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Music composition and recording


Writing the melody

[source]
One of the most common questions is 'How do I come up with a really good melody?' The answer, as with all million-dollar questions, can't be given as a simple "You do it like this..." I'm sorry to say that the a lot of the song writers seem to forget about the most important element (in my opinion) - the melody - and concentrate far too much on instrument selection, production effects, lyrics and so on. The melody simply becomes an almost random selection of notes at worst, or a very dull and 'obvious' melody line at best. Without a strong melody line, a song is rarely going to make it on to someones playlist! Take most music played on a pop music station, at best they're minor alterations of a progression, at worst they're clear knockoffs of the same melody For example, Kelly Clarkson's Already Gone and Beyonce's Halo Now to be fair, Beyonce's Halo has a great melody. Unlike a far more melodically blase Sam Smith in "Stay With Me" (or was that "Tom Petty's Won't Back Down?").

So, how do we transform the oh-so-common, and dare I say 'boring' melody line, to be something that is pleasant to the ear, interesting, memorable, and capture the heart of the listener? In this short series of tutorials I'm going to offer you my seven steps to writing a memorable melody, where you'll learn how to create a melody

Step 1: Understand The Interaction Between The Chord And Melody

This is arguably the most important of all the tips and thankfully is the simplest to achieve for any new song writer. The essential aim is to ensure that at various intervals during the song (such as the first beat of a bar, or the end of a musical phrase), the melody note 'lands' on one of the notes that is being played in the chord. What do I mean by this? Well, if the chord that is being played is C Major, then, the melody note to feature should either be C, E or G (the triad that makes up the C Major chord). If the chord being played was G Major, then the melody note to feature should be either G, B, or D.

Lets take the example of the following common chord sequence.
C -> G / B -> Am -> C / G -> F -> Em -> Dm -> G

If we were to write a melody to this chord sequence, using only the advice from Step 1 in this tutorial, we'd get something like this.
amg3o_composition_melody.png
source: https://music.tutsplus.com/tutorials/seven-steps-to-writing-memorable-melodies-part-1--audio-6527


Here you can see, the first melody note is E, which is played with the C chord, because the C triad is C, E, G. You could have selected C or G and it would have sounded equally correct. In the second bar the chord is G and we chose the melody note G (from the triad of G, B, and D). In the third bar, the chord is A minor (A, C, E), so the selected melody note C.

You can probably already pick out two or three songs that might sound like this, what is clear is that it's very easy to listen to and pleasant sounding. It doesn't sound like someone picking random notes out from the chromatic scale, there's some structure to it. That's because each melody note sits within the basic chord being played at the time.
It doesn't matter which of the notes in the chord we choose. Here's another example where the melody still conforms to the guidelines in Step 1, but using a different melody note for the G chord in the second bar.
amg3o_composition_melody2.png
Again this works really well. And, if you notice, this is also by complete accident similar to a very famous piece of music, Pachelbel's Canon in D Major. As long as you understand the notes of the chord being played at any one time, you can start to piece together the 'main' or 'featured' notes of your melody line.

Step 2: Making Use Of Other Notes In The Scale

Once we've found some of the chord notes (Step 1) to feature in our melody, it's time to think about adding some melodic movement and interest to the melody line. But how do you choose which notes to add?
Well, the most obvious thing to do is work out what key signature your song is in, and then ensure you only use notes from that scale. This will ensure you don't get any 'clashing sounds' that are unpleasant to the ear. (Of course there maybe times when a melody purposefully uses notes from outside of the songs key signature, but, for simplicity we'll ignore such melodies for now.)
In the previous example, the song was in the key of C Major. Knowing your key signatures is a critical part of writing a good melody. If you don't know your key signatures, then I suggest you learn them (there are numerous websites and books to help you do this). C Major has a key signature where there are no sharps or flats; on a piano keyboard, no black notes. As such, when composing a melody for a song in C Major, we should focus only on the 'white notes' of the piano to ensure we get a pleasant sound.
Ok, so now we're going to use melody notes from the key signature C Major, either going up or down the scale, as we move around to each of the featured chord notes (as decided in step one).
In this next audio example, using the tips from steps 1 and 2, we produced the melody line as follows.
amg3o_composition_melody3.png
Clearly adding the extra notes from the scale as we moved from the E in bar one to the G in bar 2 has added some more interest to the melody. Again, it didn't matter which notes of the scale I played, We could have move down the scale instead, and it would still have sounded pleasant. Try it yourself and experiment a little. What is important is that we used only the notes that are in C Major (no sharps of flats) to get me from the featured melody note of E (in the first bar) to G (in the second bar).

Step 3: Jumping Over The 'Desired' Note By a Whole Tone

Lets look at the example audio and use this to better explain. In step 2 of the previous example, we decided that the featured melody note in the second bar would be G. What we can do now, is plan ahead a little in bar 1. As we are playing the notes working up toward the G... we first jump over the G note by a whole tone, to play an A first, before finally landing on the desired G in bar 2.
amg3o_composition_melody4.png

In other words, we're avoiding the natural instinct of simply to traveling up the scale from E to G, by jumping over the G note by a whole tone first to play a A, and then finally completing the sound by settling on the featured note of the G in bar 2. Remember, if we were playing a melody where the notes were traveling down the scale, we'd jump down over the desired note first before finally going back up to that note.This technique involves you planning ahead a little, but, once mastered is a very effective way to add some interest to a melody line. The next step again utilizes the 'jumping' technique between notes, but this time by six notes of the scale!

Step 4: Jumping Six Notes of the Scale

Another tip great tip for spicing up your melody is to jump six notes of the scale, either up or down the scale. This rather large jump between notes can be extremely effective when used at the right moment in a melodic phrase.
If we continue with the melody from the previous example, one place we could include a six note jump is after the G in the second bar. We jump from the G down the B (from G, we hop over F, E, D, C, and fall on B) before finally moving in bar three and playing the C note.
amg3o_composition_melody5.png
Notice how this six note jump really adds something special to the melody, and indeed now, with these three bars alone, we have the start of a very beautiful and rather memorable melody line.
We can use the same technique to continue the melody with another six note jump, this time perhaps going up the scale, from the C note that we finished on in bar 4 to an A (at the start of bar 5). We know that this will sound good, because the A note we're going to jump to is part of the F Major triad - which is the chord being played at the time we fall on the featured A note! Here's how this would look and sound as I've then continued in to bars 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Step 5: Repeating Patterns

So why did bars 5, 6, and 7 work so well with the example melody in step 4? Well, firstly, because they make use of the previous steps in this tutorial. But also, they work specifically alongside the phrase in the first three bars, because they make use of the same 'pattern' of notes.
Repeating patterns of notes is a trick which great classical composers often used with great effect. You're not necessarily repeating the same notes (although this is also an effective technique), but you're using the same pattern of notes from a previous phrase, just shifted along the scale, either up or down. If you compare bars 1 and 2 in the score using our example, you can hopefully see that the notes in bars 5 and 6 follow the same pattern, only they're using notes which are six notes of the scale higher.
amg3o_composition_melody6.png

Step 6: Compose, Stop, Repeat, Record

As already mentioned in the introduction, writing a good melody is not something that can be achieved simply by 'doing it like this... a. b. c.'. The steps in this tutorial are techniques, guides, tips - but they all require the composer to use their own creativity to takes these tips and implement them in to a unique composition.
As such, as you move along with your melody and try out different ideas from the steps in this tutorial series, you should always be prepared to STOP and REPEAT when something magical happens.
This means that oftentimes when you're composing, humming, singing, or playing your new melody alongside a chord sequence, suddenly a certain musical phrase or part of the phrase sounds simply fantastic... the natural thing to do here is to continue along with the composition as the song carries you along and you feel excited to see what else you can come up with. You heart is captured by the moment and you become excited to continue composing this amazing new melody. However, by the time you reach the 'end' or become creatively exhausted, you may well have forgotten the exact combination of the chord, melody notes, rhythm, and so on that you played during that heart-stopping moment of greatness!
Just remember to stop immediately following the 'great moments', and make sure you repeat, re-repeat and then record or write down those inspired moments. It is these small moments of magic which make your melody something very special, and therefore it's essential you capture them!

Step 7: Rhythm & Varying Note Lengths

One thing that can make a good melody great, is the clever use of rhythm and note-length. It is very tempting for composers to just change from one note to the next, on every beat of the bar, or at the same time as chord changes.
This can be suitable for the right kind of song, but, the melody really needs to be strong and there should be something else picking up the interest too such as clever chord changes, or percussion providing some variety and interest.
Most of the time, you'll do well to take the notes from the melody you're starting to compose, and really think hard about how to 'spice' them up by holding on to certain notes longer or shorter
In the example we've been using for our tutorial, the time signature has been in 3/4 time. Understanding key signature theory is perhaps not that critical for those who've never studied it before. Certainly not as important as understanding key signatures (as mentioned in Step 2). Most musicians just 'feel' the beat of the music and intuitively know the timing without necessarily understand what 3/4 time, 4/4 or 6/8 means. If you do understand time signatures, it will certainly help you when it comes to jotting down your song to a score. And you'll be able to see where perhaps the melody has become 'stuck' in the rhythm of simply changing note on each beat of the bar.
One effective tip for adding something extra to a melody rhythm is to try and allow some notes to be held across bars.

Melody Composition Assignment

A) Theoretical:

Simply put, you are to take the work of a poet and put it to music. In a google doc, include the poem, include a couple sentences about what the poem means to you.

Step 1) Choose a key that you feel reflects the poem
Step 2) Choose a melody that you feel supports the "beat" of the poem
Step 3) Record a set of chords for a "backing track" on a device of your choosing
Step 4) Record a second track that is the melody for the words of the poet. You don't have to sing it yourself, it can be played on the guitar strings, or on a piano
Step 5) Write down the chords above the poem lyrics LIKE THIS

B) Applied, you will;

a. Oral Presentation: You are to tell the class briefly what poem you chose and why you chose the melody you did. 1 minute tops is fine.
b. Practical Presentation: Play your melody/composition for the class. You can sing, but you don't have to. You can have somebody else play backing music for you if you want.


Evaluation:

CATEGORY
4
3
2
1
General Style- rational for the melody, readable dialogue and appropriate font type/spacing
Demonstrates superior skills in layout and readability
Layout meets expectation
There are some layout difficulties. Aspects of the written document do not meet expectations.
The written submission does not approach expectations.
Theory applied - analysis of 3 songs, informs reader of the musicality of the pieces
Extremely creative composition
Creative composition using the theory discussed in class
Nears the expected creativity
The project does not approach the level of sophistication expected at this grade level
Live performance of song
The piece was played professionally in front of an audience
The piece was well performed, with few if any errors
The piece was performed adequately, though riddled with errors
The piece was difficult to listen to through errors in reproduction
Use of Time
Used time well during each class period (as shown by observation by teacher, and documentation of progress in journal) with no reminders.
Used time well during most class periods (as shown by observation by teacher, and documentation of progress in journal) with no reminders.
Used time well (as shown by observation by teacher and documentation of progress in journal), but required reminders on one or more occasions to do so.
Used time poorly (as shown by observation by teacher and/or documentation of progress in journal) in spite of several reminders to do so.

How to write lyrics to melody:

[source]
Tips on writing lyrics to an existing melody.
1. Listen to the melody and feel the emotion it suggests. Is it upbeat and happy? Or does it feel introspective, yearning, or sad? Write down the emotions the melody suggests, then make a list of words or phrases that express that emotion. How does it make your body feel? What do you do when you feel that emotion? List colors, sights, and sounds that you associate with that emotion.
2. Look thorough your lists for a line you think is memorable and compelling. Make this your title.
3. Identify the section of the melody that will be the chorus. This should start with a melody line or chord that contrasts with earlier lines and catches your attention. The first or last line of this section will be your hook line. Sing your title there. You may need to extend it by adding a couple of words or shorten it to fit the melody. Go ahead and play with the idea until it fits comfortably. If the song doesn’t have a chorus section, then treat the last line of the verse as your hook and put your title there.
4. Build your chorus lyric from there using the lists of words you made. Try using a simple statement of what you feel in one of the lines so that listeners get a clear idea of what the song is about.
5. Once you have a chorus, then fill in the verse lyric. Give listeners more information about the chorus. What made the singer feel this way? What will happen next?


Lyrics Assignment

A) Theoretical:

Simply put, you are to take the instrumental work of a musician in soundcloud etc.. and write lyrics for it. In a google doc, include the link to the music, then compose a lyrical structure around that work. You are to include solo elements to support your work.

Step 1) Choose an instrumental piece that has no obvious solos or lyrics, just music/beat
Step 2) Analyze the key and write a set of lyrics that work with the beat
Step 3) Record a solo track that is the solo work for the music.
Step 4) Speak (or sing) your lyrics to the pace of the music. You aren't being marked on the singing, invite another singer to sing your work if you want..
Step 5) Write down the chords and lyrics LIKE THIS

B) Applied, you will;

a. Oral Presentation: You are to tell the class briefly what lyou chose and why you chose the lyrics you did. 2-3 minutes is fine.
b. Practical Presentation: Play your melody/composition for the class. You can sing, but you don't have to. You can have somebody else play backing music for you if you want.


Evaluation:

CATEGORY
4
3
2
1
General Style- rational for the melody, readable dialogue and appropriate font type/spacing
Demonstrates superior skills in layout and readability
Layout meets expectation
There are some layout difficulties. Aspects of the written document do not meet expectations.
The written submission does not approach expectations.
Theory applied - analysis of 3 songs, informs reader of the musicality of the pieces
Extremely creative composition
Creative composition using the theory discussed in class
Nears the expected creativity
The project does not approach the level of sophistication expected at this grade level
Live performance of song
The piece was played professionally in front of an audience
The piece was well performed, with few if any errors
The piece was performed adequately, though riddled with errors
The piece was difficult to listen to through errors in reproduction
Use of Time
Used time well during each class period (as shown by observation by teacher, and documentation of progress in journal) with no reminders.
Used time well during most class periods (as shown by observation by teacher, and documentation of progress in journal) with no reminders.
Used time well (as shown by observation by teacher and documentation of progress in journal), but required reminders on one or more occasions to do so.
Used time poorly (as shown by observation by teacher and/or documentation of progress in journal) in spite of several reminders to do so.