The Music Lab: Melody and The Power of Three

In storytelling, there is a principle called “The Rule of Three.” This principle points to the tendency for plays, movies, and stories to have three repeating or related elements. Stories and plays usually have three acts. In fairy tales, the hero is often granted three wishes. In the story “The Three Little Pigs,” the big bad wolf visits three different pigs’ houses. I believe it’s true, we tend to receive and retain stories better with a beginning, middle, and end. 

The power of three goes well beyond storytelling: the Biblical Holy Trinity, three-sided pyramids of Egypt, three-ring circus, three primary colors. The list goes on and on and on because there’s something about groupings of three that appeal to the human mind. And so, too, the power of three hooks the ear in music. 

A few examples of the musical power of three include song titles from Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. album. Half of the songs on this iconic rock album employ three-syllable titles: 

“Cover Me” 

“Downbound Train” 

“Bobby Jean” 

“Glory Days” 

“My Hometown” 

Springsteen clearly taps into the power of three in his songs. His success speaks for itself. 

Line+3 

I’ve made it a life-long obsession to search for timeless melodic devices—techniques that work in every genre, in any decade of music. And I’ve made good use of these discoveries over my career to write genre-crossing hits. If you ask me to choose one device that hooks the listener more than any other, it would be Line+3This is part of a complete system I teach in my masterclasses called: Line+ 

Line+3 is a song pattern using rhythm, rhyme, and melodic repetition to make songs better. 

To understand exactly what Line+3 is, let’s look at an excerpt from my book Mastering Melody Writing that highlights several decades of music. 

Listen to the finale from Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” (The one with the cannons.) If you still don’t know how this music goes, find it and listen, please! 

Da-da-da-da-da-da-da . . . dum, dum, dum 

Do you see it (and hear it)? Three beats clumped together at the end of a line of 16th notes and repeated: 

Da-da-da-da-da-da-da . . . dum, dum, dum 

Da-da-da-da-da-da-da . . . 1,      2,      3 

Even when it changes notes, it repeats the same rhythmic pattern: 

Da-da-da-da-da-da-da . . . dum, dum, dum 

Da-da-da-da-da-da-da . . . dum, dum, dum 

The Beatles’ song “Yesterday,” the most covered song of all time, has several three-note accented rhyming sections: 

Yesterday 

All my troubles seemed so… faraway 

Now it looks as though they’re…heretostay 

Oh, I believe in…Yesterday 

One of the best examples of Line+3 from the disco era is Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It uses the classic tresillo, or triplet, feel at the end of the chorus vocal lines. And yes, you are about to be Rick-Rolled! 

Never gonna… giveyouup 

Never gonna…letyoudown 

Never gonna…runaround  

And desert you 

Never gonna…makeyoucry 

Never gonna…saygoodbye 

Never gonna…tellalie 

And hurt you 

I like to think of these types of melody patterns as two separate parts: the “Line” followed by the “three.” 

Never gonna… giveyouup 

Never gonna…letyoudown 

Or… 

Never gonna…1-2-3 

Never gonna…1-2-3 

Often, the three notes that end each line are syncopated, but they don’t have to be. The Tchaikovsky example had three “straight” accented notes at the tail of each line. It’s still equally hooky.  

Now that you’re in on the Line+3 secret, I encourage you to experiment with this pattern in your music. Using the pattern will help make your songs more memorable, and hopefully, leave your audiences humming your songs all day long. Make it a point to listen for this pattern whenever you hear music. You’ll find plenty of contemporary examples of Line+3 from country music singer Eric Church singing “‘Round Here Buzz” to pop sensation NF and his song “Let You Down.”   

If you want to learn more about other hooky Line+ combinations, check out my book Mastering Melody Writing: A Songwriter’s Guide to Hookier Songs With Pattern, Repetition, and Arc. 

Until next time, Write on!  

Clay Mills is a six-time No.1 hitmaker and multi-Grammy nominated songwriter/producer. His songs have been recorded by major artists in country, pop, rock, dance, bluegrass, and gospel. His voice and songs have found their way into national ad campaigns and movie soundtracks. He co-founded SongTown.com, the worlds leading songwriter education site, and is the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing & The Songwriter’s Guide to Mastering Co-writing. Clay is as passionate about teaching songwriting as he is about his own writing. 

Leave a Reply

Drummer Travis Barker and Kourtney Kardashian Get Engaged

Daily Discovery: Morningsiders Explores Imperfect Relationships in “Sunbeam”