In several of the previous blogposts, for instance the ones about creating color with chords, we have explored one of the mechanisms by which music encodes for various emotions – The tension between pitches – and how to use this mindfully when writing songs. Not surprisingly, the same mechanisms are active in your melodies, making individual notes more or less charged with emotion. Take advantage of this knowledge and write better melodies!
Guest Post from Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics
Tedious Melody? Try This Too!
How to make a boring melody:
The root note of the chord acts as a temporal point of reference. Being just one tone, It has little emotional charge in itself. We need two pitches to create tension.
Some unexperienced songwriters tend to use the root note of the chords for important melody tones. Maybe because the root note is one of the easiest notes to find with your voice (or simply in your head) as you are playing the chord. It’s easy to find because it is a temporal tonal center. It’s a safe and stable tone, but it doesn’t create a lot of excitement.
Introduce some tension!
Try getting yourself into the habit of trying out the chord extension notes for melody tones. They will create more tension than the notes of the triad.
If a chord extension note happens to be a passing tone in the melody, or placed on one of the unstressed subdivisions of the rhythm, it might pass relatively unnoticed. Try using them on the heavier notes of your rhythm: the down beats. Use them on the stressed syllables in your lyrics. Use them on syncopated notes of the melody. Use a chord extension tone on the first pulse beat of the bar, where gravity is strong.
Try waiting a bit!
Another way of creating tension is to integrate melody making and chord structure. Make yourself aware of what chord tones your using for your melody.
By prolonging the note of a chord (also the current melody tone) into the following chord, you will be producing some degree of dissonance/tension. In classical music this usually requires resolution by letting the suspended note move towards one of the notes of the triad. In the kind of music we are talking about, it can be a nice thing to just hang on to the tone. If it sounds good – it is good.
The traditional example of a suspended note is when a note from a previous chord becomes the third in a following chord – but only after first having been the fourth – like in the chord sequence Am – Gsus4 – G, but the same scheme can be followed playing around with other chord tones than the third. Try playing this: Cm – G(b13) – G, maybe: F#m – Gsus2 – G or why not: Ab – G7(b9) – G7.
Get more tips on how to alter and improve songs you’ve made, in the book: Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics.