Even the simplest of melodies follow some rules of melody structures. My class watched several videos and tutorials that explain how melodies sound better and how melodies can vary. We learned about tonic, dominant, supertonic, and other types of notes that build and release tension in the melody. We looked at examples of leaps in and steps in songs and how they move the song along. After that, we were tasked with our own melody making project. I took a look at a famous and beautiful melody by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald; the chorus of ‘Dream a Little Dream’. After taking apart that song and which rules it follows and which rules it bends I decided to take note and make my own original melody with similar aspects.
It repeats a pattern of quick steps to big leaps. It starts in the key of C and although it stays in that key, it ends with the tonic note an octave higher. There’s a lot of tension building and it gets pleasantly awkward at the start of the second phrase with the split up of the 2 beats into three quarter notes (which was hard to replicate in flat.io because it automatically would only let me use eighth notes, so I had to use connectors to make the notes the same length and just written differently). The tonic note was not used that much within the melody, in fact not very many notes are repeated, but the rhythm is repeated similarly in the second phrase as it is in the first phrase.
One of My Favorite Melodies
It follows a pattern of Major, Minor, Major, Minor until the last note, which is always Minor except in the last measure when it ends in tonic. Every other measure in the first phrase start with an eighth note of a rest. And the first and third measure in the first phrase are exactly the same. The second Phrase follows a pattern of starting in Minor and ending in minor (other than the final whole note). It uses only one leap and only quarter notes, eighth notes, and quarter notes with extra time for most of the song. Variation is small but enough. There’s a rather equal spread between green, red, and blue notes, which may be why it’s such a calm and stress-free tune.
The tonic note is at the beginning of the song and the end, and the beginning of every other measure. It follows a simple pattern of small leaps with a quarter note, eighth note, and another quarter note, and then fast little steps with sixteenth notes. The second phrase has some easy harmony parts on some notes. The beginning of each phrase is the same. There is some variation in notes every other measure much like ‘Dream a Little Dream’ with most variation in the last two measures of the sentence. I also added some flat and sharp notes at the end of the first phrase to make the notes closer together to release the tension built in that first phrase. In the first phrase I used blue notes (notes that move the melody along but don’t push it; supertonic, mediant, submediant), then in the second phrase I made the leaps just a little bit more green (dominant, subdominant, leading tone; notes that push the melody and build tension). I essentially made the second phrase the same structurally as the first, but with more tension build and release. The final step riff down to the ending tonic note releases the tension built throughout the melody. It is in the key of A.
Melody Composition Terms and Notes
- People can sometimes recognize tunes they’ve heard when they were in the womb
- Some melodic principles are universal
- The five notes most used in song (called pentatonic) are also the 5 black keys on a piano
- ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ is an example of the Aoelian mode that is to display solemn and sorrowful
pitch – the measuring of how high or low a musical note is
interval – the distances between runs, in western music, the smallest is a semitone.
modes – scale groups that evoke or sound like emotions or occurrences
sharpen – to raise by a semitone
flatten – lowering by a semitone
false relations – modified modes put together with sharp and flat sounds that creates a harsh harmony
blue notes – bending down notes
diatonic – using notes that have not been altered
theme – a long, more flowing melodic idea
motive – a short rhythmic idea
period – eight measures, a musical sentence
phrase – four measures, a piece of a musical sentence
antecedent (Question) Phrase – The first phrase, like asking a question, sets up for the next phrase
consequent (Answer) Phrase – The second phrase, almost like answering the question phrase one said
scale degree –
- tonic – Begins and ends the scale, determines what key you’re in and what the other notes will be [Stop, “Home”]
- supertonic, mediant, submediant – Have a moderate level of tension, won’t get the same feeling of rest [Rest]
- dominant, subdominant, leading tone – Have the most “forward moving force”, most tension [Go]
steps – any movement using half or whole steps
leap – any movement using intervals bigger than a whole step
conjunct motion – Melody built primarily out of steps
disjunct motion – Melody built primarily out of leap
repetition – using repeated material that can create a link between two phrases
contrast -Writing two phrases that contain and create tension and are different from each other
variation – half way between repetition and contrast, with some repeated parts and some varied parts
What I Learned and Problems I Solved
This project was mind-blowing and definitely eye opening. When I took this class, this was exactly the type of information I was interested in knowing. After only one look at the process of information, example, and then doing it myself I already know how to make a melody that doesn’t suck and how to move a song along if it’s been stuck. All it takes is looking at the note you’re working with, a look at the start of the period, and then deciding how much tension you want to build after it.
Learn More Yourself!
How to Make a Melody – Jamie Henke
How Music Works with Howard Goodall
Hot to Write a Melody – Art of Composing
The 4 Critical Parts to Writing a Melody – Michael New