How to Write a Melody: Augmentation and Diminution

Augmentation and diminution are two widely used compositional techniques that can be applied to almost any melody. In this blog post, I will show you how to use these techniques to generate a plethora of new material for your next composition.

There are two types of augmentation, rhythmic and intervallic. Rhythmic augmentation means that all of the note values in a given melody are increased by an equal amount. In most cases, rhythmic values are doubled, but they can be increased by almost any amount. Example No. 1 is an original melody used in my first blog post to demonstrate retrograde, inversion, and retrograde inversion. Example No. 2 shows this melody with its note values doubled.

Example No. 1

original melody

Example No. 2

aug

Intervallic augmentation means that all of the intervals increase, see Example No. 3. This changes where notes fall in relationship to the underlying harmony, so the accompaniment usually needs to be adjusted to compensate.

Example No. 3

intervallic aug

Diminution is the opposite of augmentation. All of the note values and/or intervals are shortened by an equal amount, see Example No 4.

Example No. 4

Rhythmic dim

Example No. 5 is an augmented version of the original melody with sixteenth-note accompaniment. The accompaniment pattern is also a good example of diminution in action. Counts one and two in measure 1 are the original melody in diminution, see Example No. 1. Notice it’s the same melodic contour in sixteenth notes. Essentially, Example No. 5 is derived from a single motive which is subjected to both augmentation and diminution. See what you can do with just a few ideas and an arsenal of composition techniques in your tool chest?

Example No. 5

aug and dim example

CDZA’s Journey of Guitar Solo

Screen shot 2013-09-21 at 7.47.35 PMCDZA or Collective Candenza is Joe Sabia, Michael Thurber and Matt McCorkle, a group located in New York that creates musical video experiments. Their most recent offering is Journey of Guitar Solo (THE INSTRUMENTALS – Episode 1), which is currently trending in social media since it was featured on Huffington Post.  The video takes viewers through a brief history of guitar solos in popular music. (full video below)

Many of the comments and much of the discussion revolves around what bands or guitarists the group left out or neglected to mention in their medley. One can definitely argue that David Gilmour deserves a mention. And Slash’s “Sweet Child of Mine “ is labeled the  “Highest Level of Epicness.” What the what? A great solo, but I can think of a dozen solos that are considerably more “epic.”

What I really appreciate is their call to action at the end of the video. Fact Man steps to the center of the frame wearing a sign that reads “Learn an Instrument Because It’s FUN!” I couldn’t agree more.

As a music instructor of guitar, composition and music theory, I have seen a definite decline in the number of young people who are interested in learning an instrument, particularly guitar, an instrument which is definitely fun to play, but requires dedication, focus, and determination, three traits not encouraged in today’s instant gratification, ultra-connected, cyber world.

Learning an instrument is a Zen experience, which requires complete concentration, focus and imagination. Some of the best times of my life involved making music with my friends and being proud of what we did. I hope we are not losing an entire generation of young musicians and guitarists to the ultra slick iPhone experience. It’s fun to bicker about what guitarists and bands were left out of a medley which attempts to do the impossible, encapsulate fifty plus years of music into a single six-minute video experience. I say kudos to CDZA  for encouraging its audience to “Learn an Instrument Because It’s Fun!”

How to Write a Melody, A Video Example

 

I recently discussed the value of inversion and retrograde, two compositional techniques, in an earlier post.

Here is an original composition for classical guitar, “Rainy Nights for Jennifer”  that demonstrates these techniques. The first example of inversion occurs at 1:48. There are a number of other examples throughout the composition, especially after the tempo change at 2:05.

This was a live performance at the Atlanta Institute of Music.

Let me know what you hear.

How-To Change Guitar Strings – Classical Guitar

Dr. David Mitchell of The Music Composition Blog shows you how to change strings on a classical guitar. http://www.themusiccompositionblog.com Follow Dr. Mitchell @music_comp

How To Write A Melody

One of the most challenging aspects of music composition is thematic development. As a composition instructor, I have found most of my students can come up with convincing melodic, gestural, or textural ideas, but they struggle when writing an entire piece. Most students get “stuck” at a particular point, get frustrated, and eventually give up. The problem is they don’t know how to develop their initial ideas, and their progress grinds to a halt. Fear not! For the professor is here to give you the tools you need to become a great composer.

Here is a partial list of some time-honored compositional tools. These tools can be applied to almost any style of music. Comment if you can think of anything I have left out, and I will add it to the list.

Capture2

In this blog post, I will focus on inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion, by far the most widely known and beloved compositional tools. Inversion means all of the intervals in a particular melody are upside down. Example No. 1 shows an original melody followed by its inversion. Notice that the ascending triad in measure 1 becomes a descending triad when inverted, a mirror image of the original melody.

Example No. 1

melodic development blog pic 1

There are two types of inversion, exact and tonally adjusted. In an exact inversion, all of the intervals are exactly the same as the intervals in the original, only upside down. In a tonally adjusted inversion, the most common type, intervals are modified to stay within the key. The above example is a tonally adjusted inversion, an exact inversion would require note D in measure 1 to be a D#.

Retrograde is the original melody play backward. Example No. 2 is the original melody from Example No. 1 played backward.

 Example No. 2

melodic development blog pic 2

Retrograde inversion is the inversion played backward. Example No. 3 is the inversion of the original melody played backward.

Example No. 3

melodic development blog pic 3

I encourage you to play these examples on your instrument. Notice how each one has its own character, yet sounds related to the original melody. This is because the intervallic and rhythmic content is virtually identical in each example, so the next time you find yourself “stuck,” apply these compositional tools to your melody, and see if it generates new material. If you like your original idea, you will probably like the inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion as well. It is similar to looking at a beautiful painting in a mirror. If it looks great on the wall, it will look great in a mirror too. Enjoy!