Melody is a very important chapter in songwriting, but choosing your notes and creating a melody line is a very personal thing. The process and method are different for every individual. Some techniques work for some, and some do not for others; so, in this post, I am just going to talk about my experience and my own ways of coming up with melody.
1) First and Foremost
The old dictaphone is now replacable by your smartphone’s recording app. Ideas can come from anywhere at anytime; you should always be ready to record. A few years ago, this used to be an everyday practice for me. I would come up with some melodies, record them, and store them in the app’s library. By doing this, you have at your disposal a great collection of ideas to experiment and work with, which really help you the next time you sit at your instrument to write a song.
2) Singing Arpeggios
Finding your song theme by singing gives you the advantage of creating lines that fit within the limitations of the human voice – melodic lines that can be sung (we want people to be able to understand our melody). Using an instrument to create your lines can be a trap because if you are excellent at playing your instrument, you can physically throw (Malmsteen style, LOL) 1000 notes per second. The problem is that wonderful melodies are usually pretty damn simple.
Now, let’s say that we have a nice chord sequence that we want to experiment with. First, start playing while looping the chord sequence, and as a vocal warm-up, start singing all notes of every chord. Begin by singing the 1st, 3rd, 5th to start with, and then the 2nd, 7th, 9th and so on. Adding the chord extensions is a very wise thing to do as you open up your melodic possibilities. Do it as a warm-up exercise, and don’t worry too much about your singing; we want the notes to open up in your mind and not necessarily in your vocal cords.
When I first started songwriting, I was singing like a cow (literally). But this method was always helping me to create ‘good standing’ melodies. After you get comfortable with that, start improvising. Mix your notes up and add rhythm use your instrument to play the chords to make sure that what you’re doing has a harmonically strong foundation for your melody. After you have started coming up with a few patterns and ideas you like, introduce words and do not worry about making too much sense; just sing gibberish to begin with. There’s something about using words – even random ones – when you start improvising; I guess it’s adding words that gives your melody a natural rhythm.
All words have their own unique way to groove because of their vaules and the number of syllables. Adding aaahs and wooohs are great during your warm-up/opening up session, but will not ‘cut it’ after a point. Be sure that by adding words you’ll come up with some that actually fit the atmosphere of your chords and the context of your melody; Jot them down on a piece of paper; they’ll come in handy when you’re writing the lyrics, and it’s a great way to brainstorm.
Always go back to No. 1 back to recording. Record and record; revisit and revisit your work. Give it a few hours, a few days, a month even a year but always go back to your ideas don’t leave them unfinished.
3) Get a rest. Take a break from it.
Everything in life has a beginning, middle and an end (or does it not? I’m sure mathematicians will disagree on that, digging into it in a bit).
I always like thinking of a song like it’s a balloon. You blow it, and the more you blow it – from being a tiny piece of rubber – the more it takes shape. At some point, it hits its limits and explodes. The same kind of mechanics apply to songwriting. You begin with an idea. You give it a shape and then the song ending is the actual explosion. Le voila. (What a metaphor.)
Now back to the math. Honestly. You have an infinite amount of directions that you can take with a song. A finished song is, by all means… not something completely finished.
A good songwriter needs to know when to stop. You can keep re-inventing the same song for years to come, but this is going to lead you nowhere.
Music is a multi-dimensional thing. You can easily get lost in there… A songwriter needs to know when to stop.
4) Development and Continuity
Let’s assume that you train hard at the gym (random metaphor LOL). What you need to do first is to define your goals
What exactly do you want to achieve:
– Building muscle?
– Gaining flexibility?
– Increasing stamina?
As with most things in life, we need to choose something, and work towards it with the right tools for the job. After you have figured out what you really want to achieve then you will have to work towards it. If you want to train your core muscles, then you need to do exercises with free weights, and use your own body weight and gymnastic balls. If you want to gain muscle, then you need to exercise by using heavy weights.
The same simple logic applies to songwriting when defining your goals:
Do you want to write pop? Rock? Dance?
What is the structure of a rock song or a dance song?
Follow the recipes of the great songwriters – listen, analyse, copy, filter and then create your own songs. And remember the old adage: Rome was not built in a day. Songwriting takes a lot of time, thinking and energy.
The term ‘continuity’ is very close to the term ‘development.’ Continuity, to put it simple, is the experience of making something sounding repetitively interesting.
According to Oxford Dictionary continuity is:
The unbroken and consistent existence or operation of something over time
It’s the skill of reintroducing an idea under a different spectrum. You’ve played your song intro that led to the first verse and early chorus; now it’s time for the second intro. Is it going to be exactly the same or with some variations? And what about the coming verse or the next chorus? Something that I love doing with my songs is changing the last choruses’ harmonies after the bridge, or introducing an unusual element to the second verse.
Continuity was a classical term used by many of the classic composers who were masters at it. Symphonies and sonatas are recipes that employ the notion of continuity to its full potential.
Continuity is something that you develop over time. It comes with not so much practise, but with a great deal of thinking and reading about it. Once your brain has processed all the information, it becomes available on your brain’s App Store, and you can download it whenever you need it. Your brain is a free app, provided by nature.
As an endnote, let’s quickly recapitulate:
find your methods; practise, record, listen, analyse, copy, and think!
Cheers and thanks for reading!
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