Posts Tagged ‘melody’

Pat Pattison master class: melodic & lyric rhythm

May 7, 2010

Master Songwriter Pat Pattison’s insights into songwriting with this Master Class session.

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Melody

June 22, 2009

Whats up fellow songwriters- I was doin some songwriting research online just looking for inspiration on the craft of songwriting and came across a really cool technique for coming up with melodies.

Basically the idea is set up a loop in a recording program (garage band) that goes for 20 minutes. Maybe the four chords your verse or chorus uses. Then hit record and sing melodies over that progression for 20 minutes. Ever come up with melodies for 20 minutes? Its pretty weird that’s a long time! And you can’t judge what you are doing you just kind of let it all come out, let yourself really just get creative. I found I felt tapped out at 5 minutes! Then to keep myself going had to get really creative and sang some really high ideas. Then really punchy ideas, then borderline rap melodies. When you finish let it sit for about an hour then go back and pull out your favorite ones. I had 13 I thought were really cool. AWESOME! 13 melodies i think are awesome, now the problem is figuring out which one i think is the most AWESOME. Good problem to have,

Much love tell me how it goes for ya-

Andy Grammer

with permission from Andy Grammer, a comment he posted to the Facebook group Performing Songwriters (United Worldwide).

How do you write melody?

February 13, 2009

Here’s a question we hear a lot.

Q. I have the very frustrating situation that, although I am good with accompaniments, I need help with how to arrive at a melody.

A. Good question. I bet a hundred different songwriters would give you 100 different answers. And then you would have to figure out which one (if any) would work for you. That’s not such a far-fetched proposition. But I’ll get back to that.

Here are some things that work for me. It helps if I’m not starting from absolute zero. What I mean is, if I have no music, no lyrics, no chorus, just a blank piece of paper, that’s the hardest place to start from, IMHO.

If I’m writing music to a set of completed (more or less) lyrics, that’s much easier. It doesn’t matter if I wrote them or someone else did. What I do to find a melody is to follow the rhythms of the syllables. I speak the words out loud to see how they flow. I may add a word here or there to make the flow better. Or I may stretch a word out or
make a section of words staccato. All this without singing a pitch. That usually leads to bits of melody, which lead to more bits which usually build into a complete melody.

Another thing I pay attention to in lyrics when I’m looking for a melody is the meaning or the mood. I want to support whatever mood is created by the words. Simply put, I don’t write a bouncy, happy melody to lyrics that tell a serious or sad story and vice versa. If you really listen to the words for meaning and mood, I believe you’ll hear the melody.

What if you don’t have the lyrics first. Another piece of the puzzle that can help find the melody is the chord progression. Some people, myself included, like to write the chord progression before writing melody. Maybe that’s because melody is hard for me to write, I don’t know.

At any rate, the chords give you a huge head start. You can limit your melody to only using notes in the chord being played at the time. That’s a good place to start. The chords also set a mood, so pay attention to that.

All right, now the toughest question. What do you do when there are no lyrics and no chords, no theme, nothing. One teacher I know suggests walking around. In fact, many writers do their best creative thinking while ambling about in nature. There’s something to this. It has to do with getting your blood flowing to your brain and with breathing more deeply than you would sitting at a desk. It has to do
with inspiration in the outdoors (even in a city) and it has something to do with relaxing, taking the pressure off. I has to do with all those things and probably a lot more. I can’t explain it. It just works.

I hope some of this was helpful. Now back to the 100 songwriters. Since all of the above is just one person’s opinion, wouldn’t it be better to get opinions from a large variety of talented songwriters? There are over 11,000 songwriters registered for the STJ message boards, plus thousands of others who drop in every month. Check it out.

Good luck.

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Too much freedom

January 23, 2009

Writing a new song from scratch can be intimidating. The blank piece of paper seems to taunt us. Where do we start?

We have complete freedom to write any type of song we want and maybe that’s the problem. Lyrically, there are too many different possible directions; harmonically, there are too many chord options; and there are way too many notes to make writing a melody easy.

One method that helps me is to arbitrarily reduce the number of choices. If I limit myself to using only one guitar and one voice, that relieves me of the burden of choosing instrumentation. If I limit the range of the melody to my own meager vocal range, that also gives me some boundaries to work within. And if I arbitrarily decide on a style, say a children’s song or a blues, that further narrows my
palette.

This artificial narrowing of choices helps me to focus in and gives me a more comfortable place to start from. I can always loosen these self-imposed limits later, when the song is clearly well on its way.

Try it next time you’re staring at a blank page. Limit yourself in one or more aspects of your song. Here are some aspects and examples of how you can reduce your choices.

Mix and match and make up your own.

lyrics – limit yourself to words that children understand
lyrics – follow a common rhyming scheme, i.e. limerick
lyrics – tell a story from your own life experience
lyrics – adhere to a strict genre, say traditional bluegrass

chords – limit yourself to using 4 note chords (or less)
chords – try using a pedal tone
chords – think only of the bass note and the melody, you’ll
be surprised how much that delineates the harmony/chords.
chords – write a melody without your instrument, add the chords later

melody – emulate an artist’s style, i.e. a ‘Sting-like’ melody
melody – restrict your melody to diatonic notes
melody – decide to make it a driving, rhythmic melody
melody – make melody is paramount, thereby relegating all
other aspects to the back burner. You’re strictly limiting
everything, but the melody.

instrumentation – simpler is better during early stages
instrumentation – make it sound good on one instrument first
instrumentation – try two that you don’t often hear together
instrumentation – write for the ensemble that you are most
familiar with

Remember these are not rules. They are only suggestions to
get you going, to overcome the intimidation of the blank page.

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Dummy lyrics

December 23, 2008

egg

Do you have trouble remembering your melody when the melody comes before the lyrics? To fix that, write a set of dummy lyrics, words that fit the melody but that don’t necessarily make any sense. They don’t even need to rhyme. It will help you remember the correct flow of syllables and accents.

Did you know that Paul McCartney’s original title for the song Yesterday was Scrambled Eggs? — a dummy title to go along with dummy lyrics. Apparently he had the melody, but until he got the right lyrics, he substituted the nonsense phrase scrambled eggs.

Writing melody, a tip

December 8, 2008

For me the melody is usually the last thing to fall into place. I can write the chords first and then the words or the words first and then the chords, but either way, I usually leave the melody for last. Oh, I may have a rough idea of the melody or a working melody, but I don’t really focus on melody until the end.

If I find myself unsatisfied with a particular working melody, I’ll move the song to a different key, say up or down a fourth or a fifth (or about halfway to an octave). Since I don’t have a wide range as a singer, I won’t be able to hit all the notes in the new key. So I’m forced to improvise a new melody in those spots where I can’t reach the notes (too high or too low). Often some of the new improvisations are better than the original melody.

This tip is easy to try if you use a capo (guitarists) or with software like Band in a Box or any of the MIDI sequencers.

My robot co-writer

October 15, 2008

Drums on Demand, a maker of drum and percussion loop sets, now sells something called My Co-Writer™. Has anyone tried this?

Here’s what it says on their website:

A great tool for songwriters at all levels, each volume of My Co-Writer™ features original music tracks ready for YOUR melody and lyrics. These royalty-free Song Starts™ are professionally produced, live backing tracks that provide a great foundation for your own composition. It’s like having an out-of-town collaborator serving up great songs for you to finish. Because the tracks were specifically written and recorded without significant melodic hooks, they will inspire your own unique melody — not dictate one. So every song you write will be fundamentally different from someone else with the same Song Start. Plus, if you’re a musician, adding your own instrumentation or mix can make yours a totally unique production. My Co-Writer is a great tool for everyone from novice songwriters, to seasoned composers, to instrumentalists who need a live backing band to jam with.

Their site features lots of samples you can listen to, so you get a very clear picture of what they’re offering. Each My Co-Writer™ volume starts at $32.95 and includes 16 or more fully produced ‘songs,’ that is, full band tracks with no vocals nor instrumental melody.

Is this cheating? I guess it’s an option for lyricists and melody writers who don’t play an instrument. What do you think?

I’ve purchased drum loops from Drums on Demand and I highly recommend them, but I have not yet tried My Co-Writer. It’s a whole nuther animal.

Turn it inside out

September 30, 2008

Take an old chestnut, any old song you know well, and give it a new twist. There are many ways to do this. We’ll get to a few in a minute.

But first, why would you do this? Not to find a creative new way to perform an old song, although there’s nothing wrong with that. You do this to warm up your creative muscles, get those creative juices flowing. It’s much less intimidating with someone else’s material. And once you get going, once you’re on a roll, creatively, it’s easy to let the old song slip away as you develop your own original ideas. And before you know it, you’re working on a completely new and original song.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Think of an old rock standard, but imagine it with a reggae beat. Start to develop that idea. Or convert a Motown hit, making it hip hop. Or find a corny old love song from the 30’s, drop the moon/June rhymes, update the language and turn it into a something more current.

Here’s another one. Find a song in 4/4 and play it in 3/4 or vice versa. It’s amazing how that can transform a song. You’ll find yourself automatically getting creative with the phrasing so the song makes sense in the new time signature. You could challenge yourself to keep it as close to the original as possible, except for the new waltz time. Or you could let yourself go, straying as far from the original as much as you want, taking the melody in a totally new direction and letting the chords follow.

The point of this exercise is to get your motor started, jump started, if necessary. Think up some of your own tricks to get your creativity flowing while ostensibly working on existing tunes, all the while knowing it will lead to a new melody, riff or rhythm that you can develop into your own piece.

Let us know if you find this exercise helpful, and if you have any that work for you — we’d love to hear about them!

A demo singer can make or break your song

September 11, 2008

It goes without saying that you should hire the best singer you can afford when recording a demo. Even if you are a professional singer, you want the best person for a particular song. So if your song is R&B, but you’re not an R&B singer, find someone else. Likewise, all the players on the recording.

Another way to sabotage your demo is with an overly-ambitious melody. It is easy to write melodies that are virtually unsingable. It’s especially easy if you are not a singer, or if you write melodies outside your own vocal range.

Whoever sings the melody on your demo has the power to make or break your song. The singer can deliver it with feeling and really sell it, or can do a so-so, half fast job.

If you write an extremely challenging melody (very high or low notes, difficult intervals, etc.) your singer may not be inspired to give 110%. However, if you put yourself in the singer’s shoes and write a reasonably singable melody, your demo will have a much better chance of getting heard.

One Element at a Time

August 29, 2008

To write a song means to create a melody with its own rhythmic pattern and (often) words to go with it, AND to put it to a sequence of chords that support and enhance the melody and lyrics. When you look at it that way, it sounds so complex.

What we do can be extremely complex or it can also be as simple as a nursery rhyme and anything in between. Take Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, for example. It has all the elements of a song: melody, lyrics, rhythm and chords (also known as harmony), and they all fit together in a coherent manner. What small child hasn’t invented his own simple song using a familiar melody as a starting point?

One saving grace in songwriting is that you don’t have to create all the elements at the same time. You don’t even have to create them in the same year. I had a chord sequence on the back burner for over two years (I recorded myself playing the chords on guitar). There was no melody or lyrics, just a set of chords played in a reggae style.

When I finally wrote some lyrics to those chords, I noticed the reggae beat was not quite right for the lyrics. So I found a variation on a hip hop rhythm that worked better. The point is, I didn’t have to envision it all at once. I could piece it together at my own pace (which is sometimes very slow). Songwriting can be done at any pace. Don’t rush yourself unnecessarily.