At Figuring Out Melody, we observe what music makers do intuitively. Then we break it down so you can develop your musical instincts, sharpen your skills, and find your voice.
blogs and videos on the materials and mechanics of melody.
the Figuring Out Melody eBook and Workbook (available for purchase).
the Practical Glossary of Melodic Terms [in development]
the Field Guide to Melodic Figures (available for purchase soon).
links to articles, books, and websites about melody.
My study of melodic figuration began over 30 years ago. Part of this involved finding, naming, and cataloging figures. As one might expect, that early work would likely need some revision at some point. Surprisingly, all of the categories and names I assigned figures in the eBook still apply, with some slight modifications.
1. My earliest estimate held at 21 figures until just recently. After more extensive archeology during the past two years, that number now stands at 24. The new total is the result of both additions and consolidations.
2. Arpeggio figures now have names.
3. The Similar Leap and Contrary Leap scale figures have been consolidated into one parent figure: the Leaping Scale. However, you will do well to use the original names alongside the parent name.
4. Similarly, the Quasi-dot and Back-kick auxiliary figures have been consolidated into one parent figure: the Leaping Auxiliary.
5. This last point doesn’t manifest in the Table of 24 Common Melodic Figures, but you will notice “unusual metric placements” as you peruse the examples. What do I mean by “unusual metric placements?” In the Figuring Out Melody eBook, all figures begin on a beat. The eBook deals primarily with instrumental music. While finding ways to apply my figuration techniques to vocal music, it became clear that all 24 figures sometimes begin before, on, or after a beat. The simplest way to explain how and why this is so is that lyrics form phrases that coincide with a figure shape.
If you are unclear about what a melodic figure is, I introduce them in other videos and blogs. In particular, you may wish to begin with these:
People who can write great melodies possess an intuitive sense for melodic figures, the basic vocabulary of melody. They’re like master improvisers who seem to create endless, effortless streams of new ideas. (I checked, and it’s ok to secretly hate such people.) Here’s a little secret. The improviser’s endless, effortless streams of new ideas are hardly new! Master improvisers draw from pre-existing patterns and reassemble them. So do master songwriters and symphonic composers.
And remember, an unconscious choice is still a choice.
Now, if you cannot currently compose as well as you want to, I can tell you precisely what your #1 problem is. You’re not tapping into your underlying knowledge of the melodic vocabulary. Rather than working with the 24 common figures that everyone else uses, you construct each melody from scratch, writing one or two notes at a time. Not only is this a big waste of time and energy, but the melodic material you create in this way also doesn’t sound “musical.” (And that’s why you don’t like some of your original music.)
Now the good news. Learning the 24 common melodic figure patterns will uncover what lies buried way back in the recesses of your musical subconscious and bring it forward where you can use it. You’ll be able to use figures deliberately, which is fantastic when you get stuck or want to fix a humdrum melody. But even more importantly, it won’t take long for the figure patterns to become automatic responses – unconscious choices. In other words, you’ll work more like a master composer. You’ll rely on a richly-trained intuition most of the time, and shift into a more conscious mode as needed.
The Director of Figuring Out Melody is Professor David Fuentes. Dr. Fuentes brings over 30 years of teaching experience from institutions that include Berklee College of Music, the University of Iowa, Brandeis University, and Calvin University.
Fuentes composes music for the classical concert stage, theater and musical theater, television, art installations, popular music genres, and the church. A published author, Fuentes has written on music composition, vocation and the arts, and the place of music in human flourishing.
You can find samples of his music and writing on his personal website: davidfuentesmusic.com, which also provides a longer bio.
Here is where we’re headed.
The Field Guide to Melodic Figures will begin to appear by early winter 2020 as a subscription service.
We plan to offer an online course in early 2021.
The Practical Glossary of Melodic Terms will continue to grow.
We plan to grow an online community for feedback and encouragement on each others’ melodies.
Watch for periodic videos on topics of interest, including spotlight studies of songs and artists of note. (Suggestions and requests welcome!)