Melody is something that speaks to people. It sings, it moves, it has meaning. I was musing over this as I sat with my cello, playing different two-note combinations across the strings as I warmed up my fingers and my ear. While playing, I thought – what am I doing?
Manipulating the sound as I moved the bow left to right
Was this exercise a melody? or could this be a melody? I think it didn’t start as a melody, but as I thought about it and changed my perception, it became melodic.
Last week in #MUS654 we heard Duane Padilla explain that a melody was the notes of a scale mixed up. Ah, yes! -I’d like to add an ‘and’, so: the notes of a scale mixed up and played with some intention. Duane didn’t say that bit in words, but he did in sound – through his playing.
That intention comes from different sources including our understanding of the harmonic language-framework (tonality), experiences where we have heard those or similar sounds, and both musical and extra-musical associations. Then we can project that onto the music via a host of instrument-specific techniques.
I invite you to dip into this week’s #MUS654 topic exploring Scales and the Relationships of Notes to question, deepen your awareness, discuss, and further our (collective) understanding of some of the frameworks that enable us as musicians to add that intention to our sounds and create expression.
Let’s start with a question for you all:
When in your music making (from whistling to concertising) do your notes become melody and what gives them meaning?
Leave a comment or share something and tag it #MUS654
I was thinking about melodies and the #MUS654 topic of ‘what makes a melody?‘ when I remembered about the lyre bird. No, this is not a veiled political comment, I’m talking purely about a very unique bird that lives in Australia. It is distinct to look at, with its long pluming tail, but the sounds it makes are truly extraordinary.
On the #MUS654 page on melody I suggested imitating a bird, but perhaps not this one! It has evolved a lifestyle that involves singing singing singing through the winter, as this is its mating season. Also there is a need to really woo the lady bird as she only produces a single egg every two years. Thus the song is amazing. Have a listen…. this two minute video is worth watching. See if it challenges your understanding of how birds and other natural sounds fit into music and everyday listening:
If you haven’t had a go imitating some birdsong, have a go. Xeno-Canto is a database that has over 373,800 recordings of birdsong. You can search by species and choose the tweeter of your choice to listen to and imitate. Remember you can share a link on your own blog, tweet it with the tag #MUS654, or share in comments on this post or on the the #MUS654 page on melody.
I love the idea of dressing up and why not do this with a melody? There is so much that can be learned from listening to other people and other instruments doing the same things. Today I went did this with Cry me a River. This morning I went in search of people to help me make a backing track and I was extremely fortunate that my colleague Rob Westwood agreed to play the chords in the key I requested so I could go home at the end of the day and work on it for this post. Melodies played by different instruments is not a new idea. There are transcriptions of music for so many instruments – whether it is because the saxophone was invented just over a century ago and that instrument is perfectly capable of playing music that was written for another, so there are transcriptions to help that instrument access the centuries of music that came before across various styles or just because something is beautiful and someone wants to play it.
There is also something to be said for understanding music as it is played/sung/performed on another instrument. As a cellist, I do not need to breathe in order to make sound. Well of course I do, but If I hold my breath I can still produce sound, whereas a singer or wind player actually needs to breathe.
As my last post for this week’s topic on What makes a melody? I decided to take a melody that is typically performed on an instrument different from mine. So what about process? Did I just look up the music and go?
and listened some more.
Then I played it.
Then I listened some more.
then I played it while thinking about the words.
If I had more time than a short spell in an evening to spend on it, I would refine … links where different words are emphasised, and perhaps I don’t want you to hear a bow change, or maybe I do want you to hear a bow change.
As an aside, I am also learning to sing this (yes, I have singing lessons – I’m a student too!) and I wonder if having played it on my main instrument will have an impact on my capability to access emotional and technical expression when I sing it.
It’s a new topic for those of you following #MUS654 tomorrow. Hope you have enjoyed thinking about melodies in all their forms this week.
Thinking about melody, there are a few components that are common to all music – pitch and rhythm. None of the topics in #MUS654 deal distinctly with rhythm, but it is interwoven into everything. Yesterday in my made-up melody example, I used different rhythms to give meaning to the notes. It made me think. There are some pieces of music where the notes are constant, and then what? It is not always the rhythm that points to the melodic line. The components of music can be shuffled so that one comes to the foreground while something else, that maybe more constant, fades more into the background. Read more
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. Read more
Speech, the melodic qualities therein, and a favourite nursery rhyme. Sounds like a #MUS654 task to me! This is my effort at listening to a nursery rhyme – one of my favourite versions of Twinkle twinkle, having an go at notating the speech, and playing it on the cello. I thought about reading one myself, but I knew that I would read it in an affected way just because I knew what the task was about. The idea is to listen for the melodic qualities in speech and to see if you can come close to replicating them on your instrument. It is all part of this week’s #MUS654 topic of What makes a melody?
Most English speakers have a surprisingly limited melodic range in their speaking voices compared to speakers of other languages. For this exercise I choose one of my favourite parts of the animated Alice in Wonderland, where the doormouse recites ‘Twinkle twinkle’ with a twist at the un-birthday party. Listen from 10 seconds to hear just the right bit:
and then I sat down at the piano, and copied the voice… and it was a bit messy:
You can see it was tricky to decide what notes it used. I had someone else listen and they agreed it started on B, but then said – it sounds like it’s in C.
and then I played it:
When played on the cello, it is completely removed from the original. Beside the ambiguity between the lovely cartoon mouse and my ‘interpretation’ of the notes, there is the great difference in the tonal quality. I have not spent a long time getting the articulation right – but I wonder what is possible? There are composers who do use voice as a basis for their compositions and they transform the vocal spoken lines into purely instrumental playing. Take Steve Reich’s Different Trains for example. There are great examples of using speech – listen to 3 min 20 where the recorded voice says ‘the great train from New York’ and the cello mimics this, and then later there is the line ‘going to Chicago’ that is played by the viola. There are more… see what you can hear:
Have you had a go at any of the tasks in this week’s session? Do! 🙂
In Week 2 of #MUS654 we are thinking of all things melodic. There is birdsong, a spattering of cool riffs, and a discussion on the way a tune gets stuck in our heads. We have a custom made video by Gypsy Jazz violinist Duane Padilla about the components of melody. We read from the historical writings of Mattheson from the 1700s that still hold relevant today, and for those of you hungry for more, there are links to four hours of lectures by Bernstein on the qualities that make it a melody… There is plenty to get into!
Melody is certainly more than notes. Is there something about context that gives those notes meaning? There can be things that stick as meaningful and hardly seem melodic to others, but they have significance because of… it’s hard to say. Sometimes both for a musicians and a listeners, those meaningful moments seem possibly ineffable.
Is that really true?
This week’s tasks provide a chance to unpick those different aspects of melody, take time to reflect, understand, explore, and make those seemingly ineffable things articulate. We do this through sound, notation, and words. If you have the time to dip in and join us, it will be delicious. Participation is voluntary, and there are no prerequisites or requirements for engagement.The class is open and music lovers, performers, and teachers of all levels are invited to join us.
Where is it?
You can find the session page on the dropdown menu under the #MUS654 tab (or follow the link at the beginning of this post.) I’m looking forward to playing around with the task of copying some birdsong tomorrow, and then I’m going to tweet about it (pun, pun!).
It’s a Week 2 update and today I did the task of playing a melody on a new instrument. (It’s not fair if I ask people to do tasks if I’m not prepared to do them myself, right?) So here we go…
Last night I decided to play the beginning solo from Black Magic Woman by Santana on my cello. It is just meant to be an experiment, so see what you think. I found a backing track online here and the tab (I cheated!) and got going. Here’s what happened:
I’m looking forward to talking with Duane Padilla about melodies in this week’s hangout tomorrow at 6pm BST. He is a master at learning from other instruments and of learning new instruments. You can drop in on the hangout and watch on youtube
or contact me for a live link to join in the discussions in real time. You are more than welcome!