You know you can write better melodies…. but how?
YOU CAN WRITE
With clear, practical instructions, you can write melodies that matter!
According to the dictionary, a melody is “a succession of single tones organized as an aesthetic whole” (Merriam Webster). So riddle me this: why doesn’t any old succession of tones sound “melodic?”
Could it have something to do with
how they are organized?
Those “single tones” aren’t exactly “single.” They fall into recognizable patterns (or “figures”), just as surely as letters form words. In fact, saying that a melody is “a succession of single tones” is as ludicrous as saying that a sentence is “asuccessionofsingleletters.”
What if I told you that ALL THE MUSIC YOU KNOW is made from JUST 25 FIGURES! Learn how to combine and vary these figures, and you’ll not only compose much faster, you’ll gain more flexibility and control over everything you write!
is what Figuring Out Melody
is all about!
As a great American songwriter once said,
There’s no such thing as a new melody.
Our work is to combine the old phrases
in a new way so that they will sound
like a new tune.
– Irving Berlin, who composed scores for 20 original Broadway musicals,and 15 Hollywood films
Berlin certainly wasn’t the first person to recognize that just a handful of melodic phrases (a.k.a. “patterns” or “figures”) appear in every tune we know. But what no one has done (until now) is to name and classify those figures. Figuring Out Melody doesn’t stop there. You’ll also learn how to combine figures, vary them, and revise them to make melodies that move people.
“… a clear, no-nonsense manual for what (of course in hind-sight) is right in front every musician’s nose.”
-Mike Pillitiere, composer, guitarist, video game designer
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.
In the standard approach,
- “To help make your song sound organized, repeat things sometimes, maybe with a little variation.”
- “Avoid having too many different ideas in your melody. Then again, too much repetition is bad, too.”
- what to preserve and what to change when you repeat a melodic idea over new harmony.
- how to use repetition to control pacing, set up surprises, create agitation, and more.
- how to write variations of your melody that sound both fresh and familiar.
NO BROKEN RULES.
In the standard approach,
In other words, the rules for melodic politeness have nothing to do with musical expression. Wouldn’t it be better to lay out rules for how to make something “stand out?”
- make certain notes or gestures “stick out,”
- compose passages that capture a poignant moment of reflection,
- write melodies that seem to carry on an argument within themselves, and
- write melodies that conclude in deeply satisfying or unexpected ways.
MORE MUSIC THAN WORDS.
Check for yourself.
How About YOU?
How About YOU?
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… 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).