Here at Berklee, the way I think is constantly being challenged and altered. One aspect that has recently broken through in my consciousness is melodic writing. I’ve long been interested in orchestration, yet found getting an authentic orchestral texture quite challenging. Reading Rimsky Korsakov’s “Principles of Orchestration”, many things have all clicked together and it occurred to me to start thinking HORIZONTALLY, not VERTICALLY (as in chords).
I’ve been excercising my melodic muscle, and come up with a few key principles/suggestions to develop a solid melody, and maybe some ideas to get you going.
- Your melody should have a “contour” to it.
- When deciding the contour of your melody, consider a good book or movie; it has a setup, rising action, climax and resolution. This is the most common shape for a melody to have, and generally accepted as the best.
- A good melody is typically something like 70% step-wise motion, 20% chord tones/arpeggios, and 10% leaps. Step-wise motion is moving from note to note without skipping any. Chord tones are obviously any note of a chord you are currently playing; for example if you are playing a C major chord, the chord tones would be C-E-G. Leaps are important to understand, and there are a few tricks to using them, which i will explain next.
- A leap is generally thought of as movement between two notes in any interval larger than a 3rd (4th, 5th, 6th, 7th etc). So going from C up to E, is considered a 3rd. Going from C up to F is a 4th, and considered a leap. The rule is, always resolve a leap by step. so if you went from the C up to F, your next note should probably be E.
- Depending on the style of music you are writing in, it is fairly common practice to end your piece on the tonic – meaning if your song is in C major, your last note would probably be C. This gives a sense of resolution and is very sastisfying. Of course if you are trying to be super dissonant, then don’t end on C. End in something like B or F. (B is the leading tone, F is the 4th, together they make a tritone, an extremely dissonant interval)
- Try developing a rhythm for your melody first, as the rhythm will be the fuel pushing your melody forward. Remember! Don’t ever let your melody “sit” or “rest” or “get stale”, meaning it should always feel like its moving on to something else, until you end your phrase. This will keep it fresh and interesting to the ear.
If you are REALLY having trouble conceiving a melody, try this useful technique I learned; Find a recorded piece of music you are unfamiliar with. Let it play in another room quietly, the trick is that you should only BARELY be able to hear it. If you can hear it clearly and hum the melody, it is too loud. Make it quieter. Then, in the other room, try to hum the melody best you can. The idea here is that your brain will fill in the gaps of what you can and cant hear, and after a few runs through the piece of music you should be humming a unique melody thats all your own. Keep it! lol
Hope you all found this useful, these tips have been pushing my melodic writing in the right direction.