Do all songs contain melodies? What defines a melody and how important are they to writing a song? In this article, I will answer these questions and explain if and how melodies impact your music.
Can You Have A Song Without A Melody?
No, you can’t really have a song without melody because melody is the primary and establishing component of a song. What do I mean? A lot of musical parts come together to make a song: a drum beat, a vocal top line, chords, a bass line, etc. But only one of those components constitute the legal and technical fingerprint of the song.
And that one component is the melody (sometimes called a top line).
Furthermore, songs are almost always a combination of music notes, rhythm, and lyrics. The definition of a “song” requires that human voice be included in the composition. Because singing words with syllables require both spacing (rhythm) and notes, that means all songs with lyrics inherently possess a melody. Even if that melody consists of mostly one note.
In short, it’s rather difficult to have a song with no discernible melody. The relationship between words, notes, and timing all lead naturally to the development of a tune.
I mentioned earlier that the melody constitutes a song’s legal and technical fingerprint. Let me explain that briefly in more detail.
Copyright Protection of a Song
The melody and lyrics are the only elements of a musical composition that you can protect through copyright. Despite some artists’ best efforts, individual chord progressions and drum beats usually cannot be copyrighted.
Musical Fingerprint of a Song
Furthermore, the melody of a song is usually the primary (sometimes only) identifier of an original music composition. If someone hums the tune of a song, other people will be able to recognize it. The same usually cannot be said about the root notes of a chord progression or the drum beat.
Yes, you can hum a guitar riff or solo at times, but those are technically also melodies…just not vocal melodies. Oftentimes, those riffs are counterpoint melodies to the top line or variations on the same vocal theme.
In short, the most basic identifiable part of a song is almost always the melody.
What is a Melody Anyway?
There are three important aspects of a melody:
- Music notes – a melody is made up of several music notes (though some will use a single note for the majority of the top line)
- Rhythm – a melody also has a defined rhythm, meaning it contains stresses and a regular pacing; notes follow each other in succession.
- Cohesion – lastly, a melody should sound like it’s a single musical phrase, rather than a disconnected collection of notes.
If your song has lyrics, then it’s most likely that the melody will form naturally by the way you sing each word consecutively.
Can I Write A Song Without A Melody?
Unless your song is all spoken word or unpitched screaming, then no: you can’t really write a song without a melody. Even if you don’t specifically compose a melody to the song, the act of you singing words in lines or phrases will lead to an improvised melody forming. The syllables and spacing between your words would create the rhythm and cohesion for your top line.
And even in the situations I mentioned (spoken rap, scream metal), it’s likely that those songs contain a non-vocal melody anyway. Something played on another lead instrument.
What is Music Without A Melody Called?
Most tracks that lacks a melody could be called incidental music. Incidentals often just contains chords or repetitive tones, but they are not primarily melodic. The progression of chords in an incidental composition will usually lack cohesion, and sometimes even rhythm if the tempo of the track is undefined and inconsistent.
This type of music is made for creating an atmosphere and playing in the background, not for intentional listening. If you’ve ever listened to a YouTube video of “medication music” or “roleplay music”, the music in the video mostly just repeated chords for an hour, then you know what I’m talking about.
In most situations, a song will have some kind of melody, even if it only contains a handful of notes. Melodies come quite naturally when words are sung in lines. If you want more information about melodies, chords, and composition; then here are a few more articles to consider: