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Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by ameshokostreet, Sep 12, 2008.

  1. ameshokostreet


    Jul 10, 2008
    Hong Kong
    I have a problem creating melodies. When i sit down in front of the piano and can come up with some lines that im not sure is good. Is there any tips for creating melodies? do i have to be absolutely sure if the melody line is catchy before i stat making the chords for the song? or should i start by making the chord progression first?
  2. Gufenov


    Jun 8, 2003
    There are as many answers to this as there are writers, and there probably isn't an answer that fits everyone. I compose lyrics and melody at the same time, in my head, and then work out the chords that best fit the melody I have chosen. For me, trying to compose using a piano or any other instrument diverts my attention from the creative process to the mechanical process of making the instrument do my bidding, if that makes sense.
  3. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Personally I think the melodic material needs to come first. I always start there. To me that is the 'plot' of my 'story'. Once I have established that I write to changes or, to continue the story metaphor, decide on the setting for the story. This, of course, supposes an understanding of how to harmonize a melody.

    I took a jazz comp class once where we had to take a standard, remove the melody, and write a new one over the old changes. Probably my own fault but I was not able to write a very compelling melody.
  4. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    ABSOLUTELY! When thinking of a melody, I feel it's almost imperative to stay away from any instrument except to maybe check a note. Also, think about phrase, form, peak (there is usually one). Leon Dallin's book on 20th century composition has a GREAT section on melody.
  5. ameshokostreet


    Jul 10, 2008
    Hong Kong
    are there tips on choosing the right chord progression for a song. what kind of progression changes the mood of the song etc
  6. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    As the distinguished folk above have noted, there are so many ways to compose. I'm not much of a composer, but I have written songs

    * Starting with a melody and harmonizing it
    * Starting with a chordal idea and seeing what melodies come to mind
    * Starting with a rhythmic idea and seeing what melodies come to it
    * Starting with a lyric or textual idea
    * Starting with a title

    I can only offer two real pieces of advice:
    a) Composing is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.
    b) The back side of a Frisbee disc used to say, "Flat flip flies straight. Tilted flip curves. Experiment!"
  7. buddyro57

    buddyro57 me and PJ (living with the angels now)

    Apr 14, 2006
    Cedar Falls Iowa
    Don't worry too much about chord progressions- get away from the theory book. I think some of the most amazing pieces have harmonic successions that one wouldn't describe as progressions in the conventional sense. Take Nefertiti, ot Infant Eyes (or any other Wayne Shorter tune) for instance, the chord successions just sound good; the sense of movement, the creation and disposition of tension is there, all the things you want, but I wouldn't want to have to explain the function. Go listen to
    Mirror Mirror and Humpty Dumpty (Chick)
    anything by Joe Zawinul
    anything by Hermeto Pascoal
    anything by Bill Evans
    add to that list:
    Copland, Delius, Bartok, Takemitsu, Berg, Webern, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Samuel Adler, Hindemith, Debussy,
    Ravel,Roy Harris........
    you'll get the idea
    good luck
  8. cbarosky


    Jun 7, 2008
    Burlington, VT
    what buddy just said seems to be so true. i have a friend who used to compose really swingin tunes back in freshman year of high school. i asked him how he was able to intellectualize and justify certain chordal ideas and he said it just "sounded good."

    my plague right now is hearing entire sections of original tunes in my head (drums, bass, keyboard, horn harmonies, etc.) without having a strong sense of WHAT exactly i'm hearing. you shouldn't have to limit yourself to starting with a melody or starting with a drum beat or a bassline or a chord progression. if you have one or more of those components and you like them, then build something off of whatever first comes to you. this has been working out for me in my early stages of composition.

    if you want more technical/musical advice, mine would be in terms of "what chord progressions create what moods," you already should know that major has sort of a settled, "happy" emotion that you're taught in elementary school. minor has a bit of a darker emotion, augmented and diminished and altered (and beyond...) have tensions within them that tend to be quite colorful in contrast with your standard major/minor chords. when you voice chords, try moving voices an octave lower or higher and note how the sound changes. for instance if you're doing a 4-part harmony, move the 2nd note from the top down an octave and it opens up a bit. also think about the thing that's smacked into our heads when we begin formally studying harmony and form: tension/resolution. good melodies have a way of creating this without pretense. but really man, just feel it.
  9. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    One technique I used to do and still do to a certain extent, is play something, record it and listen back to it and follow it up with something else, either played or (often better) sung and record that. And repeat the process until the larger chunk of music has a satifactory character. This way you have a chance to not steer yourself completely into one direction. Sometimes what happens is you get committed down one track and that can be a dead end. Often with a fresh listen and stopping in a different spot causes a different reaction, preserving to a certain extent, the original naivete and impulse to go compose in the first place

    From the editing process, in terms of selected chords you have to constantly ask yourself is the progression too hackneyed or just familiar enough?

    When all else fails, composing under strict guidelines often helps. Say, I want to compose a minor bossa for blowing at this tempo. Or a tune that kind of sounds like this one. Sometimes restrictions can be helpful when open ended leaves you throwing your hands up in the air

    Generally the principle for composing I use is "familiar but also different" and use that as a very strict aesthetic. The idea is that you want to have common ground with the listener but try not to make them groan :smug: with a melody or chord progression they have heard a billion times before
  10. Mozart once had a young composer ask him near the end of his life "How do you do what you do? How do you get creativity going?" Mozart said, "Well first you start writing songs." To which the guy said, "But you were already composing when you were very young like 6 years old." Mozart responded, "Yes, but I never stopped to ask anyone, "How do you do great things?"
  11. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005
    I actually find it easier to write the harmony first, since the melody more often than not will focus on the chord tones and extensions of the changes.

  12. froedrick


    Apr 7, 2008
    Well, as a composer, I almost never write the melody first - it's usually nearly the last thing I write. I generally work out either the harmonic or rhythmic backbone of the piece, and then go from there.

    Just remember that there's an infinite number of ways to get where you want to go... and you can take whichever path you want.
  13. jlilley


    Aug 28, 2005
    Mill Creek, WA
    Here is a technique that David Friesen passed on to me. Record yourself improvising (as he put it 'time, no changes') for at least 20 minutes. Put the recorder away for a couple of days. Listen back and see if there is anything that speaks to you, if so isolate that part and begin building a tune around it. Look at each bar and figure out what changes work (at this point I'll often sit down with a piano playing friend-- he always has some hipper ideas then I come with). I've come up with a couple of decent tunes using this method.
    Good Luck,
  14. Barron


    Oct 23, 2008
    My advice is that if you can whistle it and it's hard to forget, then it's a good melody.

    So don't forget to sing, hum, or whistle while you work.;)
  15. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    One idea is to just play with someone who really plays great melody. Especially in music requiring improvisation it is often best to let a specialist take care of their area of music.
    There is a reason why the plumbers don't wire a building and the electricians don't design the water systems.

    I stopped composing for the most part upon hearing a really terrible bass part for a great bass player written by an alto player.
    I decided that when you play with great players it is best to let them play and that as much as I could I would make it a point to play with musicians who didn't need to be told what to play.

    Having said all that, I still enjoy playing and listening to great compositions!
  16. Barron


    Oct 23, 2008

    The only thing I would say in contast to this view is that if you're going to invent great counterpoint then you should at least know how great melodies are made. That's why some of the greatest bassists know their way around a piano or can sing.

    Sort of like the plumber who has a knack for interior design that can help make that artful installation as opposed to "Joe da Plumber" who just hacks away at the pipes and makes it work, but leaves caulk all over the place.
  17. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Agreed! But all you have to do is STUDY some great melodies rather than invent them. I Practice Bach nearly every day, that helps. I am a pretty melodic player already, even under all the noise I make.

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