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Note Gravity: Why Melody Pulls

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  • Noob
I wrote an article about which notes pull where in a melody and how that can help us as songwriters. There are certain moments in the melody that need to be more tense than others and we can look at the “note gravity” of the notes in our current key to pick the right notes for the right moments. I thought this would be helpful to some fellow songwriters. Here we go!

With all the talk of notes in music we might mistakenly draw the conclusion that the note itself is the most important thing to a musician. However, this is not true. 

Music is all relative.

That is to say: music is all relationship-driven. Frequencies (notes) themselves don’t mean much when it comes to music—it’s how the frequencies (notes) relate to each other that matters. Likewise, chords themselves don’t mean much on their own—it’s how they relate to each other that matters.


It’s the relationship between the notes—not the notes themselves—that actually matter. And the relationship between 2 frequencies (notes) is called the frequency ratio.

Each frequency ratio represents an interval. An interval is the distance between two notes.

There are certain frequency ratios (intervals) that have names. Specifically, the distance between any given note in the chromatic scale and the root note of the chromatic scale has a name. (As a side note, there are in theory an infinite number of intervals. The distance of 27 half steps, for instance, is a valid interval but it doesn’t have a specific name). Let’s take a look at the frequency ratios in the chromatic scale and their corresponding interval names:




From this chart we can see that the interval between a D and a C, for instance, is a major 2nd. The interval between A and the low C is a Major 6th.

It’s worth pointing out that the Minor 2nd interval is also called a “half-step” or a “semi-tone”. Each successive chromatic note is a half-step apart. Likewise, the Major 2nd interval is also called a “whole-step” or a “whole-tone”.

Take a look at the “stability” column in the chart above. We can see that whether an interval is consonant or dissonant is based on the simplicity or complexity of its frequency ratio. More complex frequency ratios sound harsh and dissonant (with the Tritone interval being the most dissonant) while simpler frequency ratios sound consonant (with the Perfect 5th being the most consonant interval after the unison and octave).

When it comes right down to it, music is about intervals and how they interact. And since intervals are simply frequency ratios, music is about the relationship between frequencies. There’s really no surprise there but it’s not something that should be quickly dismissed. If we pay attention to this fact we can learn a few techniques that can help us with our melodies.


Melodic Note Gravity

If there’s one other thing we can say about music it’s that music is dynamic. Music is a journey of tension and release. Intervals are no exception to this rule. In fact, intervals have a gravity field of their own. We can even say which intervals want to resolve to which other intervals and by how much they want to pull.

Before we go further, let’s talk briefly about melody. It’s important that we distinguish melody from harmony because this gravity field is our melodic gravity field and only applies to melodic intervals (as opposed to harmonic intervals which we’ll learn about later).

For our purposes here, a melody is a series of single notes that do not overlap. Melody may be said to be a progression of notes. This says nothing about whether the melody is good or bad. Conversely, harmony is a progression of chords. A chord can be thought to be 3 or more notes that play at the same time (2 notes that play at the same time can be said to be an interval but not a chord).

Our gravity field applies to melody. A melodic interval may be said to be the distance of a melody note to the root note, or tonic, of the current scale (musical key). Oddly enough, melody and harmony follow quite different rules. So let’s learn about where melodic intervals want to pull and why!

You can hear for yourself the melodic gravity of each note in the major scale. (Remember that the interval of each note is its distance from the root note, or the “tonal center.”) Pick up your instrument of choice and play up the C Major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) and then back down until you land on the root of C. Additionally or alternatively play the chords Cmajor, G7, and then Cmajor again. After having done this, you will have established “C” as the tonal center—home base—for your brain. Now all notes will be heard as having frequency ratios (intervals) in reference to our root of C.

So establish the tonal center of C as noted above, then immediately play the note “B”. You should hear a strong tension and “pull” from the B wanting to go up the octave to the closest C (1 half-step away). Re-establish the tonal center. Now play an “F”. You should hear that that F wants to pull down to E, oddly enough.

What’s going on? Why are the notes of our C Major scale wanting to go somewhere else? Aren’t they happy where they are?! (They’re usually not). We can imagine a gravity field encircling the entirety of the major scale. Its work is constant and tireless. So what is this gravity field, how do we determine it, and how can we use it to our advantage? Let’s see.

Before we look at why the major scale gravity field works the way that it does, let’s look at it:


Notice that the major 2nd, perfect 4th, and major 7th intervals have the strongest pull (red arrows) and they want to move to the root, 3rd, and octave, respectively. Notice that the second strongest pull (pink arrows) goes to the major 3rd and major 6th who want to pull to the root and either the perfect 5th or octave (respectively). Finally note that the least strong pull goes to the perfect 5th (yellow arrow). And, of course, the root doesn’t want to go anywhere. Establish the tonal center and then try these out to hear it for yourself.

What quick conclusions can we draw from this illustration? You’ll notice that there are three “restful” destinations, namely the root, major 3rd, and perfect 5th. The intervals all seem to want to pull to one of these restful locations. Let’s look back at the first several overtones of the C harmonic series with the intervals listed: 



The minor 7th pushes past the limit of a simple frequency ratio (it’s a bit too complex and sounds a bit dissonant to be a restful location). We’re left with the unison/octave interval, the perfect 5th, and the major 3rd as the predominant, simple intervals of the harmonic series (remember that the volume of each successive overtone diminishes as we go higher so the especially high overtones are negligible). You’ll learn later that these are also the 3 intervals that make up a major chord, the cornerstone of our theory of harmony. These three intervals are our restful locations in our melodic gravity field.

So we know now that all of the non-restful intervals in our scale will want to find their way to a restful interval (the 1, the 3, or the 5). Our outstanding question is: how does our brain determine which restful location any given interval should go to? Is it the closest restful location? Is it the simplest restful location? Turns out, the interval actually wants to go to the closest restful location where it can have the greatest effect in simplifying its complexity ratio. Essentially our brain is averaging out the distance to the nearest restful location and the decrease in complexity and then determining what’s the best combination.

We can use this knowledge of melodic note gravity to shape tension and release in our melodies and we can additionally use it in determining our chord pull in our harmony (oddly enough) to create more engaging chord progressions.



Edited by GravityMusicSchool
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  • Noob

Certainly Ross!

Since you asked, I think your post qualifies as competitive SPAM, and that you're trolling for our membership.

Since neither of those is allowed on Songstuff, I've removed the link from your first posting.


Sorry to begin this way. We hope you'll stick around as a participating member of our site, cut we can't allow you to post "bait" links here.

Enjoy the site!




Totally understand! I'm glad you're vigilant in keeping the place clean! Would it be fine if I posted the content of the article here so that people can see it? I do still think there's value in the music theory.

Edited by GravityMusicSchool
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  • Noob

I'm a musician/songwriter.  Music theories generally, and your article specifically, has no value to me whatsoever.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  I grab a guitar or sit down with keyboard, start playing, start singing . . . yadda. . . yadda . . . yadda ..  . a tweak here, a variant there . . . practice. . . . final adjustments . . . SONG . . .  [it ain't complicated]   . . . fiddle with arrangements ..  try different sounds . . . try different ways of singing lines . . . do different mixes . . . RECORDING OF SONG [a huge pain in the ass].   :)

haha that's awesome! I definitely admire your skill in that area then. For me I've got to rely on theory for times when I have writer's block. I respect that you can sit down and write whenever you'd like to!

Edited by GravityMusicSchool
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