to melody-writing. Most popular music does not utilize time changes so, assuming you aren’t a jazz crooner, try to write keep the entire song in the same timing (4/4, ¾, etc.)
- Stick to your key. Compose both of your melodies in the same key. In most genres of pop, rock, etc. a song will remain in the same key throughout. Yes, there are many exceptions to the rule; but adding new keys mid-song can cause uncanny dissonance if handled improperly.
What Is The Difference Between A Tune and A Melody?
Nothing, really. “Tune” is just a colloquial term for a melody. They both mean: a succession of music notes that sound like a cohesive unit. All of the following terms are commonly used as synonyms for “melody”:
- line (especially when discussing vocals)
- riff (especially when talking about saxophone or guitar, but guitar riffs can be monophonic or polyphonic)
- air (more common when discussing folk or Baroque music; derived from the music form known as an aria)
Stacking melodies can be tricky business. Too many diverging voices can cause a song to sound cluttered. But, when used carefully, the mixture of multiple melodies can take a song from bland to glamorous.
If you are new to songwriting but you want to dabble with melody-stacking, then I recommend that you start with harmonization. Focus on a main melody and use backups to embellish it.
Other Articles To Consider
That’s for stopping by. If you found this content helpful, then here are a few more articles to consider: