3 Tips to Create Sticky Earworm Melodies...

Have you ever experienced an earworm? An earworm, also sometimes known as sticky music, (or stuck song syndrome), is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing. 

At some point we all get stuck with songs in our head that become earworms, but this lesson actually talks about how to create them. And, how you can get them to affect people - the people who are your listeners...

Earworms are an extremely common phenomenon and an example of several musical concepts converging. On average, people spend up to 40 percent of their days engaging in unfocused thought. 

That's where earworms creep into our minds and scientists are only starting to try to understand why our brains spend so much time thinking unfocused thought. Why do our thoughts need space filled? And, can knowing how to tap into this "blank space" be useful.

What if we, as musicians, wanted to get a listener - our listener - into this mental zone? How could we do that?

There are a few things that these sticky melodic ideas tend to have in common and it all begins with simplicity. The more simplistic that a melodic idea is, the easier it will be for it to stick in someone's brain. This means if we want to create a line that functions like this, we'll need to think in terms of short and sweet.

Another piece of this puzzle is repetition. If you're a member of the Creative Guitar Studio.com website you may have already watched the third lesson of the "Guitar Soloing" course titled, "The Power of Recurring Melody."

In that lesson, I demonstrated how strong melodic repetition is fantastic for having a musical idea remain in someone's memory, (just due to the part repeating multiple times), or repeating in certain specific predictable ways.

The technique is certainly a serious part of having a melody remain more memorable to a listener. And, if it gets combined with melodic structure that sounds cliché, (something the listener feels like they've possibly heard before), the melodic part can really get locked up in the listeners mind, and it will end up staying there for awhile afterwards.

The next area that's important is loop structure. Now that you understand that a "Strong Melodic Idea," is one that sticks in the mind and is an easy one to recall, we have to consider what specific element causes that to happen.

And, a big one is that Melodies which are easy to recall tend to, (as we've just discussed), repeat. But, there's another deeper layer to all of this.

For a repeating melody to be strong and to sound very formulaic, the idea needs a "conventional" sounding (stereotypical), style of loop structure. This will most often tend to be a note that behaves out of a diatonic arpeggio tone.

It might also be a note that points to a fifth or fourth scale tone of a key center. Regardless of what note you select, the stronger the relationship in at the loop point back to the key center's tonic, will most often provide you with a strong melodic loop.

A great example of all of this coming together is the 1980's hip-hop song "Push It" by Salt n' Pepa.  The riff is in "A Minor" and nails the tonic note hard as the riff loops. The turn around is one of the strongest tones available in a Minor Key, the 7th degree tone, (G). Listen to the song and try playing the riff below.

Example of Loop Structure: "Push It" (main theme) by Salt-N-Pepa

"Push It" (main theme) TAB:

 click image to enlarge full-screen

When you're trying to create melodic ideas that will stick in someone's memory, try starting out by using these three predictable melodic formulas that I mentioned here. They'll create a good foundation for making up your own memorable melodic projects. And, they'll help get you moving forward with making up phrases that not only stick in a person's mind, but phrases that keep your listeners singing your music! 




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