One Stop Rock Star

Ezra is a rock star. And so are you!

The Shapes of Melody

Posted by onestoprockstar on August 10, 2007

There are three shapes to a melody. They can be generalized as line, circle, and square. The line means there are a lot of repeated notes, so the melody doesn’t go up or down. The circle shape is when the melody goes up and down stepwise, but there are no leaps in the melody. The square shape allows for leaps in the melody.


The line shape is when the singer is expressing the overall state she’s in or the story. There is no recent change in emotion and there is no revelation. The square shape is the opposite end of the spectrum. It is used to express the change in emotion or new feelings the singer feels. The circle shape is in between, ending a previous feeling and discovering a new emotion, and all the uncertainty that comes with it.


Below you can see how the meaning of the song determines the melody of the song.


1. “I’m lonely.” – line

2. “I’m lonely, but love is headed my way.” – line, circle

3. “I was lonely, now I found you.” – line or circle, square

4. “I found you.” – square



Two examples of a line-shaped melody are a) the overall state (in Neil Diamond’s “I Am, I Said”):

 L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most of the time.
And the feeling is laid back.
Palm trees grow and the rents are low,
But’cha know,
And I keep thinking about making my way back. 

And b) the story (Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”):

 Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans,
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens,
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy name of Johnny B. Goode.  

Even though the line shape of a melody is about a fixed state or emotion, it doesn’t mean the emotion’s bland. It could be the singer is very passionate about how he feels.

1. “I realize I love you.” – square

2. “I have always loved you.” – line

The singer has always been in love, but that doesn’t diminish the power of his emotion. Here’s an example from the opening of Sting’s passionate song “You Still Touch Me”:

 Another night finds me alone.
In my dreams, you still touch me.
Your picture by my telephone.
In that smile, you still thrill me.  

Just because Sting is expressing a fixed state he’s in, the emotion he feels is extreme enough to make the repetitive notes sound powerful. So using a linear shape, although it is the very definition of monotonous, will not necessarily sound monotonous. In fact, using a linear melody is much easier to sing back, if you’re trying to write something catchy.


Here are examples of the circle shape used for a) uncertainty (The Beatles’ “If I Fell”):

 If I fell in love with you
Would you promise to be true
And help me understand?

And for b) uneasiness (The Beatles’ “I’m So Tired”):

 I’m so tired. I haven’t slept a wink.
I’m so tired. My mind is on the blink.
I wonder, should I get up and fix myself a drink? 

And for c) approaching discovery (Fiona Apple’s “Never is a Promise”):

 But as the scenery grows
I see in different lights.
The shades and shadows
Undulate in my perception.
My feelings swell and stretch,
I see from greater heights.
I understand what I am still
Too proud to mention…t
o you. 


The square shape is used for a) describing a new situation (Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time”):

 If you said goodbye to me tonight,
There would still be music left to write.
What else can I do?
I’m so inspired by you.
That hasn’t happened for the longest time. 

It’s used for b) advice (The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”):

 Hey Jude, don’t make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better. 

It’s used for c) revelations (Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues”:

 And I guess that’s why they call it the blues.
Time on my hands could be time spent with you.
Laughing like children,
Living like lovers,
Rolling like thunder
Under the covers.
And I guess that’s why they call it the blues. 

And it’s used for d) complete nonsense, because if you’re going to sing nonsense, sing it with confidence (The Beatles’ “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”):

 She came in through the bathroom window
Protected by a silver spoon.
But now she sucks her thumb and wonders
By the banks of her own lagoon. 

Knowing these shapes, you can now apply it to your lyrics. Have fun with it! The next step is to apply the rhythm in the right place.


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