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Good melody book? (not counterpoint)


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I've been digging into music theory in the last few weeks; I finished reading Walter Piston's Harmony a couple of days ago and it gave me a great insight on a lots of things. I already know the scales and modes on the guitar for quite a while, but that book gave me a huge boost on the understanding of music, modulations and secondary dominants, all that.

 

To complete my "preparation" to start composing some "serious" rock-pop songs, I'd like to understand the other side of music better: the melody. From what I've understood, the melody dwells around the notes of the harmony, but that's about all I know. I've got common sense and taste, of course, but I'd like to get some formal understanding on the subject: how to build melodies, are there rules, etc. It would be great if I could find a book that enlightened me about melody as much as Piston's Harmony did about harmony.

 

Counterpoint seems a bit overkill. I don't want to know how to build choirs, for God's sake :lol:. Rockpop is a bit less demanding, I suppose.

 

Where should I be looking?

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counterpoint isn't about building choir's(though you could use it as a starting point for that). It's carefully constructed melody against melody. Listen to a bach fugue for multiple melodies at once

 

get a real book and a fake book and you're set

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any traditional harmony book will contain a few chapters about melody. so will a counterpoint text. they typically focus on the same 'rules' e.g. opposite motion after a leap of a 4th or more

 

it basically comes down to understanding direction and non-chord tones. Tonal harmony by kostka and counterpoint in composition by salzer & schlachter are terrific texts

 

a real/fake book is nothing but chord charts to various songs. filled with melody against harmony. probably should be your next resource after a textbook

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The two books I found that caught my eye were:

http://www.amazon.com/Melody-Songwriting-Techniques-Writing-Berklee/dp/063400638X

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-Guide-Music-Composition/dp/1592574033

 

In the latter, part 3 (Melodic Composition) has 7 chapters that seem to cover melody creation pretty well. But the Berklee book still seems better, because it's dedicated to melody from beginning to end.

 

What do you think?

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Not really an instruction book, but I got a lot out of learning a bunch of jazz standards from the Real Book. They're standards for a reason. Lots of amazing melodies in there. You can hear (and see) how these great writers constructed their melodies and apply the same techniques to your own writing. It isn't a step-by-step thing, but then, neither is writing a great melody.

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The two books I found that caught my eye were:

http://www.amazon.com/Melody-Songwriting-Techniques-Writing-Berklee/dp/063400638X

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-Guide-Music-Composition/dp/1592574033


In the latter, part 3 (Melodic Composition) has 7 chapters that seem to cover melody creation pretty well. But the Berklee book still seems better, because it's dedicated to melody from beginning to end.


What do you think?

I'm sure both would contain good insights, but the theory of melody is a lot more slippery than the theory of harmony. Composers themselves typically regard it as elusive and intuitive, not governed by rules at all: how often have you heard songwriters saying how a good song "seemed to write itself", or they just happened to "find" it by noodling around? (IOW, discovering a tune rather than constructing it.)

In fact (of course) there are rules, but it's really all about singability. Even a non-vocal melody has to be singable.

That's what governs all the other rules about melody: note duration (not too long, not too short); phrase lengths (allowing breathing space); total range (less than two octaves, averaging around an octave and 3rd); types of intervals (rarity of big leaps, following a big leap with a small step, usually in the other direction); repetition of simple motifs, with minimal development (for easier memorisation). These are all things which spring from ease of singing.

Great melodies (judged by whatever artistic criteria) may be quite complicated, but popular ones will always be simple - because untrained fans have to be able to sing along.

 

While you can read about these kind of rules from books, you can easily pick them up by studying great melodies - such as those of popular jazz standards (in Real Books), as suggested, or other long-lasting pop favourites (or even old classical favourites). Ie, the BEST tunes have to be the ones with widest and longest-lasting appeal. Musicians can always argue about how one should judge other qualities of music, but the criterion for melody is purely democractic.

You will soon start to see the above rules (and maybe others) illustrated in action.

(In fact, I've always found it surprising how simple most jazz standard melodies are. It's only the harmony that makes jazz complicated. The tunes are pop tunes. Otherwise they wouldn't be "standard" of course ;))

 

In terms of your question about "constructing melody against harmony", it's usually better to think the other way: write the melody first, then harmonize it with whatever chords fit (and will enhance the natural flow of the melody).

Given a chord sequence, there are lots of melodies that could be constructed to fit it - a chord progression is "blank" in that sense. Given a melody, there may be a few options for harmonization, but usually there is one obvious and best one, that "agrees" with the tune, as it were.

 

Personally I've found the best way to invent a melody is to begin with a verbal phrase, and allow it to find its own musical shape and rhythm - and develop it from there by trying to sing (or imagine singing) what note ought to come next: does it feel like the tune needs to go down or up, and by how much? I'm not a great singer (barely a singer at all), so if it's easy for me to sing, it'll be a piece of cake for a proper singer!

Lyrics help, because they offer a theme, an idea, about what kind of expression the melody needs to have. But the melody is the thing, and lyrics can later be jettisoned if they're no good; they're just the spark to get it going, or a temporary peg to hang the tune on.

And I always try to remember the basic rule about repetition and simplicity. (Often I fail ;)) It's easy to go too far, get too fancy.

I try to forget any theory I know. I might start with one chord, to accompany the first phrase, but I won't go beyond there until the melody tells me I need a new chord. And I'll choose that by ear, trying to ignore the theory nudging me.

Of course, my "inspiration" comes from all the music I've heard before (from childhood to very recently), so the language, vocabulary and rules are all there in my subconscious anyhow. The trick is to allow the subconscious to speak, and to close the books.;)

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Theory explains the how and why after it has been done, so it can be repeated.

 

It doesn't explain the inspiration for the action in the first place.

 

 

Posters on LL who have completed reading "Harmony" by Walter Piston

 

1. Genneration

2. Zanman777

 

Excellent work !

 

Posters who have started but not completed reading it

 

1. Windmill

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The two books I found that caught my eye were:

http://www.amazon.com/Melody-Songwriting-Techniques-Writing-Berklee/dp/063400638X

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-Guide-Music-Composition/dp/1592574033


In the latter, part 3 (Melodic Composition) has 7 chapters that seem to cover melody creation pretty well. But the Berklee book still seems better, because it's dedicated to melody from beginning to end.


What do you think?

Bumping this to say I just got hold of the first one - and I'll recommend it. It still may not inspire you with your own tunes, but it does help you analyze existing melodies, giving you the tools with which you can take them apart (yeah, and label the pieces...;)). It uses a few classic pop tunes as examples, and can make you look at them in a new light.

 

Eg on the concept of "prosody" - which describes something I'm well aware of but often forget the label (making music and lyrics express the same theme) - he uses "the Long and Winding Road" to illustrate the intuitive genuis of Paul McCartney. (Eg, the way he keeps returning to the 6th scale degree, eventually singing "always leads me here" to make the point; while the tonic is ambiguous until the last phrase "lead me to your door" which leads you right "home" to the keynote.) This is thrilling stuff, IMO. The kind of thing you might dimly notice in the normal course of things, but which usually goes right to your subconscious - and is why great songs often work so well, without you knowing quite why.

Of course, as a songwriter it's good to be conscious of such things. Not all the time by any means: I don't think any book (even this one) should be used as a manual for songwriting; but it does help you see it as a craft, as well as an art.

 

As Bob Dylan once said, when asked what he was most proud of in his songwriting, what he saw as his main achievement and goal: "making the words fit".

Hard to come up with a more pithy description of the whole business of songwriting. ("Fit" meaning theme and mood, of course, via melody and prosody, as well as scansion, rhyme, etc.) Forget "poetry"; this is a workshop we're in.

 

As I said before, the initial inspiration - the IDEA - won't come from books. But books like this can help you develop it and knock it into shape. (We're not all Paul McCartney...:()

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On 3/20/2012 at 12:40 AM, Zanman777 said:

The two books I found that caught my eye were:

http://www.amazon.com/Melody-Songwriting-Techniques-Writing-Berklee/dp/063400638X

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-Guide-Music-Composition/dp/1592574033

 

In the latter, part 3 (Melodic Composition) has 7 chapters that seem to cover melody creation pretty well. But the Berklee book still seems better, because it's dedicated to melody from beginning to end.

 

What do you think?
No books will help here. You need to have a feeling that great performers and authors had. I also want to go the same way as you. But I now devote a lot of time to college. Although I'm already lazy and recently found a community service essay that I was asked, I used extra resources for this. Music is everything for me, but my parents didn't want me to study in this direction. they made a big mistake, since I'm currently studying to be a lawyer and I don't like it at all.

I recently read one of them!

Edited by kylieavery95
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