Writing Stronger Melodies: Lessons from trees, smoke, muscles and waves (Music Composition) | Jonathan Haidle | Skillshare

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Writing Stronger Melodies: Lessons from trees, smoke, muscles and waves (Music Composition)

teacher avatar Jonathan Haidle

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Class Intro


    • 2.



    • 3.



    • 4.

      Muscles - part 1


    • 5.

      Muscles - part 2


    • 6.

      Waves - part 1


    • 7.

      Waves - part 2


    • 8.

      Waves - part 3


    • 9.

      Class Project


    • 10.

      Student Critique: Yash (part 1)


    • 11.

      Student Critique: Yash (part 2)


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About This Class

Have you ever wondered why we really resonate with certain art/music?  I propose that we are attracted to works that have really strong similarities to nature.  Not literal similarities (i.e. a song about the ocean), but similarity in structure and anatomy.  In this class, we'll explore what trees, smoke, muscles and waves have to teach us about writing stronger melodies.

By the end of the class, you'll have a number of ideas/ways you can develop your melody to be the strongest it can be.  

This class is perfect for you if you want to learn how to compose music, or write songs - as it will help you under the fundamentals behind why some techniques work.  There's definitely song writing techniques in here, but the aim is to go deeper.  To the source of what makes melodies actually work. 

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1. Class Intro: Hey, my name is Jonathan Hitle. This class is going to be all about ways that you can write stronger melodies. Let's start with a question. Why exactly do some songs and some melodies resonates so deeply with us? When I sat with this question for a little bit, here's what came to me. Most of the time when something resonates really deeply with us, is because it mimics or similar to the natural world around us, to nature. For example, all around the world, in every culture, people are drawn to music with a steady beat. How is this similar to nature? Well, within our very bodies, we have a heart which is beating to a constant pulse, and we depend upon that for our very survival. Of course, we resonate with things that have a steady beat. Rhythm literally keeps us alive. For this class, as we dive into ways that you can write stronger melodies, I'm going to use examples from nature as a framework and a pathway into the material. We're going to look at what trees, smoke, muscles, and waves have to teach us about writing stronger melodies. If this sounds intriguing to you, sign up for this class and will get deep into the anatomy of a melody, which is just a fancy and find our way of saying music theory. 2. Trees: What do trees have to teach us about writing stronger melodies? As I already mentioned, we resonate with things that are similar to the natural world around us. When you look at a tree, one of the most distinctive characteristics is the pattern in the branches. Not surprisingly, you can find the same pattern in our bodies. This is a picture of pulmonary veins, the blood vessels that are in our lungs. With both the tree branches in your veins, I want to draw your attention to something specific. They have a number of smaller patterns that are very similar to each other, and they combine to make a larger shape. and this is exactly the same structure as a melody. Melodies also have a number of smaller patterns that combine into a larger shape. In a music theory, these have specific names. The smallest pattern is called a motif, and you combine these together to make a phrase. Arnold Schoenberg, a famous composer defined a motif as a unit which contains one or more features of interval and rhythm whose presence is maintained throughout the piece. Now, that's an extremely academic definition of a motif. I'll try to give you a simpler version. A motif is the building block from which you make a melody. Similar to h ow Legos have these very basic and plain shapes. But from them, you can create an astounding variety of things. A motif essentially has two elements to it, a distinctive rhythm and note interval. To really understand this, let's listen to what is probably the most famous motif of all time. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is also such a great example because he puts the motif right in the beginning, and it's so plain and so simple, you can really see the magic that he creates what this piece. If we look closer at this motif, you can see the two elements. We have the rhythm and we have the interval. Now, let's listen to how he takes this motif and he turns it into a phrase, and right there, he's already done something significant with this motif. He's repeated it, but he's moved it to a different note, and that changed the interval here from major third to here a minor third, and this is the essence of melodic development. You're taking a motif and you're changing it in subtle ways. Now with that in mind, let's listen to this again. In this next section, he keeps the rhythmical part of the motif consistent. But he really starts to play with the variation in the note intervals. We've a major third, a minor second, a minor third, a perfect fourth, and you can't really see it here, but it's another minor second. Let's listen to how that sounds. Let's take some inspiration from Beethoven, and we'll build our own melody, but make it a little bit more contemporary. I'm intentionally going to create a melody that's very simple and basic, primarily because I want you to be able to see the motif and the development very clearly. I created a basic melody that we can work with. Let's take a listen first and then I'll break it down for you. As a reminder, we're not trying to create the best melody of all time. Don't get distracted on whether or not you liked this melody or not. We're using it as an illustration to understand the process on melodic development, something that you can do to any melodic idea. In this melody, you may have noticed that there are two primary motifs. There's this idea, which is repeated two other times, and there's this idea. You might even argue that the second motif really isn't a new motif at all. It's really just a development of the first one using this interval here, over and over again. Let's begin our development by working on the first motif, and I'm going to take you through really the same process that I go through when I'm working on melodies and developing ideas. I take this initial melodic idea, the motif and I spin it around a trial. Different things. Sometimes feels a little bit like a game of Tetris. Let's start with the first motif. Give it another listen. One of the first things I might do is just turn it around and play it backwards. It's not a true backwards where I'm actually flipping the rhythm around as well. In this example, I'm keeping the rhythm the same. I'm just changing the notes, and then I might turn it upside-down. Again, we're not changing the rhythm, we're just changing the note arrangement. We could try moving it to start on a different note, and what I'm doing here is just trying to see if there different way of twisting this motif that I like better. Just similar to editing a sentence you might be writing. For example, if you try too hard, it can backfire. It can backfire, if you try too hard. Don't try so hard. When you rewrite sentences like that, you're trying to see if there's a more direct way of saying what you're trying to say, and the same thing is true with music when you were working to rewrite your motifs or your phrases. Now, let's do the same thing with the second motif. Hear it is again, and we can turn this one upside-down. Or try it on a different note. Now, that we've taken these two motifs and we played with them like Tetris turned him around, let's combine some of them together to make some variations on this whole melody. We'll take the first motif, which we turn backwards, and we'll combine that with the second motif unchanged. I also like can we turn the first motif upside-down, and we'll combine that with the second motif moved to a different note. Now, how about when we moved the first motif to a different note and we combine that with the second motif move to a different note as well? Now we can also start to change it up even more. Take the second motif, we'll put it at the beginning, repeat it, and then add the first motif flipped upside down. As you might be starting to see, we could do this for a while longer, and this is just a very simple melody with two motifs. Sometimes you get an idea and the melody right out of the box is great. You don't need to further develop it. But if you're someone who really wants to write stronger melodies, this practice is how you get to your best work by creating lots of variations on your idea and then picking the strongest one. In the beginning of this chapter, we looked at what do trees have to teach us about writing stronger melodies, and the essence of that is about pattern, and motifs are the patterns that you can use to build melodies. In this next chapter, we're going to look at what's smoke has to teach us about utilizing the element of surprise. 3. Smoke: Now, what does smoke have to teach us about writing stronger melodies. Once again, I'm going to propose that we resonate with art that is similar to nature. When you look at smoke, I think the most defining characteristic is the turbulence, which can be found not just in the smoke, but in fire, and in water. I think what makes turbulent so attractive to us is there's an element of surprise, it's visually unpredictable. There's this balance between order and chaos, between pattern and surprise. When you look at the flow of smoke, there are two main parts to it. There's the laminar and there's the turbulence. There are a number of influencing factors that determine how long this laminar is going to last before it spins off into turbulence and how intense that turbulence is going to be. Now, how does this relate to writing melodies? Melodies also have a laminar flow and turbulence. The laminar flow is how much repetition you're going to use with regard to your motifs. The turbulence is how much change and surprise that's going to be introduced into the phrase. Because when you're writing music, you're always trying to balance order and chaos, pattern and surprise. Let's listen to some examples so you can hear when I'm talking about, and this doesn't just become some abstract illustration. I'll show you ones from what I would consider to be on the far extremes between having a lot of turbulence in the melody or very little. I think a great example of a low turbulence melody line would be twist and shout by the beatles. [inaudible] The song essentially boils down to two simple motifs with a little bit of embellishment. You might even say it's just one motif that's flipped upside down and repeated to development that we talked about in the last chapter. I think a great example of a high turbulence melody line would be anything by Arnold Schoenberg. Most of the pieces he wrote, were atonal, meaning they don't exist at a particular key. Notice how this melody line goes all over the place, and really never repeats itself at all. Now, despite the fact that these two examples are from completely different genres, and that pop music does tend to have a lot more repetition and simplicity in the melody lines than classical music. The balance that you will choose to find in your own melody lines between order and chaos and how much turbulence you want to introduce, it's going to be batch your own taste and preference. Let's go back to the melody line that I used in the last chapter to illustrate how to develop a motif. Despite the fact that this is a really basic and simple melody line, I think you can help show how you can play with turbulence to further develop your melody. As a refresher, let's listen again to this melodic phrase. We had two motifs. Here's the first one, and here's the second one. Now if we were going to analyze this melody on the scale between high and low turbulence, I would definitely put this on the low end. There's a tremendous amount of repetition here. That first motif just repeats itself three times in a row. Now let's experiment with adding some more turbulence to this melody line. If you just wanted to add a little bit, here's what you might do. You could repeat the first motif a couple times and then just change the third one by moving it to a new note. Let's say we wanted to take this even further and add more turbulence. One way to do that is to make greater changes to the motif. We could do that by stretching out this first interval when we repeat it, which would make it less predictable. Then change this interval here from a second to the third for a little bit of surprise. Now, even though we added some turbulence to the interval, this part of the motif remained pretty consistent and predictable. Now if you want to add even more turbulences to this melody line, we're going to need to stretch things even further and reduce the amount of repetition that's happening so that we can make it more unpredictable. One way to do that would be to build on the last example, where we took this initial interval and stretched it out. We might even try truncating it or shortening this whole motif by leaving out one of the notes. We've definitely made this a lot more complex, we've removed some of the repetition, we've added turbulence. I wonder if we could take it even further. To do that, we're probably going to have to shake things up even more. Let's play with this motif, we'll make it even shorter, just down to two notes and stretch out the rhythm. Then take these two notes and repeat them, which creates almost a third motif. As I mentioned before, this is a pretty basic melody line that I created just for the purposes of this illustration. You might just start to realize that we could have even gone a lot further, we only work with the first motif and we didn't even touch the second one. You might have heard a version in there that you'd liked better, and it really does come down to preference. What's more important and what I'm hoping you take away from this is that you learn some techniques for taking your melodic ideas, no matter what style and what genre that you write in, and then seeing if there's a way that you might further develop it. Then looking for ways that you can either scale back the amount of turbulence or increase it to taste. Now, let's move on to the next chapter about muscles. 4. Muscles - part 1: Now, what do muscles have to teach us about writing stronger melodies? Once again, I'm going to suggest that we respond to things that are similar to the natural world around us. Muscles obviously play a very important role in every movement and action that we take. The fundamentals of how a muscle works is all about tension and relaxation. Tell you create movement and balancing, tension and relaxation is also the key to writing music. But unlike a muscle, which only really has one way of building tension, which is through contraction, you can build tension in music in several different ways. The main one being the use dissonance, which can come in the form of harmonic or rhythmical dissonance. Repetition and pitch are other ways that you can build tension and a melody line. Let's look at dissonance first, but before we do so, I think it's important to note that dissonance is pretty relative. What would be considered dissonance in the time of Bach is very different for what's considered dissonant in pop music, or even contemporary classical music. Let alone if we decided to get into dissonance in the medieval time period or in different cultures like in Indian music because the harmonic structure at those times or in those cultures is so different from Western music. For the purposes of this class, we're going to focus on western music in traditional music theory. You can't really begin to understand dissonance until you understand consonants. Consonants in western music, is based upon the fundamental of a chord. In case you don't know what a chord is or need a quick refresher, I'll take 20 seconds here to define it. A chord is made up of three notes and two intervals; the interval of a fifth and then of a third. If it's a major chord, it's going to have a major third in the middle, which sounds like this and if it's a minor chord, it's going to have a minor third in the middle, which sounds like this. In most western music, the melody is set against the chord progression. When the notes of your melody fall perfectly in line with the chord that is set below it, you're going to have more of a consonant sound. For example, if this is a chord that you're using in your song, this is a C major chord with C, E, and G. If your melody line falls on any of those three notes, it's going to sound consonant. If the notes of your melody fall outside of those three notes in your chord, it's going to sound dissonant. Just like we discussed in the last chapter, your melody line can fall on the spectrum between high and low dissonance. A good example for a song that has low harmonic dissonance is again, Twist and Shout. Now, before we listen, let me explain what we're looking at here. The blue notes are the melody line and the orange notes are the chords. When the blue notes and the orange notes overlap here, those are the moments that you're going to feel more relaxed or consonant. When they don't overlap, it's going to create harmonic dissonance or tension. In the song, you might notice that it's really only this one note that doesn't line up with the chords, but counterbalances the sparseness is the fact that they start off with this note and it leans on it through the whole phrase. As we listen to this again, I want you to notice how this note feels compared to the others. Just like with your muscles, tension is never sustainable. There's always going to be a pull to go from tension to relaxation and the same thing is true with music. Any sort of dissonance always wants to find a resolution. In Twist and Shout, this dissonant note pulls to the next note. In this pattern of tension and relaxation and this motif is what I think is the defining characteristic to Twist and Shout. Moving on to give you an example of a piece with high harmonic dissonance, we could easily come back to this piece by Schoenberg because he doesn't even really use chord progressions. Pretty much every note is going to be tense and dissonant. Now, let's come back to the melody line that I wrote for this class and we'll analyze this in the context of harmonic dissonance. If we were going to put this on our spectrum from high or low dissonance, I'd probably put it somewhere in the middle. Here's the original melody line, which is in blue, and the cords are in orange. Now, if we were going to define a center point for this melody line, I think it would have to be this note E and not just because we repeat it more than any other note, even though we hear it seven times in this phrase, but also because our phrase is constantly revolving around this note, drifting below or above it. Since this note forms our center of gravity and lines up most of the time with the chords below it, except for here, our entire phrase is going to have an overall tone of being very consonant and in harmony with the chords below it. With that in mind, let's listen to this again. If we're looking at how tension and relaxation play a role in how this melody feels, it's probably this dissonant note right here that is the defining characteristic. Do you feel that tension right there and the resolution? That said, the only reason that note is dissonant is because it doesn't line up with the original chord progression that I chose for this piece. If I were to change the chord progression, it would change which notes were dissonant. To illustrate my point, let's play with this a little bit and do a version where we eliminate all harmonic tension. I'm going to use the same melody line, but I'm just going to change the chord structure so that all the notes of the melody line, line up with the chords below them. Here's our melody line. I've changed the chords to create no harmonic dissonance. If you look at these notes, you'll see that the melody and the chords overlap a 100 percent. Let's hear how that sounds. After listening to that, you might feel like you'd like that version the best. Which is good information to have about your own preference. That you prefer there to be a lot less dissonance or tension. Now let's do another version that's basically all dissonance. We're going to use our same melody line, but I'm going change the chords to increase the amount of harmonic tension. Here's our melody line again and here's the new chord progression. Notice how many these notes do not line up with the chords. There are a few notes that do overlap. I wanted our example to sound at least as musical as possible. Try to make something sound 100 percent dissonant is not actually that difficult to do. I could just pick some random chords and throw them in there but again, I wanted to provide you with a more musical example. Before we listen to this, I want to draw your attention to one more thing. We already talked about how this E note here is the center of gravity for this phrase. With our new chord progression, none of these notes line up with the chord beneath it which is going to make the whole phrase feel more dissonant. Whereas this note right here was the dissonant note in the original, with the new chord progression, these are now the dissonant notes. With that in mind, let's hear how this sounds. Now that you've heard this version, you might feel you like this one the best but the point I'm trying to make and which you'll hear me say over and over again, is that the amount of tension that you use comes down to taste. The key here is to understand how harmonic dissonance serves as a tool to create tension. Next we're going to talk about rhythmical dissonance. The musical theory term for that is syncopation. As I mentioned how Western music is all about a melody set against a chord progression, it also centers rhythmically around a steady beat. Rhythmical dissonance or syncopation happens when you have a note that is offset from the beat. To illustrate this, let's use this very simple melody line. The first iteration is going to have no syncopation at all. In this simple example, each note of the melody lines up perfectly with the beat. To make it syncopated, we simply need to slide these notes over so that they come late or so that they come early and here's what those sound like. You might have noticed that those are pretty similar to each other. To my ears when you jump the beat or when you come early, it's a little bit more aggressive, the syncopation is more pronounced. When you come after the beat, I feel like it's a little bit more laid back, which makes sense because you're not making the change until after the beat hits. I think it's also important to note that rhythmical dissonance and harmonic dissonance often times go together. Syncopation is one of the main ways that you create harmonic dissonance. Let's return to our melody to illustrate this and let's move our melodic line over even further, which will make the harmonic dissonance even more noticeable in these two spots. Because we're now extending these notes even further into an area where they don't line up with the chords. Listen closer to how this increases the dissonance and those areas. Just for fun, let's extend this even further to emphasize this even more. As I've said before, a lot of this comes down to taste. The purpose of these illustrations is simply to give you some ideas for how you can use syncopation to create rhythmical emphasis and also harmonic dissonance. Another way to build tension in music is by repetition which can either be harmonic repetition or rhythmical repetition. It's usually a little bit of both. Whenever you repeat something, it creates tension. Whenever you repeat something, it creates tension. Because the listeners wondering when you're going to stop or when something is going to change. The anticipation is that there's going to be some sort of pay off. I think a great example, that is the song by Katy Perry, which also has some really strong syncopation in it. Let's listen first, then discuss. I told you it had a lot of repetition in it, the main motif plays six times. I now there's that one time in the middle where it changes up a tiny bit but it's basically the same motif. Repetition in some ways is like a foil to turbulence. Because to get more turbulence, you can't have that much repetition but if you add more repetition, you're going to reduce the turbulence. Because this song would be definitely on the low end of turbulent scale, but that doesn't mean that it's boring. Because ironically, if you repeat something long enough, it actually increases the anticipation that something is going to change. Which in this song comes in this moment right here. When the syncopation ends and it starts right on the beat and the phrase goes up. That's in direct contrast to how the main motif was syncopated and went down. With all this in mind, let's listen to this one more time. You may have noticed that this technique, repeating a motif over and over again leading up to a big change at the end, is the same one that I used in this original melody line. Repeating this motif several times before we change it at the end. The last way to play with tension and relaxation in your melody lines is through changing the pitch. When a pitch rises it introduces tension and when it lowers it decrease tension. This is most easily illustrated on any string instrument including your voice which is dealing with vibrating vocal chords. To increase its pitch, you have to increase the tension of the string and this produces faster vibrations so you can literally hear the increase in tension. Probably the most cliche example, this is the rising string sound in horror movies. The point here is that whenever the pitch goes up, it's going to increase the tension, whether that happens more suddenly or on a more gradual basis. To illustrate this let's revisit some of the variations we did to the melody lines in the last chapter on smoke. Where we really started stretching the motif beyond its original shape then we took this interval here, and we increased it in these two spots. Which makes the repeating of this motif more intense as we go in addition to the entire phrase going up to this point right here. Let's listen to this section and I really want you to pay attention to how the pitch is affecting the tension. We've looked at what your muscles have the teach us about writing stronger melodies and that is about tension and relaxation. We've looked at each one of these ways that you can increase tension in your music, by using dissonance either harmonic or rhythmical, by using repetition and also by manipulating the pitch. But there's one more thing that muscles have to teach us about writing stronger melodies and we'll talk about that in Part 2. 5. Muscles - part 2: There's one more element about muscles that has something unique to teach us about writing stronger melodies. To uncover this, let's dig a little deeper into skeletal muscles, the muscles that move our bones. We'll discover that you basically have two types of muscle fibers, fast twitch fibers, and slow twitch fibers. Fast twitch fibers are more powerful, there for quick movements, but they tire easily and they're more for activities like sprinting or weightlifting. Slow twitch fibers, by contrast, are less powerful for more steady movements, but they don't tire as quickly, and they're used more in activities like walking. What does this have to do with writing melodies? Well, just as these muscle fibers are not equal and they use tension for different purposes, in a similar way, how you might use tension in your melody lines is also not necessarily equal. For example, you might use harmonic dissonance in such a way that is really powerful, but like fast twitch muscles, if you do so it's going to tire very quickly. Here's what I mean by that, if we return to this melody line and we look specifically at this one dissonant note, [inaudible] do you feel that tension right there? [inaudible] If you kept going for this, you're going to tire this very quickly. On the other hand, if you used harmonic dissonance that was a bit milder and not quite so severe, you could continue it for a longer period of time and its impact would be more subtle. To illustrate that we can return to this melody line, and we change the chord progression to make it more dissonant. This was our main dissonant note that held the most weight. Set against this chord progression, the dissonance is a lot more mild. [inaudible] It's definitely dissonant, but it's a dissonance that could go on for a little bit longer, which it did in this version. Listen again for how this dissonance created an overall tone of dissonance without becoming too tiring. [inaudible] Let me compare these one more time to emphasize the point. When you're using a technique to add more tension, if you use a milder version of it, you can use it more often for more subtle effect, and if you're using more tension, then you might want to use it sparingly because it might tire pretty quickly of it. This concept applies to not just harmonic dissonance, but to any of these ways that you can create tension. Now I think that there's one more insight that we can draw from muscle fibers that will help us when we're writing melody lines. That's this interesting fact that these fast twitch muscle fibers and the slow twitch muscle fibers are not separate. They exist within the same muscle. How this relates to writing better melodies is that, these two different types of tension, one that's going to be a little bit more intense but tires quickly, the other one that's more subtle that you can use for light effect, that both of those things can occur within the same melodic phrase. They don't need to be an either or situation. To illustrate how these can coexist in the same phrase, let's look specifically at pitch for an example. We talked about this already in part one about how these intervals here are a greater leap, and that added tension, but also how the movement of the entire phrase was going up, which was adding tension. This is really easy to identify when we're looking at raising and lowering the pitch as a means of adding or subtracting tension, because you can move up by a big leap. [inaudible]. Or you can do it gradually. [inaudible]. Bigger leaps are like the fast twitch muscles, they're going to have a more dramatic impact, but you're going to tire of it more quickly, whereas raising and lowering the pitch in the entire phrase can happen by a leap, or it can also happen if you move from one note to the next in a very step wise manner. Going step-by-step is going to be a lot more subtle. It's like the slow twitch muscles. You're just walking your way up or walking your way down for a fact. The key is that both of these things can happen at the same time, and that means that they can sometimes operate independently from each other. Now in this first example that we looked at, the leaps and the general movement of the phrase upward are working in tandem to add tension. In one of the other melodic variations that we created in the last chapter, the direction of the phrase jumps up very quickly right here, assisted by this very large leap right here, and then it basically tapers down in a very step-wise manner, except for there's this big leap here in the middle. This adds a bit of a twist or a jolt to a phrase that would otherwise just be meandering down from this peak in a very gradual manner towards a more relaxed state. As we play this again, I want you to listen to the interplay of these two types of tension, and how they're working, sometimes together and sometimes against each other [inaudible]. Now, there are countless more musical examples that we could use to illustrate this, but hopefully you're getting the idea that there's another layer to this concept of tension and relaxation. It's not just about applying these techniques that we already discussed. The degree to which you apply them also matters a lot. We just spent a lot of time talking about what two muscles have to teach us about writing stronger melodies. Part of that is because tension and relaxation is such a vital part of music, because just like in life, how muscles are behind our movements, tension and relaxation are how we get drama and movement in our music. But we're going to move on to our last chapter about waves. 6. Waves - part 1: Now, what do waves have to teach us about writing stronger melodies? Well, you've heard me say this before, but I'm going to say it again, that I think we resonate with things that are similar to the natural world around us. While there are lots of different types of waves, the ocean is what I think of first, whenever we talk about waves. The ocean is romanticized extensively, and there's certainly a lot of waves at the ocean, particularly on the shoreline, but if we ask the question as to why the ocean is so romanticized, I think we should look deeper than just simply saying, "it's beautiful." What I think is distinctive about the pattern of ocean waves on the shoreline, is the fact that they're constantly overlapping with each other. One is going in, while another is coming out, they're swirling around, one wave is crashing into another, and there's a complexity there that I personally could watch for hours. You might be thinking, that's wonderful, but what does this have to teach us about writing stronger melodies? Well, I think the musical equivalent here is counterpoint. Counterpoint is all about overlapping melody lines, and while it is not often utilized in modern pop music, you can find it readily in musical theater. This man who surely knows my crime will surely come a second time, one day more. I did not leave worlds away. What makes it so easy to distinguish counterpoint in musical theater is that you have different characters singing these parts. One day more. Tomorrow you'll be worlds away. Okay, hold on a minute. What we just heard, this part here,. "Tomorrow you'll be worlds away. " Is harmony, and this is not the same thing as counterpoint. Harmony is when you have one melodic line that is sung or played by two people and the shape and the rhythm is exactly the same, except for it's being played several notes apart. Let's use our original melody line as an example. To create harmony, we would just simply take all these notes and move them up to start on a different note. We'd have to change a few notes to keep it in the same key. We'll move the A sharp down to an A, and we'll move the F sharp down to an F. Now all the notes are in the key of C. The original melody is dark blue and the harmony is the light blue. Now let's listen to how it sounds with the harmony. Again, this is not counterpoint, this is harmony. Let's go back to Les Miserables with this in mind. Tomorrow you'll be worlds away. You get the idea. Let's skip ahead to the part where the counterpoint really kicks in. You probably get the idea. Now, musical theater may not necessarily be your thing and you may not like how this sounds. The reason I chose this as an example is because again, it's so clearly articulates what counterpoint is. That you have overlapping melody lines and musical theater because it's being sung by different characters, allows you to see that very clearly. Now before we look at some modern examples of counterpoint, I think it's helpful to understand where it came from. To do that, we're going to have to go back to the medieval time period. Up to this point, most music happened in the church or you just saying one melody line which is called monophonic music, but around the medieval period, they started to add other melodic lines. Changing it from monophonic music to polyphonic music, but even though they started adding new melodic lines, they weren't really thinking at all about harmony or chords. Each one of these melodic lines had equal weight, which is different than how we normally think about melody today. Where we have a chord pattern and then a melody line that is over the top of that. That didn't come until the Baroque period, which is when Bach wrote these pieces. This might sound a little bit more familiar to you, especially if you've ever heard any church hymns, but also because this has a very distinctive chord progression, which is what we associate with modern pop music. 7. Waves - part 2: Now, before we look closer at this Bach Chorale, let's go back to our illustration about waves on the ocean shore. You can see here in this video how these waves are coming at each other from different directions and one's coming in while another is going out. Here's how this relates to writing stronger melodies, Bach is using counterpoint in a pattern that is very similar to what we discussed in these waves. To add more complexity and make his melody lines more interesting, the melody line by itself is rather simple. The counterpoint or how these other voices are going to interact with the melody line will happen in one of four ways. It can move in parallel motion, similar motion, contrary motion or oblique motion. Parallel motion is where the counterpoint moves in the same direction and the same interval as the other note. In this example, both notes are moving up by a step. Similar motion is about how it sounds and moving in the same direction, but it's not the same interval. If the voices are moving in contrary motion and they're going different directions, and it doesn't really matter what the interval is. Oblique Motion is where you have one note staying the same and the other note moves. The stationary note can either be repeated or can be held. So now let's look at how Bach uses each one of these four types of counterpoint in his corral. Let me give you a short explanation of what we're looking at here before we dig in. Bach chorales have four distinct voices, the soprano, alto, the tenor, and the bass. The soprano part, or the highest voice is almost always the main melody line, and that's how it is for most modern music as well. Let's look first at the counterpoint that's happening between the soprano part and the base. Now remember, the goal of a counterpoint in these supporting lines is to create more complexity and interests. So let's take a closer look at how Bach does that. The first instance of counterpoint is similar motion, both the soprano part and the bass part are moving upwards, but just different intervals. The next movement is also similar motion, and then we have oblique motion where the soprano part stays on the same note and the bass part goes down. Then we have contrary motion, where the soprano note is going down and bass is going up, and then we have contrary motion again, where the soprano is going up and the bass is going down. In this next section we have oblique motion first, where the bass note stays the same and the soprano part moves up, and then contrary motion, then oblique motion again, where the soprano part stays the same and the base part moves up. Contrary motion again, then we have a stationary note and then similar Motion. So to recap, we have similar motion, more similar motion, oblique motion, contrary motion, more contrary motion, oblique motion, contrary motion, oblique motion, contrary motion. The same notes and similar motion. If that seemed like a lot to absorb, that's actually the point. The reason I chose Bach as our first example its because he's kind of the king of counterpoint. The whole purpose of counterpoint is to keep things interesting and to constantly change it up. Really the only part where counterpoint isn't happening in this section is in the beginning, the rest is full of counterpoint. Now the reason that I just focused on the counterpoint that's happening between the soprano part and the base part is because that's oftentimes the easiest way to introduce counterpoint into your own writing. To illustrate this, let's look at some contemporary examples. Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, is a perfect example of counterpoint between the melody line and the bass. The bass is in blue and the melody line is in read. So let's break down some of the counterpoint that's happening here. By itself, the melody line is actually very simple. If we look at this one section here, it's really only one note. The bass line is very simple too granted it's a very catchy hook, but it's also really repetitive. It just repeats over and over again. The magic of this piece is how the two parts interact, which is the counterpoint. The first instance of counterpoint occurs here and it's oblique motion, where the bass note stays the same and the melody line moves down. The next section is entirely oblique motion with the melody line staying on the same note so all the motion is coming from the baseline. In this next section, it repeats the same pattern. We have oblique motion in the beginning, the only difference is that the top node or the melody line goes up a little higher this time, and then this next section is oblique motion again, with the bass line moving around and the soprano part staying the same. In this next section, he finally shakes things up a little bit more where we have some oblique motion, then some contrary motion, similar motion, and then parallel motion, and then finished off by similar motion. Final section of the verse is oblique motion again, and then the course is also oblique motion. So to recap, the strength of this piece really is in the counterpoint and the interplay between the melody line and this bass line, and it's dominated by oblique motion, except for this one section right here, and I think that provides a really needed break by introducing similar and parallel motion as a contrast to all of this other oblique motion. 8. Waves - part 3: Now, before we jump into the next example of counterpoint, I'm curious if you notice some elements from the last couple of chapters applying to Jack White's piece. Firstly, that it has a very strong motif here in this baseline part. It's echoed in the melody line and how it leaps up and down. He also employees repetition to build tension, not just in the baseline as this repeats over and over again. The main point of relief coming when it changes here in the chorus, but also in the melody line that it repeats this one note so many times so that whenever it leaves that note, that's when you have the release of tension, except anytime it does leave its leaping upward. We learned in our chapter on muscles that when you move to pitch up, that increases tension. So with all of this in mind, let's listen to this one more time. Now, if we return back to the Bach chorale for a minute, what we were discussing before, was the counterpoint that was happening between the soprano part and the base part. But there's also a lot of counterpoint that's happening in the middle. There's also a lot of movement that is happening in the alto and tenor part to create more interest in this piece. Sometimes when the soprano or the baseline are more stationary, he puts movement into these middle parts. This is another way that you can include counterpoint in your pieces, which is define a melodic line that sits somewhere kind of in the middle of the mix between the soprano line and the baseline, as opposed to the first example we looked at in Jack White's piece, where it was really between the main melody line in the base where that counterpoint was happening. I think a great contemporary example of that is this piece by Wilco, the red notes are the main vocal line, and the yellow notes are the violin part. But I want you to listen to is the counterpoint that's happening between these two parts. I'm not going to dissect every instance of counterpoint in the song because there's a lot of it and we already did that very thoroughly with the last two pieces. I do want to draw your attention to some overall shapes that are happening with regard to this counterpoint relationship. The first thing I want you to notice is all the contrary motion. You can even just see it here in the notes when one part is going up, the other part is going down and vice versa. Contrary motion continues to be used heavily through this whole section. I think it's the defining characteristic, much like oblique motion was to The White Stripes piece. There is a tiny moment, parallel motion here at the end, and because we've had so much contrary motion leading up to it, your year picks up on even though it only happens for two notes. With all that in mind, let's listen to this one more time. There's one more element that's worth noting in this counterpoint. These three notes here are a motif of sorts that comes up several times, although with variation in the rhythm. If we were to turn this upside down, look how similar it is to the line that the violin plays. We have a step followed by a leap of a third, and even though the rhythm is a little bit different, it's still a variation of this motif. So to summarize what waves have to teach us about writing stronger melodies, we can look at the pattern of how waves overlap and interact with each other on a shoreline to give us inspiration about how we can create different melodic lines that interact and overlap with each other to create more interest in your music. 9. Class Project: We just looked at a lot of ways that we can draw inspiration from nature on how to help us write stronger melody lines. We looked at trees and what they had to teach us about, a motif and how you can take this motif and change it to create a larger phrase, and we looked at smoke and what turbulence has to teach us about the element of surprise and how you can work that into your music, we talked about muscles and the importance of tension and relaxation to create movement in your pieces and how you can play with that, and we talked about ways about how you can use overlapping melodic lines to create more interest and complexity. While ideally you might use all of these ideas to create stronger melodies for the purposes of this class project, I want you to just pick one and then apply some of these techniques to your melody. Either one that you've written before or one that you're going to write specifically for this class. To help you, I've created a worksheet to guide you on how to apply each of these different ideas to your melody line. Again, I encourage you to just pick one to start with. After you develop that, go ahead and apply another one to the same melody line. When you're finished, you can upload it to the project section. You'll click here to create your project, and then be sure to add a title that includes the description of which technique you're using to develop your melody line. Then make a recording, either audio or by video. Start by including your original idea, and then each of the variations you've developed. You can do all this in a row so it's all in the same video or the same audio file. Please note that you can't upload video or audio directly to Skillshare, you're going to need to host it somewhere else like YouTube or SoundCloud and then paste the link here. Please remember that this is a rough draft, not a finished piece, and the purpose of the exercises is just to get you thinking and trying out lots of different variations. So don't be shy about posting what you're working on. If you felt like you really learned something from this class, please post a review or some comments and tell me what in particular really impacted you. 10. Student Critique: Yash (part 1): For this video lesson, I'm going to take you through a critique of a piece submitted by a student so you can see how the concepts for this class apply to something that's still in development. The piece we're going to look at in this video is one submitted by Josh and I was able to get him on the phone and have a conversation with him about his piece and how we might develop it further. In this video, I'm going to cut back and forth between some common sediment I'm going to make directly to you, the viewer, and also some excerpts from my conversation with Josh. Here's what this is going to look like. I'm going to play you my initial conversation with Josh. Then we're going to listen to his piece. I'm going to provide some initial thoughts and observations based upon the concepts in this class, and then I'm going to play you a bunch of excerpts from when I was working with Josh on how we can develop this further and finally, I'm going to play you some excerpts from our conversation where I shared some final thoughts with Josh. Josh, tell us about what inspired you to create this and some of the ideas behind what you brought here. Of course. I like playing in the G minor key and I just thought of experimenting with the motif's idea. Because I find motifs are really catchy, and they are like a unique presence to a song, like you just hear the motif and you know what song it is. My idea was like, hey, can I come up with some motif using what Jonathan has taught in the class and then try to experiment around with it, try to make it even more interesting. Maybe try to add some tension, some high notes, and then just play around with it. So I just came up with something pretty basic. Now previously, when you've written music, where you familiar with this concept of using a motif or was that a new idea after taking this class? I think I knew about it because mostly I observed it, but I didn't really have a name for it. That I didn't know to put it into words or it had a structure. But I already had heard this song has a riff or it has this intro which repeats in the song. But I didn't know that it was called a motif, and this class helped me actually understand the theory behind it. When you wrote music previously, would you oftentimes write hooks or riffs as you call them? I've actually not written any music before. This is one of the reasons why I took this class, is to really understand, hey, how can I go about writing melodies? I've mostly focused on trying to find some interesting chord progressions, but never really got to attaching a melody to it. Got you. Okay. Yeah. Cool. Well, if we dive into your piece here, I see a very clear motif in these first couple of notes. Why don't I just play through this here and give everybody a chance to listen to it. Okay, so let's break this down a little bit. In the beginning, you have a very clear motif right here. If you remember, a motif has two parts. It has a rhythmical element and certain intervals. The rhythm is very clear. It's dun, dun, dun, dun, and the intervals start with a leap and then a leap back down, and then a step up, and we see that same pattern repeated two other times. The note intervals are different. But in generally we have a leap, another leap down, and then a step up. Same thing here. A leap up, a leap down, and then a step up. Then we have a second motif that comes in, which is a bunch of five descending notes as they move down and then we start the whole phrase over again. Now you may have noticed, as I did when I was listening to this melody line, that it's pretty similar to the one that I presented in the class in terms of having one motif that repeats itself three times and then a second motif at the end, and I want to say something about that. If you're a beginning student like Josh is, who is just getting started with writing melodies, the best thing that you can do is to steal and copy from other people. If you're starting out, this is not the time to be trying to create something brand new. I don't even really think that there's anything new, anyways. It's all about repeating and remixing what's already out there. But again, in the beginning of your studies, it's incredibly important to take what's already working out there and play with it so that you become familiar with what makes a strong melody line. Now when we analyze this melody by itself, meaning with no chords underneath, it's certainly easy for us to look at the motif and to analyze a couple other elements, as in the rhythmical dissonance that's happening from syncopation. Also, how the phrase goes down a little bit here and then peaks at this point, which will create a certain amount of tension that's released at the end of the phrase. Without any chords, it's hard for us to determine if the piece is generally consonant or the amount of dissonance. Josh adds chords to the second part here. Right off the bat, I would say that this song would fall more in the pop music type of category because it's pretty accessible to listen to, meaning there's not a lot of sections that really challenge the listener with a high degree of dissonance or rhythmical complexity, and most of the notes line up with the chords beneath them, except for this chord right here. I was curious as to whether this was intentional, and so I asked Josh about it. Yes. Actually, that's a good point. I did try to keep it consonant, and then I realized I need to add some dissonance to it. So then I thought, hey, you know what, I'll move the cooperation down but I'll keep the motif in the same place and that added the dissonance. So that was a conscious effort that I made. Okay. So a couple of thoughts on that. Again, I think it's really commendable for Josh, as he's just starting out to try all these techniques in the context of writing his own melody line, to not judge and just see what happens. Because the more that you experiment these ideas, the more fluent you are going to get at using them and eventually you'll hone in on how to use them. But if you don't experiment, you'll end up stagnating and never growing. So don't be afraid to try them out, even if the results end up being something that you're not happy with. Okay, back to his melody line with the chords underneath. Right off the bat, I have a couple suggestions. I think the first chord works well. The second chord definitely has quite a bit of dissonance to it that I feel is a little bit out of character with a pop oriented piece where it tends to be pretty consonant and not have a lot of dissonance. However, it might be just that element of spice that makes it really unique. So maybe I would leave it. The voicing on the third chord creates some challenges up ahead. I don't really want to go into too much detail on that, but I would suggest changing these notes to these instead, so it sounds like this now. Mainly because he's already established a pattern of having these two notes play a chord, and they're moving down, I would just keep that progression going. As the melody line is going up, the baseline is going down. This needs to be moved down as well. Now, this chord, I think is a real problem. Using this chord, ends up creating the impression that the phrase is ending. We could just end there and stop, even though that sounds a little bit awkward. I think what would work better is if we went back to an F major chord. Right now we have G minor, F major, E-flat major, goes back to F, and then G again. Here's how this sounds after I've changed the chords. The other thing that I might suggest is to change this chord to a C minor. Now let's listen to how that sounds. These are some minor suggestions, but they're changing the chord progression to be a little bit more in line with the kind of chord progressions you might find in pop music. Not that I'm trying to turn Josh's piece into a pop song, but as he mentioned, that's already the direction that he was going. So I'm trying to make suggestions that are in line with the genre that he's aiming for. 11. Student Critique: Yash (part 2): For the last section of this video, I am going to include some excerpts of one I worked with Yash on ways that he could develop this further. We consider this initial material to be like a verse, and then I improvised some ideas that might work for chorus. [MUSIC] Maybe I might go to something else different there. Let me talk to you couple of things that came to mind when I played that chorus. If you look at your initial piece here, look in here, every two measures you're changing a chord. There are two measures. Here's another chord change, except for this little section here, maybe it changes a little bit faster. But for the most part, it feels drawn out your landing on this chord and you're sitting on it, and what I thought is if we're going to get to the chorus, let's change that every measure to change it up. What that's going to do is it's going to create more motion. Does it give more turbulence also? Yeah, but we're moving it forward. There are more changes that are happening. It's going to increase the amount of drama that's coming in that particular section. [MUSIC] I might take the rhythmical element of this second motif and develop that into a chorus, maybe incorporating some of the leaps that are there. I'll play this chorus and have it written out here so people could see what it looks like. [MUSIC] I didn't really like it when I was playing that last bit at the end. This time that I played through it is more similar and more derivative of the second motif versus the first one. When I tried this the first time, I made the course a little bit more similar to the first motif. Let's listen to that here. [MUSIC] That's a bit more similar to the first motif, and I tried playing through it again over here. This time, I made it more similar the rhythmical structure to the second motif. [MUSIC] It just depends on which way you wanted to go, but those are two different options for you. Tell me what you think about. Which one you maybe prefer or maybe don't like them at all? I'm just giving you some examples of where you might be able to build on idea. I. Think I like the second one more. I don't know why, but I like that one a bit more. It also has a nice alternation between what you play with the left hand and the right hand so that all sides like more turbulence. It adds more emotion to the song. I like that more. Yeah, I like that one a little better as well. What I would say is some of the reason for that is when I did it the first time we already played through this first motif a number of times. You've heard it three times here. We've heard it three times again, and then we get to the chorus. If we're playing the same rhythmical idea again, it's just starting to get a little bit tired at this point. What I think makes the second version I came up with here work a little bit better is that your second motif; and the rhythmical structure of that really we've only heard it twice, and it leads right into the chorus. Taking this motif here in this rhythmical structure and just continuing it on some different notes allows us to have a little bit more variation to that, and we're building upon the second motif. It's like the verses about the first motif with a little hint of the second here, and then we get to the chorus; and it might be a great idea to flip that and make the chorus mostly about the second motif, and then maybe throw in a tiny bit of the first rhythmical element from the first motif just to tie them together. Then when we get back around to the verse again, we're going to be ready to hear that motif because we've already exhausted the second one a little bit more. Now, this peak here definitely feels like it's got a lot of energy to it because it's so high, and we're repeating it several times. The exact same phrase. [MUSIC] That would be one way of doing it is to maybe make the course a little bit longer and go up here, make it even higher. Let me play that as a chorus. [MUSIC] I'm going to try that again, the chorus. I guess it depends on the range. Nice thing about the piano is, you don't have a limit from a singing standpoint. Melody line could keep going up and up and up. But we tend to respond to pop music or even if it's with the piano, something that feels a little bit singable. Or maybe you could go like this. I like it when it goes up to this note here, gives it even, takes a chorus that already fills dramatic and pushes it up even higher. Now, that may not be the direction you want to go with your piece. You may want it to be a little bit more subdued? But I'm just trying to experiment with. Let's take it even further, and you can always pull it back a little bit if you're like, "Meh", maybe that was a little bit too much. So that's why I'm pushing it a little bit higher up in its range and seeing like, could the melody line even go higher. To see how far it might go. So when you write, what I'm hoping you're gaining from this is to try pushing yourself even further sometimes, in terms of the range. By repeating the motif more times than you think, then you might like, and you can hear it. Then if it starts to tire on you, pull it back or change it up in some way. But don't be afraid to take your motifs and go crazy with them, pushing the range much higher, adding some more turbulence to the rhythm, taking away turbulence and taking away range and seeing if that works. Most pop songs have verse one, chorus, verse two. So you're coming back to the same melody line in the second verse, but you're using different words. So that will provide some amount of variation to the second verse. If it's just going to be on the piano, then you're going to come back to the second verse, that presents a lot more challenge to not get tired by the fact that you're using on this repetition. If you're adding drums or strings or something else to it, that can help to create some variation. Solo piano pieces by themselves are very difficult, because you don't have any words that you can use to change it. You don't have any other instruments to bring in. So ways to provide variation would be potentially in the accompaniment, or by changing the octave, like I said before. Even just changing it might take it up really high. That helps to provide some of that variation and change to it. That's sometimes two different things. Mostly, what we've been looking at is the basic structure of your melody line, not the arrangement, because you don't have an arrangement, you just have the basic structure. So in some ways, those are two different things when you're thinking about developing your piece. Do you have any other questions about this? I think one thing I was thinking is like, do I start with like a chord progression first or like getting that first idea out I found the most challenging. Because once you have like a basic structure, then you can play around with it. But getting that first thing out, I found it a bit hard and for me, it helped me to have some chord regression and then build melody around it but, is that like a common thing to do? Definitely. I would say for myself, I'm probably doing some of those things more or less at the same time because I've been doing it for a long period of time because I've been doing this for a while. So I'm oftentimes hearing the chord progression and the melody line happening simultaneously. However, there are many times that I sit down and maybe I'm just playing through some chords, I could sing something over the top of that that would be different from the notes that I'm playing on the piano. Sometimes there's a melody line and then I'm trying to change up the chords by it. There's no real right or wrong way to go about it. I would encourage you to push yourself to try both ways. So create some chord progressions that you like, and then see if you can develop a melody line on top of that. Then sometimes, sit down and try to write a melody line, then add chords to that and see if you can figure out something unique to support that. The more that you spend time doing both of those things, you might find that you end up doing it simultaneously because you've done them in isolation. But again, even I would say that I swing across that full spectrum. Really, when you're trying to develop your composition skills, you don't want to do it one way too much. I would definitely encourage you to, again, push yourself to create variations on what you're doing and try it out in different ways, just simply to strengthen your skill set. When I created this class, and I provided some of these examples to show how you can take a melody line and push it further then even what you might like. The version that really added a lot of turbulence to it, or really changed up the motif, you may in the end decide, "I don't really like that version." But the more that you can spread out in front of you a lot of different options, it'll help you pick the one that you end up liking the best. In my critique, I'm trying to take the motif that you created and the style that you're playing in, and then expand on it within your own voice. It's hard not to include my own ideas in that process but, I'm trying to step into your shoes and say, "If this is the sort of melodic idea and the feel and the vibe that you have to your music, what could you do to take that and expand it and develop it?" When you write music, it's so much about your ear and learning to hone what you like and what you don't like. I brought that up a whole bunch of times in the class that there's really no right or wrong way to do things anymore? There was a period of time in music history where they had a lot more strict rules about how things should sound. Mainly like in a time of Bach, Beethoven or Mozart. People got really angry when some composers started to go outside of those rules. I don't know if you're familiar with a composer named Stravinsky, but he wrote this piece that the first time it was played, it was his Rite of Spring Ballet. I think it was in 1911 when people heard it, they thought it was so outrageous and such an affront to musical traditions at the time that they had a riot and a fight in the Ballet, because people were so offended by that music that he was creating. It seems a little silly now because there's so much a greater range of music that's out there. People are a lot more accepting nowadays. However, sometimes that greater acceptance can lead to people saying, "Well, whatever, it's just up to you. There's no right or wrong in the way to do it." I'm trying to balance that by saying that may be true, but there are some sort of musical fundamentals that if you lean into them, can help your writing to be stronger. Even though it still comes down to your ear, determining how much dissonance that you want in there, how much turbulence that you want to include, how much repetition that you want to hear for this melodic line. Philip Glass was a composer who uses a tremendous amount of repetition to the point that many people can hardly stand listening to his music because he repeats it over and over and over and over and over again, to add nausea for some people. So I think the most important thing to do, is to pay attention for yourself and even some of the ideas that I threw out here. Notice what grabs you. You're like, "Yeah, I love how that sounds", and then try to dig into that a little deeper to push into that sound and look at what's making that sound. Is it the repetition? Is it changing the chord progressions? You said you were noticing something in the chorus that I was doing to the chords, that was really resonating with you. Maybe take what I created here and look at that a little bit closer and see if you can include more of that in your music, or anything else that you hear when you hear something and it resonates with you. Try to break it down with some of the ideas I brought forward in this class. I like this because the melody line doesn't go up and down very much, it pretty much stays in a very small range. Great. Well, see if you can write pieces that the melody line stays in a very narrow range, maybe hear pieces and you're like, "God, I just love how they go all over the place, they go up so high and so low", and then try to write some pieces that would be more in line with that. Does that makes sense? Yes.