Melody or rhythm. Two important elements of any song. They work together in hit after hit, delivering instantly recognizable songs.
There are lots of philosophies behind music-making. Some would argue melody is the most important element in songwriting while others would say that it’s much more appropriate to fixate on crafting the absolute best rhythm.
In this article, we’re doing a deep-dive on melody v. rhythm and why both are important in modern music writing.
Where Melody & Rhythm Meet
The popularization of rap and hip-hop in mainstream culture brought with it a heightened sense of rhythm that was not necessarily present before.
Though rhythm has always featured prominently in music, the past 75 years of music and examining the songs that have been most successful, melody has arguably played a more prominent role.
The Rolling Stones are a band that is known for their strong attitude in the music, embracing both melody and rhythm. Yet their most high-charting songs are all built around melody. There is not a single one that’s rhythm over melody.
Arguments examining which element is more important in music have long been debated.
That said, there are lots of modern examples in pop, hip-hop, R&B, rock, folk, and other genres, where rhythm and melody both fulfill distinct roles.
Why Melody Is More Important Than Rhythm
To many, melody is more important than rhythm. By far. Melody can express a wider variety of emotions than a rhythm can, in most cases. The performance of a melody, to some, can be more captivating than the use of rhythm as well.
“Somebody That I Used to Know” featured melodies by Gotye and Kimbra hit huge in 2012. Another example comes in the form of “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele, which featured a big, strong chorus and a build throughout that arguably ended up as the template for subsequent Adele hits.
Melody is why Adele is successful. Entire careers have been built on prioritizing melody over rhythm.
Why Rhythm Is More Important Than Melody
To the other side of the argument, rhythm has been of prominent importance to many massive hits in the past few years.
Calvin Harris’ work on “We Found Love” provided electronic dance music with a huge hit in 2011, all built around the build of a rhythm combined with the song’s melodies.
Pharrell’s work on “Blurred Lines” in 2013 was put together using a 1970s-inspired rhythm that garnered huge popularity. Though many songs lean on melody at times, the rhythm is arguably more important because of the fact that it gets people moving and opens up a whole new set of creative, production-friendly tools.
What Is The Relationship Between Rhythm & Melody?
Regarding the debate of what is more important, rhythm or melody, the answer is in the relationship between them.
Each of the songs mentioned thus far – in addition to hits such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, Lorde’s “Royals”, Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse”, Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are”, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” all have a relationship between rhythm and melody.
Have a listen to your favorite songs. Identify the rhythm and the melody. Separately, they probably work as interesting elements of music. Together, however, they can be even more powerful. Sometimes, they’re perfectly aligned but other times they are separate and almost fighting with each other to serve the song with something unique.
If you are aiming to have a #1 hit song, you must get both the rhythm and melody right.
No matter the genre, arguably any piece of music that attempts commercial success is built off of a mix of rhythm and melody. At times, the melody may overtake the rhythm or, in other situations, rhythm is put in the front seat, with melody in a supporting role. The takeaway is ultimately that you need both to make a great song.
Why Production Quality May Matter More Than Rhythm Or Melody
Though this is a field where production quality is among the highest of factors guarding whether a song hits or not, if an artist fails to take into account the role that rhythm and/or melody has to play in their music, they are failing to take into consideration a major determinant of success.
As a producer and/or artist, what else to take into account is the percentage of the audience that is attracted to melody and the percentage that are more attracted to rhythm. It does not matter if it is a track predominantly of rhythms or a piece of music leaning towards a strong, classic melody. As a creator, you need to be aware of what place you want your rhythm to have and what place you want your melody to have.
To this point, production quality is another element of music songwriting to be aware of. Bad production can hinder a melody and prevent it from cutting through. Bad production can also leave a cloudy mix for rhythm.
You may also notice songs that are extremely high in production make it to #1 and yet do not carry an interesting melody or rhythm.
Why this is the case because arguably more important than melody v. rhythm is production quality. Ensure your song is properly mixed and mastered. This is another major advantage of working with a record label. Many will ensure your mix is top-notch which puts you in line for exposure on radio, Spotify, general streaming, and sponsored use.
The next time you put on your favorite band, have a listen out, and define for yourself the relationship between rhythm and melody. As you will find, there is so much to learn and discover about how both elements interact.