It’s almost like A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” — Charles Dickens. There was confusion, and then there was clarity.
OK. The Composer/Arranger is a difficult book which to my eye is for what I’d call an advanced educated musician (or I am rather stunted). But where the opening of the book changed topics and perspectives at rapid pace, here in the ensuing pages about melody while the author makes frequent references to clarification in later parts of the book he does stay on point. And they are very good points indeed.
Let’s talk about melody, and in the larger sense talk about creative construction in general.
Listening to a melody can be viewed as similar to reading text. Using one pitch only would make for a horribly tedious melody just as using a single repeated word would not make for interesting reading. Our audience and/or our intent dictates the vocabulary we use just as our selection of a scale and rhythmic style in a melody will suit a particular purpose.
Sometimes the text includes a conversation. A character asks a question, and then another responds with an answer. There might be a statement which is then elaborated on. So an initial musical melodic phrase might demand a complimentary response. Or a brief bit of melody might catch the listeners attention so that they want to hear what develops next.
Some words and phrases seem to necessarily demand a resolution, and it can take a bit of craft and focus of the writer to not change tenses and to make plurals agree. So musical phrases once committed in a particular direction demand an expected next note, and there are generally accepted rules of what works and what does not particularly within certain styles or genres.
Every phrase that we write can be viewed as having its own little beginning, climax and resolution as does the sentence it is part of. Similarly each paragraph we write has a shape of logic and emotion. And so does each larger section of text. Similarly a melodic phrase has its own little climax as does the larger statement it makes in a sort of musical sentence. And the larger section of music most obviously will have a larger contextual climax.
The trick is to be effective. Sometimes it just works and other times it must be craftily guided. One might want to examine the flow of a piece of text or music to see where the smaller and larger points fall. Does a section drone on too long with nothing of genuine interest happen, is there enough tension? Generally, as John Morton points out, the main climax will generally hit around three quarters of the way through. It certainly doesn’t have to work that way, but it is a good rule of thumb for works such as music or a stream of text where there is typically build up, the big moment, and then a settling resolution.
One exception that comes to mind is the old TV show Columbo where first we see the murder first and the rest of the show is a subtle and intellectual display of the genius detective picking apart the evidence. A piece of music could start with cannon shots and then settle into a sad lament for the dead.
So melody, like text, is shaped by rules and tastes, rises and falls in various levels of climax, tempo changes, statements and replies, and ultimately tells a story and evokes emotion.
At the end of his opening salvo on melody, after a number of musical examples, Mr. John Morton provided a final short example of melody that particularly captured me. I found myself playing it over and over again, blocking out the chords suggested as accompaniment. I will share this few brief seconds of music with you as I think it deserves to be more than just a little textbook example. It should be heard:
(click the little triangle above)
[You know what they say, John, a score is an idealized form of an idea.]