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Topic: ORCH: Theories on Melody

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  1. #1

    ORCH: Theories on Melody

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    I\'m working on developing ideas behind what makes a good melody and what processes are effective in developing along those lines (Specifically for orchestral movie scores.)

    This is a academic effort to define it so I\'m not necessarily looking for advice on how I myself can write well.

    If anyone would like to, and is willing to, share their thoughts on this, I\'d appreciated it. And who knows, maybe it will stimulate some good debate and learning for all. [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img]

  2. #2

    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    Prophet,

    I recently picked up a book at a used book store called \"Symphony Themes\" compiled by Raymond Burrows, Bessie Carroll Redmond and George Szell - copyright 1942. It is about 260 pages. It divides symphonies by movement (go figure) and notates the themes for each in their original key (over 1000). I see that amazon has three used ones for sale. This would be great source material for your quest.

  3. #3

    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    Originally posted by csduke:
    Prophet,

    I recently picked up a book at a used book store called \"Symphony Themes\" compiled by Raymond Burrows, Bessie Carroll Redmond and George Szell - copyright 1942. It is about 260 pages. It divides symphonies by movement (go figure) and notates the themes for each in their original key (over 1000). I see that amazon has three used ones for sale. This would be great source material for your quest.
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">Thanks. I\'ll check into it. However, I\'m more interested in simpler themes with commercial value to be honest. That\'s not to say such information wouldn\'t be valuable to that end.

    I\'m also, really, trying to start up a discussion because I\'m bored. [img]images/icons/grin.gif[/img]

  4. #4

    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    Let me amend that slightly. I\'m interested in it commercially to the end that I want to look into ideas that will make music generally accessible and adored by contemporary audiences. Not necessarilly what makes melodies artistically valid and beautiful. Not to say I\'m not interested in artistic value. That just isn\'t my preferred focus for this thread.

    Does that make sense?

  5. #5
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    Hindemeth had one of the more interesting functional theories of melody, that in its pure state it was the manipulation of tension and release based upon intervval more than key relationships. You could, for example, run a circle of fifths in double diminished chords, which would be a \"tense\" building block, but you\'d be using it melodically in such a static (single interval tension) way that the effect would be a bore.

    And sure enough, beyond the need to woodshed scales and licks, a circle of fifths is exquisitely boring.

    If I am remembering correctly, Hindemeth\'s theory, from most consonant to most dissonant: Unison, Octave, P5, P4, M6, M3, m6, m3, m7, M2, M7, m2, and Tritone. Tritone sounds less dissonant than M7 and m2, but is less stable by Hindemeth\'s reasoning.

    Not something to get religious about, but a fairly practical way to make sure melodies are moving energy deliberately. The longer you build a tension, the more propulsion you can derive from the release, but the flipside is that you can hold the tension beyond your ability to keep it otherwise interesting and the listener will tune out. Shakespeare always builds to a release with three little slaps and a big gut-punch. All his comedies fall into that pattern. Guys like Eric Ehn do the same thing with theatrical imagery now, but it is far more abstracted over time. Tension and release combine to form melody even in percussion, where polyrhythmic structures can form the same kinds of horizontal tensions and releases than melodies to, by juxtaposition of their grids. Hemiola is the most basic expression of this.

    Melody is a big word.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    The Hindemeth thing is definitely not very \"arty\" by the way. Good melody is really pretty universal. The thing that makes an orchestral or pop melody \"soar\" is a common thread.

    In fact, if you are setting melody to word, you can sketch out some \"tension maps\" with release points, and experiment with all sorts of manipulations to see what melody combines with the words to create the most unique setting. Sometimes you want to structure the tension in the melody to follow the story or even the raw poetry of the lines, but other times you can purposely flip that relationship to great effect, and combine high tension thoughts with low melodic tension. It\'s a way to sneak another layer of complexity into the mix.

  7. #7

    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    Originally posted by folk prophet:
    However, I\'m more interested in simpler themes with commercial value to be honest. That\'s not to say such information wouldn\'t be valuable to that end.
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">It\'s interesting to ponder the collection of source material that would go into such a study. Cole Porter, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Billy Strayhorn, Mozart, ...?

    I would imagine the point of the effort is to identify various Patterns in what one would consider great or successful melodies. By Patterns I am refering to the idea set out by Christopher Alexander in his idea of Patterns in architecture and later (currently) embraced by computer science. A simple architecture pattern would be the pattern used to decide which way a door should open (r or l) or how a building should be sited with respect to the sun. Patterns identify a common problem or situation and a good method of solving it. Musical pattern research would start by identifying patterns in melodies, then understanding what their effect is. A common pattern is to, let say, have 4 bars of melody then repeat it in a slight variation a step higher. Patterns for \"The Girl from Ipanema\": a phrase comprised of a one bar motif repeated once, 2 bars of a phrase repeated once, another two bars with different pitch content and similar rythmn to the first, a cadence, rythmnically brought about by a slowing of the rythmn. That would be four patterns; the repeated motif (bars 1,2 and 3,4), the repetition of a phrase (first 4 bars), the slight variation (3rd bar) and the method of cadence (4th bar).

    Just a quick stab at identifying patterns. Take the second pattern, \"juxtaposed repetition
    of a phrase.\" One would look for this pattern in other melodies and try to understand its effect. Some of this is standard counterpoint but some is not. I think more time has been spent on harmonic patterns though they are never presented as a book of patterns but rather sprinkled in texts that teach harmonic theory e.g. this is tri-tone substitution, blah, blah, blah, BTW is has this effect ...

    Also, I think melody study would break down into various degrees of granulatity: note-to-note, motif-to-motif, phrase to phrase, melody-to-melody, start, middle, end, harmony, rythmn (some of these are orthogonal concerns).

    Maybe in the end it all comes down to what Bruce (Hindemeth) presented though Patterns, as Alexander describes them, are not as much theoritical, the \"whys,\" but rather the \"hows\" - like a cookbook. But like a cookbook, one needs to season to taste.

    BTW, there is a thing in software engineering refered to as an anti-pattern i.e. bad solutions to common problems. Another study in itself.

    Just rambling.

  8. #8

    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    Hey, I\'d say, don\'t ask too much questions. Just sing!

  9. #9

    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    What about making melodies catchy? One of the things I struggle with...and I see the same problem with many other composer\'s works...is the balance between too simple and too complex.

    With effort to make it catchy, many works end up sounding too repetative and too...well, frankly, irritating. But the other side of this is in the effort to add depth to melody, the catchy nature of it is lost or obscured to the point that it practically becomes inaccessible to the lay person.

    Then, of course, every now and again a perfect blend is found. Music that is neither shallow, nor artistically full of itself to the point of losing its commercial value. I won\'t say what music I feel hits this mark...as it would obviously, to an extent, fall to one\'s opinion.

    So, the question becomes, how can one deal with this? I constantly miss the mark. My music generally tends to be either too repetative and simple and lowbrow...or too obscure, unmemorable and out there. Some songs, as I work to develop them, go back and forth between the two as I make alterations. The mark itself seeming nonexistant...as if there\'s a line that can be crossed but is too thin to be stood upon.

  10. #10

    Re: ORCH: Theories on Melody

    Originally posted by csduke:
    </font><blockquote><font size=\"1\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">quote:</font><hr /><font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">Originally posted by folk prophet:
    However, I\'m more interested in simpler themes with commercial value to be honest. That\'s not to say such information wouldn\'t be valuable to that end.
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">It\'s interesting to ponder the collection of source material that would go into such a study. Cole Porter, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Billy Strayhorn, Mozart, ...?

    </font><hr /></blockquote><font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">I\'m not sure that some of these would qualify in my mind as what I\'m seeking for. That is to say, pop music, in general, tends to be approached from such a different point of view that it hardly qualifies and valid for what would work well in orchestrally scoring movies. That may be inaccurate. What works and doesn\'t work for a movie score is so subjective to opinion.

    But I find that lyrics changes things entirely. A melody that works beautifully with a certain lyric set to it might not work at all as an instrumentaly piece.

    I find that developing quality melodies when I\'m writing for something to be sung with lyrics is not hard at all. But when developing something for a trumpet to play......

    Take a melody, for example, that could generally be considered catchy:

    You say pot-ay-to, I say pot-ah-to...
    Blah, blah, blah, etc.....

    Now, take out the lyrics and make it a theme for a movie score (adding the assumption, of course, that the lyrics that people so readilly would associate with this tune were never written.) It becomes very easy to see that this melody would, generally speaking, be too simple - too repetative - etc., ... (If you disagree with me on THIS particular melody, throw in other pop tunes with the same hypothetical application. Eventually, certainly, you\'ll come across several that work well with their lyrics, but without them would fall flat.)

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