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Deal me a tune

Today I decided to take a leaf out of Duane Padilla’s book and follow the example he set for us in the video he made for #MUS654 Session 2 about the difference between a riff and a melody. Duane is an excellent violinist and teacher and he explained it simply, and said that a melody is the notes of a scale mixed up. In his video he made cards for the different notes of the scale… I have cards – playing cards! I used these to represent the eight notes of any scale instead of writing down specific notes. Taking out one of each of the numbers Ace through to 8 gave one card for each note of the scale, and then I decided to deal myself a tune.

I dealt myself a tune:


When I went to play these notes in G major I got something that sounded like this:

It was amazing how easy it was to make the notes sound even slightly melodic. I suppose that we have such associations with a certain type of scale, that as long as you are fluent in understanding it, it is not too hard to draw from those implied meanings and translate those onto the skeleton of notation.

Time to move on to the next step. Just as Duane did, I added some simple rhythms and it began to take more shape:

and played with a bit more conviction, and adding a few repeated notes for emphasis:

and finally, allowing some of the notes to be simultaneous allowed for a sense of harmonic shape and even closure. Not all ‘dealt’ melodies will do this – I got a bit lucky! but there will be something… Here are the notes of that same scale as dealt, as a sort of harmonic melody:

It reminds me of a lovely quote by Mozart about understanding melodic material.

“It is true that at the beginning of every piece special words are written which are designed to characterize it, such as ‘Allegro’ (merry), ‘Adagio’ (slow), and so on. But both slow and quick have their degrees, and even if the composer endeavours to explain more clearly the speed required by using yet more adjectives and other words, it still remains impossible for him to describe in an exact manner the speed he desires in the performing of the piece. So one has to deduce it from the piece itself, and this it is by which the true worth of a musician can be recognized without fail. Every melodious piece has at least one phrase from which one can recognizr quite surely what sort of speed the piece demands. Often, if other points be carefully observed, the phrase is forced into its natural speed. Remember this, but know also that for such perception long experience and good judgement are required. Who will contradict me if I count this among the chiefest perfections in the art of music.”

Leopold Mozart, Violinschule, 30 (= Treatise, 33)

That’s not to say that all melodic material, or all tempi are things that we should inherently know, but there is an element of being fluent in a language that does definitely make a difference. If I were to visit a different country and learn some words, I might be able to speak them in a way that they could convey the basic meanings, but would they be able to communicate the nuance and have the cadence of a native speaker? Maybe in time, but it does take time and practice, and it is definitely worth the pursuit, because being able to converse and communicate in another medium is special. (I couldn’t find a better word)

Featured image CC BY-NC by Kit

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