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Thread: Practice for Writing Own Melodies? [Keyboard/Piano]

  1. #1
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    Practice for Writing Own Melodies? [Keyboard/Piano]

    Hi everyone.

    Just started self-teaching keyboard from the internet and books so I can write some of my own music, my first task has been to get a really basic understanding of music theory and memorizing the chords in the C Major scale.

    All is going well so far and from practicing these chords alone I've been improvising here and there which has been lots of fun

    My question is how would I go about tackling the melody side of things? As in, not using keys but fingering out melodies; I'm guessing I will no doubt do the same as the chords and improvise a lot but...I'm not really sure where to start, do I start learning a song or do I try learning some non-chord scales?

    If anyone has any help or input it'd be fantastic thanks

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FluffyClouds View Post
    Hi everyone.

    Just started self-teaching keyboard from the internet and books so I can write some of my own music, my first task has been to get a really basic understanding of music theory and memorizing the chords in the C Major scale.

    All is going well so far and from practicing these chords alone I've been improvising here and there which has been lots of fun

    My question is how would I go about tackling the melody side of things? As in, not using keys but fingering out melodies; I'm guessing I will no doubt do the same as the chords and improvise a lot but...I'm not really sure where to start, do I start learning a song or do I try learning some non-chord scales?

    If anyone has any help or input it'd be fantastic thanks
    Here is a basic format that can be used in writing a song. It may throw some light on the subject.
    Decide on a scale. Yes just one. I sing in D if this is going to be my song I'd write it with D scale notes for the melody and chords from the key of D will give me the harmony. If you do not have any vocalist in mind C is easy - no sharps or flats. OK I want to write a Pop, Rock or Country song so Major scale and major chords will be a good starting point.

    • Decide on a chord progression. Yes one of the cookie cutter progressions will be fine to get started. You can flesh it out later. Since this is my song I'd use a I IV V7 I or D, G, A7, D progression. Country, Gospel, Christmas songs and Marches work well with just three chords. I recommend that ole I-IV-V progression for your first couple of songs. The I-vi-ii-V7-I or I-vi-IV-V7-I progressions have been used in a zillion songs. Which ever one you like, remember it is a first draft.

    • Now the rest is chicken or egg. I chose lyrics, chords then melody. You may want to go melody then chords and leave lyrics for last. It's your song do it the way you want. The following is the lyrics first method.

    • Get the story into verse format. If you do not have a story to tell, wait until you do. Four line verse is a good format. You will need three verses and a chorus. Chorus is the hook, what you want them singing tomorrow. Rhyme or not up to you.

    • Place your cookie cutter progression over the lyric words in your four line verse. This is my first draft approach. Start the verse with the I chord - you are at rest to start so the I tonic chord makes since. To get some interest into the chord progression we need to get some tension into the progression so move to the IV chord near the ending of the first line. Continue with the IV into the second line and near the end of the second line bring in the V7 chord. This increases the tension and acts as a climax. Since we have reached climax quickly end the 2nd line with the I chord. You moved the first two lines from I (rest) to IV (tension) to V7 (climax) and then resolved back to the I chord and rest. Repeat this for the 3rd and 4th line. I like to get two V-I cadences into my four line verse. Might as well use that same format for the other verses and what the heck use it for the chorus - remember you are doing a first draft. Verse format -- one of many ways -- first two lines bring up a thought then the 3rd and 4th line of the verse react to what was said in the first two lines and then bring that thought to a close so verse number two can bring up another thought.

    • Play that progression and move the chords around to where they match the lyric words. Move them a little one way or the other - your ear will tell you.

    • Now it's melody time. I go to the keyboard for this - at any rate - one melody note per lyric word. Ma-ry and Lit-tle will take two melody notes.

    • Which notes. Chord tones. The chord's pentatonic will give you three chord tones and two safe passing notes - more than enough to build a melody that will harmonize with the chords you are using. Yes your melody notes and your chord notes should share like notes - when they do you harmonize both the melody and the chord line. I find knowing the progression first then finding melody notes from within the chords lets me keep the chord progression's journey from rest, tension, climax, resolution and return to rest the verse should travel intact. Now I only have to find harmonizing notes for my melody. Here is what I do. Recite the lyric word and see what chord tone sounds best, i.e. over the C chord you've got the C, E or G notes - and let's say the word in question is "now" say now and listen to the C note - what do you think? Try the E note, then the G note. I'd pick the C or E the G does not work for me. Which one sounds best to you? That's how I build the melody - what sounds good over the lyrics. What flows over several words - a phrase. Remember to pause - gotta get that rhythm into the song a line of notes is noise, a melody that flows and has pauses so the melody can breath is your goal. We speak in phrases, your song should be sung in phrases. Here is Mary Had A Little Lamb in C; notice it's one melody note per lyric word:

    C.....................................Dm.......... .....C
    Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb.... Lit-tle lamb... lit-tle lamb.
    E...D...C...D.E..E...E..........D...D..D........E. .G...G

    • That will get you a lead sheet, treble clef, chords and lyrics. A bass clef would be nice or just leave it as a lead sheet and let the bassist compose the bass line - how the chord tones are played - as he/she feels best.
    That format will write a first draft for any song. Sit back open a bottle of your favorite beverage and start on fleshing out your first draft.
    I know you will have questions........... Look this over. http://archive.org/details/exercisesinmelod00goetrich and of course ask your questions here. Someone will jump on it.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 10-25-2012 at 09:59 AM.

  3. #3
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FluffyClouds View Post
    Hi everyone.

    Just started self-teaching keyboard from the internet and books so I can write some of my own music, my first task has been to get a really basic understanding of music theory and memorizing the chords in the C Major scale.

    All is going well so far and from practicing these chords alone I've been improvising here and there which has been lots of fun

    My question is how would I go about tackling the melody side of things? As in, not using keys but fingering out melodies; I'm guessing I will no doubt do the same as the chords and improvise a lot but...I'm not really sure where to start, do I start learning a song or do I try learning some non-chord scales?

    If anyone has any help or input it'd be fantastic thanks
    Well, use what you know regarding playing with chords. I'm simply stating to do the reverse. This is because harmony is often melodic, you're just playing more notes at a time.

    G7-G9sus-G7b9 (B-C-D)

    CMaj7-C6-CMaj9-C13b9 (E-D-E-A-G-E)

    FMaj7-F6-FmMaj7-Fm6 (C-E-F)

    Cmaj9-C6-Am7-D9#5-G9sus-G7 (G-A-G-E-C-E-D)

    G7-G9sus-G7b9 (B-C-D)

    CMaj9-C6-Gm9-Gb9-FMaj9-F6-FmMaj7-Bb9 ((E-D-E-A-G-E, B-C-D)

    [G] CMaj9-A7b9-A7#5b9[/G]-G13sus-G9sus-G7b9-CMaj9 (E-F-E-D-C-D-C)

    It's somewhat re-harmonized, but the melody is there.

    Londonderry Air widely known as Danny Boy (Verse)

    --------------------------------------------

    Just play a progression, then take that same progression, but mix up the chords. Pick out any note and see if you can construct a melody you like.

    Things to think about when writing melodies other than notes:

    Rhythmic Flow

    Dynamics

    Musical Path (What pitches go up, down, stay constant)

    Contrapuntal Motion (if it's at least a duet) - Parallel, Similar, Contrary, Oblique - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrapuntal_motion.

    Simple or Complex (goes with Rhythmic Flow)

    So, melody and harmony go hand-in-hand in that they use the same tools just in a different manner.

    Most don't think harmonically until later, but sometimes the tune doesn't come first, er, it doesn't fall from the sky into your lap.

    Rhythm will probably be the biggest factor, but that only after you arrange the notes to get something you like.

    Listen to songs for all of the above, but hiphop/rap tunes will definitely clue you in on rhythm. (And there's the pitch element as well, believe it or not and I don't mean autotune)
    Last edited by Color of Music; 10-24-2012 at 10:40 PM.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    Here is a basic format that can be used in writing a song. It may throw some light on the subject.


    I know you will have questions........... Look this over. http://archive.org/details/exercisesinmelod00goetrich and of course ask your questions here. Someone will jump on it.
    This has been an incredibly useful post thanks! There are definitely some parts which I don't understand but the way you explained the workflow made everything slot into place

    I used to write lyrics but have forgotten about it somewhat under the weight of learning so much about music theory and also a lot of technical music software and synthesis so I'll definitely have to get back to that.

    About halfway down your post things start getting slightly out of my depth, but I've bookmarked it for future reference when these things make more sense.

    When you talk about tension and climax things get a little hazy for me, I'm 99% sure I can understand these in practice and by ear, but not theory. Chord tones...a similar story, while I don't understand much of the terminology at this point I'm pretty sure I understand this in practice

    I will definitely come back to this topic with new questions once I have revised some of this and applied it...I can't stress enough how helpful it's been in such a simple way. Also Color of Music your post is slightly more advanced but the Rhythmic Flow, Contrapuntal Motion, Musical Path etc. all seem very important too, if a bit above my level.

    This has given me a whole new way to listen to music too, I'm already starting to pick out how melodies and chords have been structured in some of my favorite songs and how genres that don't follow these patterns break the mold...maybe it sounds boring to some but it has added a whole new dimension for me

  5. #5
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FluffyClouds View Post
    This has been an incredibly useful post thanks! There are definitely some parts which I don't understand but the way you explained the workflow made everything slot into place

    I used to write lyrics but have forgotten about it somewhat under the weight of learning so much about music theory and also a lot of technical music software and synthesis so I'll definitely have to get back to that.

    About halfway down your post things start getting slightly out of my depth, but I've bookmarked it for future reference when these things make more sense.

    When you talk about tension and climax things get a little hazy for me, I'm 99% sure I can understand these in practice and by ear, but not theory. Chord tones...a similar story, while I don't understand much of the terminology at this point I'm pretty sure I understand this in practice

    I will definitely come back to this topic with new questions once I have revised some of this and applied it...I can't stress enough how helpful it's been in such a simple way. Also Color of Music your post is slightly more advanced but the Rhythmic Flow, Contrapuntal Motion, Musical Path etc. all seem very important too, if a bit above my level.

    This has given me a whole new way to listen to music too, I'm already starting to pick out how melodies and chords have been structured in some of my favorite songs and how genres that don't follow these patterns break the mold...maybe it sounds boring to some but it has added a whole new dimension for me
    All that's there because there's much more to writing melodies than just mixing up the individual notes. However, let's just do that by using the children's tune, for now.

    Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star:

    It only contains six notes in the major scale:

    C-D-E-F-G-A in C
    D-E-F#-G-A-B in D
    Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C in Eb
    F#-G#-A#-B-C#-D# in F#

    How does this tune go? In C for convenience:

    C-C-G-G-A-A-G / F-F-E-E-D-D-C (1-5-6-5 / 4-3-2-1)
    G-G-F-F-E-E-D / G-G-F-F-E-E-D (5-4-3-2 / 5-4-3-2)
    C-C-G-G-A-A-G / F-F-E-E-D-D-C (1-5-6-5 / 4-3-2-1)

    What's the musical path? (What are the notes (numbers) doing?) What is the rhythm? (When you sing this song, how do the words flow?) Don't worry about contrapuntal motion as we are dealing with one voice. This song (melody) is pretty simple, no?

    This Old Man is another children's tune that contains only six notes. Again, in C for convenience, but any of the twelve keys will work.

    G-E-G-G-E-G / A-G-F-E-D-E-F
    E-F-G-C-C-C-C-C / C-D-E-F-G
    G-D-D-F / E-D-C

    Ask yourself the same questions as with the above example.

    I essentially did what Malcolm did with his Mary Had A Little Lamb example.

    I wonder if this is more an issue of not wanting to sound like something else (more evident with harmony/chord progressions), but it just takes mixing up the notes and employing pitch and rhythmic variations and we haven't touched harmony, yet.

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    CoM's last post reminded me of this analysis of a great melody that may be of interest.

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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    CoM's last post reminded me of this analysis of a great melody that may be of interest.
    Indeed that octave jump on just the first word! That uses the entire scale, btw.

    Pure Imagination is just off a by semitone (Maj7)

    Which reminds me, song association helps with intervals - the "musical path" I spoke of earlier. This distance between one note and the next. (That was to the OP, btw)

    And that was a wonderful analysis; however, I will point out to the OP - to just write and not get too analytical about it if at all. as the analysis comes after what you've written or it should be in the background while what you're writing or attempting to write is in the foreground.

    You want a beautiful, flexible, memorable melody - not a "technical" one. (Of course, that depends if you do want such or who is listening to it other than yourself)

    Form is another thing to think about as the guy mentioned - AABA. This is the most common used in most songs. Pop Tunes/Jazz Standards/Showtunes.
    Last edited by Color of Music; 10-30-2012 at 03:03 AM.

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FluffyClouds View Post
    Hi everyone.

    Just started self-teaching keyboard from the internet and books so I can write some of my own music, my first task has been to get a really basic understanding of music theory and memorizing the chords in the C Major scale.

    All is going well so far and from practicing these chords alone I've been improvising here and there which has been lots of fun

    My question is how would I go about tackling the melody side of things? As in, not using keys but fingering out melodies; I'm guessing I will no doubt do the same as the chords and improvise a lot but...I'm not really sure where to start, do I start learning a song or do I try learning some non-chord scales?

    If anyone has any help or input it'd be fantastic thanks
    Studying great melodies is the best way to learn how to do it.
    It's not just about learning the technical tricks, but getting the feel of expressive melodic intervals in your head, by listening to (and playing) as many as you can.

    Things to remember about melody:
    1. It's all based on the human voice (whatever instrument it might end up getting played on). A melody has to be singable. That means (technically):
    2. Keep the range faily restricted. Distance between highest and lowest notes (throughout) should be little more than one octave. (Most songs cover about a 10th, octave+3rd; a few cover more, a few less.)
    3. Use mostly scale-wise moves, interspersed with skips (3rds) with fewer bigger leaps (4ths and more). Big leaps up are very dramatic.
    4. Use a mix of note values, but stay away from very short notes (16ths) and too many very long ones.
    5. Leave space for breathing! Typical melodic phrases are 2, 3 or 4 bars long, no more.
    6. (less a technical vocal issue, more of a way of making a good strong melody). Use lots of repetition. There's no phrase so dull it can't be improved by repeating it. Great songs tend not to repeat phrases exactly, but keep the same up-down shape, just using different notes. Or they'll repeat most of the same notes, but change the ending.
    Some of the greatest popular melodies are remarkably simple when you break them down. Simplicity is part of what makes tunes memorable.

    The vocal link means (of course) that the best way to invent - or at least develop - a melody is to sing it.
    You can maybe start with a few notes inspired by a guitar chord sequence, but use your voice to imagine how it might progress. Eg, after the last note you have so far, should it go up or down? And by how much? Or could it stay on the same note?
    You can let chord progressions inspire a melody, but don't let them govern it. The melody must rule in the end, and the chords need to follow and support it.

  9. #9
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    Here's an interval chart for "Over The Rainbow", seeing as it was mentioned above (and is indeed one of the all-time great melodies).
    Code:
    | C        C     |B   G   A    B    C
    |Some -  where,   o - ver the rain-bow
              8/     2\  3\  2/   2/   2/
    
    | C        A     |G
     Way      up      high
    8\        6/     2\
    
    | A        F     |E     C   D     E    F 
     There's   a     land that I've heard of
    7\        6/     2\    3\  2/    2/   2/
       
    |D    B  C  D  E |C
     once in a lul-la-by
    3\   3\ 2/ 2/ 2/ 3\
    Numbers mean intervals, not half-steps. (Eg "2" = a 2nd, which might be 1 or 2 half-steps, depending on position in scale.)
    "/" means interval up, "\" means down (from previous note)

    Notice:
    1. the structural repetition, in particular the shapes of 1st and 3rd lines: an opening big leap (octave in line 1, 6th in line 3) followed by the exact same series of 2nds (scale steps) and 3rds, up and down in the same shape.
    2. The 2nd line starts from a leap from the same note as the first line, and the same note values (half-notes); it just doesn't leap as high (6th instead of octave). But then the first leap in 3rd line is a 6th again, just from a lower note.
    3. The last line repeats most of the shape of the end of the 3rd line. (3\ 2/ 2/ 2/)
    4. The big leaps are always followed by a small move in the opposite direction (a scale step); this releases the dramatic tension set up by the leap.

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