THOUGHTS ON MELODY
Monday, January 10th, 2011
These guys knew what they were talking about! Thank you,
, Oscar Hammerstein, Igor Stravinsky, and Leonard Bernstein:
*The first approach to melody and the underlying chord choices are determined by the melodic mood- Prosody.
*Knowledge of and respect for the work of others is the first essential ingredient in the development of a truly effective technique, for all great melodic writing is, in a sense, imitation of great melodic writing.
*The solution to the composers problem is provided by the words themselves. The composer is just as much an author as the man who writes the words. He expresses the story in his medium (melody/chord progression) as the lyricist expresses the story in his.
- Oscar Hammerstein was one of our greatest lyricists, but he had a lot to say about the composer's art, as well. See the opening chapter to his 'Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.'
*The emotional direction of a melody enhances the emotional dynamic of the lyric.
*Sculpt a comprehensive emotional line that will extend from the beginning of the song to the end.
*Melody should, as much as possible, mirror the natural rhythm of the language.
*When written effectively the melody will usually build to a revelation or declaration- an emotional payoff or high point.
*In writing melody remember that different Keys have diverse emotional characteristics- sharp keys tend to be brighter, flat keys warmer, C Major rather neutral or non-descript.
*The key to writing interesting melody is to lead the ear in a path that is both pleasant and to some degree unexpected.
*Variation equals Violation of Expectation.
*What is expected is repetition- and when those expectations are violated, you've got variation.
-Sequence (repeating the phrase at a higher or lower pitch level)
-Inversion (ascending intervals are made to descend and vice versa)
-Retrograde (playing the melody backwards)
-Augmentation (increasing the time value of the notes)
- Diminution (decreasing the time value )
-Modulation (repeating the melody in another key)
-Mutation (repeating the melody in a different mode: major or minor)
-Deletion (omitting portions of a melodic phrase)
-Variations of skips and steps
*Rhythmic stress usually brings melodic duration.
*A rhythm which becomes habitual (by repetition without variation) or which is overemphasized, loses immediacy and, with it, meaning and it's retention. It is as if the brain recognizes in subtle and varied rhythms it's own methods. In a mechanical or rigidly expectable rhythm it senses something alien, and so lets it pass, not leaving much of a trace.
*Mundane melody writing is caused by its predictability, and this is caused mostly by the writer's choice of direction, particularly at points of cadences. To freshen this up is to reverse the direction of travel between one, some, or all of the intervals applied to any portion of the tune that sounds derivative or a bit stale.
*Great melody writing contains an aesthetic balance and an illusive consistency that is un-teachable.
*There is sureness to good writing; like the so-called seat of an accomplished horseback rider, or a sailor coming about in a strong wind. The melody has muscle and grace, familiarity and surprise.
*Great melodies have an almost unavoidable phrasing; not merely predictable. They contain phrasing that cannot be avoided, that
*If the heart is the bow and the soul is the violin and the brain is the musician, then the melody is the fragile result of all three in love with the same idea.
*Ultimately what the melody writer strives for is uncompromised originality that is so carefully and logically presented that it somehow evokes nostalgia. This is the territory wherein the great songs are discovered. Create something that sounds familiar.
-Never stifle an impulse. You are not editing. You are composing (don't choke the baby in the crib. Paint before the plaster dries.)
-Record every note you play- there are no mistakes at this juncture.
-Write a dummy tune with the idea of refining it later. Get the rhythm of the melody in sync with the lyric considerations.
-Minor rhythmic alterations to the melody are interpretive- the singers going to do it anyway.
*The conscious intention of being original seldom leads to anything better than exaggeration.
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"How can I know what I think, until I've seen what I've said?" -W.H. Auden
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Writing The Big Chorus: Part Two
Writing The Big Chorus: Part One
Thoughts On Melody
The Sacred Space
Mentorship and Whale Tails
Paying to Co-Write
Squirrels With Mittens
Our Present Condition
The Fine Art of Songwriting
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