This is the second lesson from a three-part lesson series on composing memorable melody. Last time I taught you about intervallic structure. It really is the end-all-be-all of a good melody. If you understand intervallic structure, you’re well on your way to composing memorable melodies every time you sit down to compose! Check it out HERE.
Today I’ll expound upon the power of intervals. A lot of what I’ll teach comes from Aaron Copland’s famous What to Listen for In Music, a book I highly recommend for any aspiring or veteran composer.
But before we delve into this content, it’s important to touch upon one thing – the musical scale. Now there are lots of scales, but we’re only focussing on one today.
Most of the melodies we know come from the diatonic scale. That’s just the fancy word we use for the seven notes that make up the most common musical scale spanning an octave.
From a purely technical standpoint, all melodies exist within the limits of some scale system. A scale is nothing more than a certain arrangement of a particular series of notes.
C – C = octave
C D E F G A B C = diatonic scale
Just to recap lesson 1, C-D is a second, C-E a third, C-F a fourth, and so on.
In his chapter on melody, Copland expresses,
[…] most important of all, [is a melody’s] expressive quality must be such as will arouse an emotional response in the listener.
Listen to the opening theme from James Horner’s brilliant film score from Land Before Time –
It’s lovely, right? So expressive, yet so simple.
Did you catch the mysteriously beautiful minor seventh in the opening theme followed by the expressive descending seconds and thirds? It’s a little theme with a natural arch.
A beautiful melody, like a piece of music in its entirety, should be of satisfying proportions. It must give us a sense of completion and of inevitability. To do that, the melodic line will generally be long and flowing, with low and high points of interest and a climactic moment usually near the end.
The composer uses repetition to help establish a sense of structure and form. Both structure and form contribute to a melody’s memorability.
Listen to this long and flowing theme from by Sergei Rachmaninov –
Anton Rubenstein plays Rachmaninov’s theme so masterfully. It makes me tear up every time I hear it. There’s beauty, tension, and release all wrapped up into this very memorable melody.
Again, we see the composer using repetition to his great advantage. You can see the patterns in the notes even if you don’t know how to read music.
Look at the first two lines of music again. Go on, do it! Rhythmically speaking, they’re almost identical.
So, here’s what we’ve learned –
- Most melodies we know are derived from the diatonic scale (ex. C-major).
- Well-crafted melodies will have some expressive element to them evoking an emotional response in the listener.
- Repetition (patterns, etc.) is crucial for helping listeners remember your melodies.
Tune in next week for the final lesson on composing memorable melody. I’ll put my words to action by composing a melody using the same material found in these mini-lessons.
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