Dave Cardwell
Registered User
Join date: May 2007
26 IQ
Thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to read! Let me know what you think. Also, how would I go about submitting this article, considering that it has mp3s and pictures?

Taking accents into account when writing melodies

The rhythmic accents of melodies are a very important and often overlooked element of songwriting. This becomes especially apparent when dealing with odd time signatures. Writing melodies in odd time is a good exercise to heighten your awareness of these accents.

It is very easy to write melodies in time signatures like 5/4 and 7/8 that sound awkward, but it is more difficult to make them sound natural. This is mostly because the majority of music that we hear is all written in 4/4, and thus it sounds the most natural to our ears.

Often we can easily construct melodies in 4/4 because we have been hearing them all our lives. When faced with a less common rhythm, our sense of melody can fall apart due to our lack of familiarity with the different rhythmic accents. You must be aware of where the accented beats are in a measure of music to write good melodies. However, you don’t necessarily have to follow these accents exactly.

The phrasing of the melodies you write needs to take the accents of the time signature into account. For example, if you are writing a melody in 7/8, you might choose to group the 8th notes as 2 + 2 + 3. If that is the case, can either make the melody clash with the rhythm or you can make the melody follow the same accents as the rhythm.

Example 1

First here is the rhythm we will be using as an example. It is in 7/8 and is grouped 2 + 2 + 3. Notice that beats 1, 3, and 5 are accented by the kick drum. This rhythm is two measures long, with the second measure starting with a snare hit. An 8th note ostinato is played on the hi hat.

Example 2

Next here is a melody in A minor that closely follows the rhythm. Notice that it sounds very natural with the beat. I simply placed a note of the melody where each accent occurs in the beat. Each measure contains different notes, but is the exact same rhythm.

Example 3
Here is the same melody with fewer bass drum accents.

Example 4
Next is a melody that I made to intentionally clash with the rhythmic grouping played by the drums. The melody doesn’t sound like it belongs because it doesn’t follow 2 + 2 + 3 anywhere. The notes are exactly the same as the melody in examples 2 and 3. The only difference is the placement of each note within the measure. This demonstrates how important paying attention to the accents is when constructing melodies.

Example 5
Here is the same awkward melody without the extra accents in the beat.

It might seem simplistic at first, but these examples here are made to be very obvious in order to effectively demonstrate these ideas. Good melodies keep rhythmic accents in mind, but play with them to create tension and release. It is not necessary to follow accents, but you must be aware of the fact that you are not following them. You can learn to be in control of this, and doing so will make your music more expressive and enhance your creativity.

You can apply these concepts to your music easily. Use the technique of first matching your melodies to the accents of the music or underlying rhythm, then try moving them around and experimenting to get variations and explore the possibilities. Try using the beat I’ve included in example 1 to come up with some of your own melodies.

Analyze some of the music you’ve written before, or some songs that you like and see how the melodies match or conflict with the rhythmic groupings of the rest of the music.

To close, here is another rhythm for you to experiment with. This is 7/8 as well, but grouped 3 + 4.

Example 6

Copyright Dave Cardwell 2007