#1
Hi, everyone.

I've just recently gotten into composing, and I was wondering something. I have most everything down that I require to compose, but one thing that continually baffles me is melodic cohesion. Whenever I listen to songs, their melodies seem to jump about the place, yet there's still audible cohesion in said melody. I can write solid motifs, but I have a very difficult time expanding the melody into a longer, more dynamic melody.

What am I missing here? What is the <base> of a melody that holds it all together, despite jumping around the fretboard? What do these melodic lines share in common?
#2
I think the most melodic things follow the chords tones quite closely and tend to move by steps rather than leaps.

Also, you'll probably want to break the melody up into different sections (e.g. four bar phrases) rather than going on for ever...
#3
I still have some experimenting to do with melodic development, but I'll give it a shot.
If you have examples of those jumpy melodies, that would be great.

The thing that holds it all together is the tonic (talking tonal music here). The notes of the scale all relate to the tonic in some way or another and the 'center of musical gravity' in most music is there. We can however shift this center of gravity (modulation). Another thing that can add a developed and different feel to a melody is your use of accidentals. An older example of nice accidental use is Wie Stark by Mozart from the Magic Flute. He uses them to pull to in scale notes which adds nice tension and release. Another different way of accidental use is what Periphery often does with their melodies. They'll have a diatonic progression (although often with upper-tertian chords) and then go to a non diatonic note in the melody as well as in the rhythm so there's a very noticeable shift in the feel.
One of my favorite composers is Chopin. Listen to some of his nocturnes: Op. 9 No. 1, No. 2 for example. Classical music is a great place to learn about music (I especially like the Romantic Era)
The melody should be in phrases, often 4-8 bars long (although it depends on what meter you're in), sometimes longer.

Edit: Yeah, steps definitely leave it feeling more coherent. There is nothing wrong with using leaps, but a melody composed entirely of leaps is a little tougher to manage and usually won't feel as tight.

I don't know where I'm going with this anymore.

So basically, I'd suggest experimenting with melodies yourself and FOR SURE looking at other composers work and analyzing how the melodies develop, shift, and interact with the other underlying music.

Hope some of this helped.
Quote by DiminishedFifth
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Last edited by FacetOfChaos at Sep 1, 2011,
#4
I think the most melodic things follow the chords tones quite closely and tend to move by steps rather than leaps.


While this is a common approach to composition (write a chord progression and then make a melody following the chord tones), arguably this route actually is melodically limiting precisely because the tendency is for chords to dictate the notes of the melody.

The counterpointal route is the opposite - you write a melody, and countermelodies happening at the same time, and they end up forming into chords and opening up possibilities for harmonic movement. I admit, this can be a harder way to write, but it's rewarding. I've struggled for years to write with counterpoint. Still working on it.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 1, 2011,
#5
Guys, I think that someone who is asking about creating melodic cohesion in the first place isn't going to be too interested in creating counterpoint or chromatic ornamentation...

...but I could be wrong...
#6
Thank you all very much. Every bit of info is definitely helpful.

As for chromatics and counterpoint, it's alright. Despite my seemingly noobish question, I've hit the books hard with theory so I can follow along well enough (I hope, anyway :P)

As for an example, I know it's going to appear nerdy as hell (but I don't care--I love the song! ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GF1BAoUqGgg#t=0m37s

The melody just seems to develop so richly, and doesn't make a habit of repeating a short motif at any given spot. That's my primary focus.
#7
Well, I bring up counterpoint because it is actually an excellent starting point for getting used to starting out writing a base-line melody without there already being chords to "follow".

I'm still somewhat unsure how to really answer the OP's question though. It seems like the "good melodies", particularly those you find in classical music, are a matter of having an interesting contour to the notes that happens to please the ear. If you see a leap, it's likely to then move step-wise in the opposite direction. Where do such conventions come from? Counterpoint! Specifically, Bach's chorales are a great source for seeing interesting melodies that please the ear - but you can't understand those chorales without getting into counterpoint.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 1, 2011,
#8
I suppose one way I could put it is that I'm always sorely tempted to end a groovy line on the tonic or dominant note, which, to me, gets extraordinarily tedious to listen to. Yet, when I listen to other composer, it seems as though they can give their melodies such life without resorting to a tonic resolution.

I guess that brings up another goofy question: I've hit the books harder than shit with theory, but my issue is that I'm still struggling with application. I know the technically definition of following a chord progression, but I never really learned how a melodic line relates back to the chord without literally following the chords verbatim.
Last edited by vermanubis at Sep 1, 2011,
#9
If you wish to write with skips, it is generally accepted that you should move in the opposite direction. So, A -> F# -> E. It is also acceptable to move back by skip, the point is that you fill out the space that was passed over.

A -> F# -> G# -> A feels empty (all ascending) as you have left a whole 6th uncovered. Thirds are generally OK to keep moving in the same direction; I've ended several melodies with a non-frills arpeggio.
Nothing that is worthwhile in life will ever come easy.
#10
Quote by vermanubis
I suppose one way I could put it is that I'm always sorely tempted to end a groovy line on the tonic or dominant note

I guess that brings up another goofy question: I've hit the books harder than shit with theory, but my issue is that I'm still struggling with application.\


Side note about skips: Listen to Giant Steps by John Coltrane. Almost the entire melody is made of skips but it sounds coherent because it fits well with the chords. It also jumps around with the tonic and eventually lead back into the original key (it doesn't spend long at all on the different keys and none of them ever feel really solidly established, but the resolution is definitely thrown around). This is pretty common in jazz.

I actually had the same problem for the longest time with the tendency to end a phrase on a stable note like that. I also had a tendency to end and start everything on a strong beat. The only way to get out of it is to just not do it. Analyze pieces and pay attention to how other composers craft their melodies to progress elsewhere. One way to do it is to simply lead it in another direction completely. Think about making your melody flow into the next chord instead of resolving. The only way to really get away from that is to do it. Go practice it when you can. Make a few progressions that are 4-8 bars and practice with a different melody over each one.

The second thing has a similar answer. When you learn something, apply it. That way it will stick and you'll have it in your toolbox. If you don't ever use or experiment with it, you'll just forget it or know the theory behind it but be unable to use it.

All of this is kind of like firing a bow and hitting a target. You can know all the theory behind trajectory, force, and wind correction, but the only way to actually hit that target is to practice and apply your knowledge. The more you do it, the better you'll get.
Quote by DiminishedFifth
Who's going to stop you? The music police?
Last edited by FacetOfChaos at Sep 1, 2011,
#12
Quote by Brainpolice2

. If you see a leap, it's likely to then move step-wise in the opposite direction. Where do such conventions come from? Counterpoint! Specifically, Bach's chorales are a great source for seeing interesting melodies that please the ear - but you can't understand those chorales without getting into counterpoint.


+1 with the whole Bach chorales thing! Studying those can give you a great insight into the inner workings of music, counterpoint and harmony (I studied them myself and reap the benefits!).

Anyway I think- although, TS, it's great that you're hitting the theory harder than shit- it's a good idea to start from the basics and then work your way up (even if you're more than capable and interested in understanding the theory). Music is much more than just understanding, it's application too!

Going back even further, our ideas of melody actually started with singing- so if something is easier to sing, it'll be more melodic (mostly...). That's why you hardly ever see melodies with weird interval jumps or huge leaps (I guess this relates back to the chorale idea again?).

I always teach that one of the best ways to create a melody is to hum (or at least think in your head "what would I naturally hum or want to sing next if I had the right voice?")- this way it's more natural and gets you away from the whole theory/textbook ideas and puts things into practice.
#13
It definitely does seem like vocalization lends itself to good melody. I find that scatting melodic lines in unison with playing guitar tends to force me to play melodic lines that I wouldn't necessarily otherwise play if I were just playing guitar.

As far as composition, there can be an issue of overintellectualizing or basing things on what it looks like on paper (or a fretboard for that matter) rather than how it sounds - so that one is stuck applying a preset formula. The only way to get out of this would seem to be to experiment and really hear what stuff sounds like.
#14
Quote by vermanubis
Hi, everyone.

I've just recently gotten into composing, and I was wondering something. I have most everything down that I require to compose, but one thing that continually baffles me is melodic cohesion. Whenever I listen to songs, their melodies seem to jump about the place, yet there's still audible cohesion in said melody.

What am I missing here? What is the <base> of a melody that holds it all together, despite jumping around the fretboard? What do these melodic lines share in common?

Basically if you listen to instrumental music, you can hear it has a question and answer principal.
Motif 1, motif 2, motif 1,motif 3.
uuhm , I will post more as soon as I can find the paper my teacher wrote it on .
#15
Motifs, phrases, sequences, anacdents, consequents.

A good melody will usually have a mix of stepwise (conjunct) motion, skips, and leaps (disjunct).

Transcribe and study melodies and how they relate their corresponding harmony.
#16
Quote by vermanubis
Hi, everyone.

I've just recently gotten into composing, and I was wondering something. I have most everything down that I require to compose, but one thing that continually baffles me is melodic cohesion. Whenever I listen to songs, their melodies seem to jump about the place, yet there's still audible cohesion in said melody. I can write solid motifs, but I have a very difficult time expanding the melody into a longer, more dynamic melody.

What am I missing here? What is the <base> of a melody that holds it all together, despite jumping around the fretboard? What do these melodic lines share in common?


Experience

Learn some melodies. Memorize them, play them, study them.

Start with really really easy stuff. Like melodies you'd be embarrassed of like Twinkle Twinkle little star. Get a bunch of those in your ears and under your fingers. Play them in different keys.

Gradually work with more complicated melodies as you're able to handle them.


Don't just string together random, out of context theoretic concepts.

If you want a theoretical explanation of melodies and how they work, a structured book and/or lessons is your best bet.
shred is gaudy music
Last edited by GuitarMunky at Sep 3, 2011,