What component of a song is most vital? Does the melody carry more weight, or is harmony the unlikely champion of your music’s worth?
Today, we’ll compare melody vs harmony and see which one bears more importance on the songwriting process.
Is Melody or Harmony More Important?
Melody is more important than harmony in almost every instance because it’s the most unique part of a song. Chord progressions and drum patterns get reused to tedium, but the melody is what makes a song sound original.
Harmony is really intended to compliment the melody of a song—or any kind of music, for that matter. It adds depth to a track. But a melody should be capable of standing on it’s own even without that accompaniment.
Why Is Melody The Most Important?
Melody is the most important element of a song because of three reasons; compared to harmony, it’s: original, memorable, and defensible. Let’s look at each of those points in more detail.
1. Melody is Original
As I mentioned previously, melody is the most original part of a song. There are only so many chords in music, and every conceivable chord progression has already been used a hundred times over. Likewise, the world only has so many drum patterns. And most Western music has reused the same dozen drum loops for decades.
So the melody line will usually be the most novel part of your song. Sure, there are still only 12 notes to work with. But the exact combination of notes in a melody, the length of each one, and the rhythm of them all put together means there are millions of possible melodies in all of music.
2. Melody is Memorable
The melody is also the identifying element of your song. That is, the average person can recognize a song by hearing it’s melody line. Well, assuming that they’ve heard the song at least once before.
It’s unlikely that a crowd of people will hear a chord and all think of the same song. Chords are extremely commonplace.
More so, melodies have the potential to not only be recognized…but become memorized. It’s quite easy for a catchy melody to get stuck in a listener’s head. Even if they haven’t heard the song in decades.
I spend more time explaining catchiness in this article if you’re interested.
3. Melody is Defensible
Lastly, melody is usually the only musical element of a song that can be protected in court. Yes, a sound recording has copyright protection. But when talking about composition rather than recording rights, only the melody and lyrics of a song are protected by copyright.
Chords and rhythm are too prevalent; you cannot copyright a chord progression or win damages for someone using the same chords as you.
Should You Start With The Melody?
It’s slightly better to start with a melody and shape the harmony around it. Especially if you are a beginner who lacks experience in music composition. But you can easily start with a harmony (or a beat) first and work the melody into it.
The best method depends on a few factors:
- Your experience
- Your writing style
- Your inspiration level
Songwriters who have prior knowledge of music theory and hands-on practice in composition should be less effected in the chords vs melody first debate. But, for beginners, trying to write a melody line for a pre-existing chord progression could lead to bland results. This could be caused by you unconsciously boxing your notes into the chords.
Your Writing Style
Some artists simply work better if they have the chords already picked out. On the flip side, some songwriters need a totally blank slate to get their creative juices flowing. Whatever methods works best for you is going to influence how original and catchy your melodies come out.
Your Inspiration Level
Finally, your level of inspiration can affect how well you write lyrics and melody for your song.
If you are feeling uninspired, then humming over a beat/chords might jumpstart your creative process. Conversely, sometimes your mood will feel naturally imaginative and the melodic ideas will just flow on their own. In such a situation it could dampen your songwriting process to waste precious time picking a key and chords first.
The melody of a song carries more weight than the harmony. Most chord progressions have been used hundreds of times, but an original melody will make your song one-of-a-kind. As such, I recommend you spend more time on the melody and simply let the harmony complement it.
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