A good melody tells a story. It doesn’t just help tell the story of the words; it has its own story.
(Sometimes the melody’s story is very different from the story in the words – it can also function as subtext to the lyric).
Any good melody has drama. It starts somewhere, takes a journey, developments happen, tensions develop and are (usually) resolved. But the main thing is that the melody stay in motion, that it doesn’t feel finished until it is finished.
Like a shark, it has to move or die.
In any dramatic form – film, theater – you don’t resolve your story until the end. Because the resolution is the end. A melody’s pretty similar (songs are also a performance art).
And the easiest way to make a melody feel finished is to land strongly on a note that’s also the root note of the chord under it – for example, while your melody’s moving along, landing on a big C note over a C chord (especially in the key of C!). If I do that, that melody will feel done, that story feels finished. Try it yourself.
But if that melody drops on any other note, it will not yet feel resolved. Try, over the C chord, an ‘E’ or a ‘G’ , a ‘B’ or ‘Bb’. Then the melody’s still in motion, the story has further to go. Which is what you want if you want to keep the listener’s interest.
The mistake of the premature root in the melody is something less experienced songwriters are prone to. It can, all by itself, make you sound like a less experienced songwriter!
(And I don’t mean to imply that all melodies resolve to the root, or should resolve to the root. Or that there should never be a root note in the melody – that’s certainly not the case. My point is that the chord’s root note is the most obvious and unmistakable ‘ending’. Many – most? – great melodies don’t end in a completely resolved way.)
On a certain level, good melodies are about building and sustaining tension, and postponing resolution (in an interesting way). Telling a story. So I suggest being very careful with roots in the melody. Be stingy with them.
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