over 300 pages
of clear instructions—drawn
from musical literature—for how to use
melodic figures to make your music more varied, expressive, and memorable
Here’s a summary of things I’ve heard from my students and others who have worked through Figuring Out Melody.
Figuring Out Melody will take you to new heights in your music making. It’s the sort of adventure that will call upon all the skills you already possess,
plus give you new ones.
Whether you’re a music student, a published composer or songwriter, a music producer, improvisor, teacher, or hobbyist, I’m confident that the insights and instructions in Figuring Out Melody will help you create more expressive, exciting, memorable melodies – whether you hope to write pop songs or a classical symphony.
And that is exactly what seems to have happened. For OVER 25 YEARS, OVER 3,700 MUSICIANS have read this book, and they have had the sorts of triumphs described on this webpage.
For example, I recently sent out a survey to people who bought Figuring Out Melody: “What ‘pain point’ prompted you to search for my book?”
Here are just a few of the responses:
How About YOU?
What Are You Waiting For?
Music Students currently enrolled
in a high school, college, or graduate music course are eligible for a 20% discount. Use the code MusicStudent20.
… for the still-curious …
1. More On What You'll Learn
a summary of sections and chapters
- In Chapter, you’ll learn a simple, 3-step method to sketch and revise a basic melody. Without even realizing it, you’ll write several of the most basic melodic figures. The chapter also explains why we can hear harmony from a single line of melody.
- Chapter 2 introduces the principle of “predictability.” Every effective piece of music includes parts that go exactly where we’d expect, and a few parts that surprise us. You’ll learn which figures produce which effects. You’ll also learn to write the most predictable melodic figures.
- Chapter 3 explores melodic motion in time: how melodic ideas align with beats. You’ll learn how to make melodies sound ultra-smooth or agitated. You’ll discover how to use steps and leaps to accent the exactly the notes you want to emphasize.
- Chapter 4 introduces “fancier” (more impressive) figures and shows what to think about as you write them so you can compose more quickly and securely.
- Chapter 5 helps incorporate “tendency tones” so that they don’t “stick out.” Then at the end of the chapter, you’ll discover several situations where it’s good to let those same tendency tones “make a fuss” because it’s a great way to add richness to your music!
- Chapter 6 shows ways to vary rhythm to create anticipation, momentum, and punch.
- Chapter 7 shows how to make a single line sound like it’s being played (or sung) by two or more people. Take your melodies from 2-D to 3-D (or even 4-D)!
- Chapters 8-10 focus on all things repetition – not only what to repeat, but what to think about as you do. (See above for a few examples.)
- Chapter 11 shows how to use material from Chapters 1-10 to create subtle character and dynamic contrast in your music.
- Chapters 12 & 13 show how to apply the basic principles of melodic figuration to create interesting and satisfying harmonic progressions.
- Chapter 14 shows how to control pacing in your music by making strong or subtle cadences.
- Chapter 15 shows why pivot chord modulation doesn’t work: because it is based on theory (faulty theory) rather than what actually happens. Here, you’ll learn an utterly new way to modulate – one that WORKS! This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
Chapters 16-21 cover 2-part COUNTERPOINT, the art of combining melodies, or a melody and bass line. Unlike every other method, which focus on the intervals between notes, Figuring Out Melody focuses on chord tones and melodic figures (i.e., what you master in Chapters 1-10). Think how “Karate Kid” learned to fight by waxing a car. Just by working through chapters 1-10, you’ll already know how to write counterpoint!
J.S. Bach wrote a set of 15 “teaching pieces” for his students. Many people assume that by students, he meant keyboard students, as these pieces provide just the right amount of challenge and reward to young fingers. But Bach’s preface makes it clear that his Inventions are to teach the art of composition. Chapters 22-25 break down what Bach has done so that anyone can master the compositional principles he sets forth in his Inventions. Working through this section will help you internalize a very high level of compositional mastery.
Anyone who enjoyed the challenge of writing an invention will want to continue with these more advanced applications: canon, 3-part counterpoint, and fugue. Dexterity is the mark of a true master musician. As with the more basic techniques covered in earlier chapters, Figuring Out Melody breaks “advanced” matters down to make them manageable and gratifying.
“… some of the clearest and most helpful material on fugal writing I have come across.” Michael R. Rogers, author of Teaching Approaches in Music Theory: An Overview of Pedagogical Philosophies
Finally, Chapter 30 shows how the principles and practices of melodic figuration apply to music beyond the Baroque era (where so many examples in Figuring Out Melody have been drawn).