What if one of our main assumptions about melody is just plain wrong?

Could it be holding you back?

According to the dictionary, a melody is a “succession of single tones organized into an aesthetic whole.” (Merriam Webster) 

Really?

Is this how we define a novel or a poem—as a “succession of single letters organized as an aesthetic whole?”

Of course not!

Letters fall into recognizable patterns called “words.” And writers work with words, not letters. 

Melodic notes fall into recognizable patterns, too. We call them “melodic figures” (though we don’t talk about them nearly enough, which is precisely what holds us back).   

Saying that a melody is “a succession of single tones” is as ludicrous as saying that a sentence is “asuccessionofsingleletters.”

Irving Berlin—who composed over 1500 songs, the music for 20 Broadway musicals, and the scores for 15 Hollywood films—put it like this:

“There’s no such thing as a new melody. Our work is to combine the old phrases [figures] in a new way so that they will sound like a new tune.”

Figuring Out Melody is the first (and only) composition method that shows how to compose with melodic figures.

In Chapter One, you’ll learn how to compose a pretty good melody by “playing” with melodic figures like kids play with Legos. The 29 chapters that follow show you how to develop that pretty-good melody to reach its full glory—without ever losing your curious, puzzle-solving mindset.

In fact, the moment you start working with melodic figures, you’ll find that many things about music that used to confuse you suddenly make sense. That’s because working with figures helps you see things in a broader context than the claustrophobic process of working note-to-note.

“… a clear, no-nonsense manual for what (of course in hindsight) is right in front every musician’s nose.”

-Mike Pillitiere, composer, guitarist, video game designer

The underlying theory is not the only thing that sets Figuring Out Melody apart. The overall approach is far more practical and intuitive than your typical theory or composition manual!

NO USELESS ADVICE.

IN THE STANDARD APPROACH,
instructions for how to write a “good melody” are little more than generalizations drawn from theoretical melodies instead of real pieces.

BUT IN Figuring Out Melody,
every technique and principle is set forth in specific terms drawn directly from well-established pieces. Audio examples are provided so you can experience the musical effect under discussion. And the graphics include highlights, labels, and annotations to help you pinpoint what the notes do to create that effect.

NO BROKEN RULES.

IN THE STANDARD APPROACH,
the main focus is on rules are designed to make everything sound “smooth” and “balanced.” But think about this for a minute. When you and I listen to music, aren’t our favorite parts those notes that stand out—that capture a strong emotion? The standard explanation here is that great composers achieve such moments by “breaking the rules.” But these inspired moments feel calculated, not rash.

Shouldn’t there be “rules” (or better, “recipes”) for achieving every effect imaginable in music? As it turns out, there ARE! Wouldn’t you like to know them?

In Figuring Out Melody,
you’ll not only find clear instructions for how to make certain passages sound smooth (and why), but you’ll also find thorough discussions of expressive moments in melodies, plus step-by-step instructions for how to achieve the same effects in your own music. You will learn:

  • that when you leap matters far more than the size of the leap or whether that leap is consonant or dissonant.
  • the most common situations that call for melodic plot twists, and how to set them up.
  • dozens of excerpts that show how changing just one or two notes in a melody makes the difference between a passage that sounds dumbfounding or dumb.

MORE MUSIC THAN WORDS.

Check for yourself. Look around the web; look at other books on theory and composition. So much blah, blah, blah. And very little of it helps you know what to do with the actual notes.

Not with Figuring Out Melody! Nearly every page is bursting with musical examples and helpful instructions.

How About YOU?

Are you satisfied with where you are as a composer? Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Stop doubting yourself! Dig in to Figuring Out Melody  and discover just how far you can go!

frustrated composer

Listen with more insight.
Compose with more confidence.

This volume covers the basic principles of melodic figuration in a straightforward, practical way.

In Chapter One, you’ll learn a simple way to sketch and revise a melody. You’ll never be stuck for a melodic idea again. You’ll learn how to control melody’s harmonic and metric properties. You’ll learn formulas for making melody sound predictable (straightforward) and indirect. And you’ll discover strategies for balancing the two.

And that’s just in the first three chapters! (12 more to go in this volume)

You’ll also learn how to use “tendency tones” to add expression to your melodies; how to make one melody sound like two people are playing; the trick to working with arpeggio figures; dozens of ways to vary and develop your tunes; a new, foolproof way to modulate, and more!

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This volume draws on your expertise in solo melody to help you compose professional-sounding counterpoint (two melodies played at the same time) – an essential skill for any accomplished composer.

Six chapters cover “counterpoint basic training,” but in a different way. Traditional methods for writing counterpoint are based on intervals. But tonal counterpoint is not based on intervals, it’s based on harmony. Figuring Out Melody is the first book to show how to use chord tones to write counterpoint.

The rest of the book breaks down several of the most sophisticated compositional forms into step-by-step instructions.

In the end, your counterpoint skills will transform all the music you compose: piano music, chamber music, choral music, pop songs, art songs, film scores, EDM, video gaming, and sound design!

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Many an enthusiastic reader has said that the ideas and instructions in the FOM eBook have changed how they hear and make music. Still, reading the eBook alone is like reading a menu without ordering the food.

The workbook exercises, analyses, and composition projects will help you internalize and digest everything you discover. They’ll make you master mechanics and stretch your imagination. An answer key in the back of the workbook lets you know right away whether you’re on the right track. Besides solutions, there is commentary to explain any “tricky” spots in the exercises.

105 exercises; 8 analysis projects; 8 composition projects; 131 pages

$20.00

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The instructions in the eBook show how to set up a framework for counterpoint, then embellish that framework to create interesting textures, harmonic tension and release, nuanced cadences, and imitative counterpoint. So why is a workbook necessary?

So glad you asked!

Most people will benefit by starting with basic drills before jumping into a broader application of the techniques at hand. Even the “more advanced” chapters on invention, canon, and fugue are designed with this in mind. The exercises show a variety of ways to build each smaller component part of an imitative form before tackling an entire piece.

126 exercises; 6 analysis projects; 7 composition projects; scores for 8 inventions and 5 fugues; 185 pages

$20.00

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Save a bundle on a bundle!

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Listen with more insight.
Compose with more confidence.

Save a bundle on a bundle!

any two books

$40.00 $35.00

use code: any2

all four books

$80.00 $55.00

use code: all4

… for the still-curious …

More On What You'll Learn

a summary of sections and chapters

  • In Chapter 1, 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).