Sing Your Melody to Make Your Melody Sing

Here’s a post from guest author Doug Hanvey. You can learn more about him at www.portlandpianolab.com.

Composing a melody by singing is a method that has been used by many of the greatest melodists. The reasons are obvious:

  • By singing it’s more likely that your melody will be generated from the deepest and most personal well of creativity within you. If you simply work out a melody with your fingers at the piano, you are less likely to be connecting with that innermost musical place.
  • Singing your melody helps you to better understand its structure (contour, climax etc.) in terms of the primal melodic instrument: the human voice.
  • Singing engages your body, and the body is the primal rhythm instrument. As a result, your melody is likely to be more rhythmically effective and interesting.
  • Melodies and even simple figures or motives that can be easily sung are more likely to be accessible to the average Joe and Jane. (This may be one reason why vocal forms are ubiquitous in both folk and popular music.) It’s especially useful to sing when composing a vocal melody.

Many (if not most) of the great composers did not write at an instrument. We may not know whether they sang their melodies as they composed, but it’s a good bet that they were “virtually” singing them by mentally hearing them.

music-comp

The same is also true of many if not most of the great popular songwriters. For example, musical theater composer Richard Rodgers, one of the greatest melodists of the 20th century, wrote his songs by singing the melody while playing chords on the piano. John Lennon and Paul McCartney composed their tunes by singing them while playing their guitars.

Many of the greatest jazz pianists, such as Bud Powell and Keith Jarrett, vocalize while improvising (same principle).

Convinced it’s worth a try? Follow these steps, one at a time, to engage your virtual or actual voice when composing a melody:

  1. First try hearing your melody inside your head (without actually singing it) and notate it without playing it on your instrument, if you can. This requires a pretty good musical ear, but that is easy enough to develop. By the way, don’t worry about the chords at first. It’s generally better – at least from a melodic perspective – to let the melody dictate the harmony rather than allowing harmonic demands to interfere with the organic nature of the melody.
  2. If the above feels too challenging, sing your melody out loud and notate it without playing it on your instrument.
  3. Finally, easiest – but last, because it’s tempting to get lost in your established compositional habits – sing your melody, then learn to play it on your instrument, then notate it.

College Music Society National Conference

Friday, I received a nice letter from the College Music Society. They selected my conference proposal! Jennifer Jones Mitchell and I will be presenting at the 2016 CMS National Conference in Santa Fe. We’re excited! Our topic is “Marketing Your Music Online: A Guide to Social Media for The Musician”.

The conference will be late October at at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza, and St. Francis Auditorium in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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CMS Survey Summary: Designing a Music and Technology Degree

In January and February of 2016, the College Music Society Monthly Discussion Forum focused on music and technology. The survey questions were designed by Dr. David Mitchell and a summary of the results is now available on the College Music Society website. Click on the link below to have a look.

The purpose of this survey was to learn how many schools currently offer music and technology degrees and how many schools make technology part of their degree program. The results were very interesting…

http://bit.ly/1RhqjNM

How to Design a Music and Technology Degree

On February 18th, 2016, I presented at the College Music Society regional conference at Birmingham Southern College. My topic was How to Designing a Music and Technology Degree. I covered NASM requirements and issues to consider when designing a Music and Technology degree.

In today’s digital entertainment industry, it is more important than ever for music graduates to master digital recording techniques, in addition to their instrument. After all, digital media is the medium through which our music is most often created, found and heard. Students with the right skills can distribute their music to a global audience for commercial applications, streaming, licensing and much more. In fact, the opportunities for today’s musicians are limited only by their imagination and ability to take advantage of digital music opportunities online.

In my opinion, M and T will be the preferred degree for 21st century musicians.

Click on the Slide Share below to learn more.

Is It Still Possible to Make a Living as a Private Guitar Instructor?

As a private guitar instructor with over 20 years experience, I have noticed a disconcerting decline in the number of students who sign up for private lessons, and I was curious to learn whether or not other instructors have experienced the same thing. So, I posted the following question to a number of professional groups on LinkedIn including Classical Guitar and Guitar Instructors. Is It Still Possible to Make a Living as a Private Guitar Instructor?

guitar

Out of 45 comments so far, all respondents acknowledged the decline. Most sighted the availability of free instructional videos on YouTube as a major reason for the decline. Walter Peretiatko wrote, “Yes, YouTube has killed a lot of my guitar students…”

In addition, Eric Symons wrote,

“This is a tough subject for me to publicly discuss, as I see a trend that disturbing in the US and other so called “First World” countries. While living in a world that has kids living with inorganic mediums such as video games and computers, and less of them having exposure to music in the schools than any other generation in our history, we must accept a decline in the classical guitar…”

Others pointed to a less vigorous economy. Zane Zirkle wrote, “In a Hope and Change economy, music lessons are a luxury to the average Joe… “ .

Jack Alves wrote, “I too have noticed a slight decline in the over -all teaching biz. From music that’s not all that motivating, to “School of Rock” programs, to students who are willing to forfeit the basics…”

From these responses, it appears there are a variety of factors leading to a decline in the number of students seeking private guitar lessons. The availability of free online content and resources makes it easy for students to learn to play for free in the convenience of their own homes. The sluggish economy and dwindling disposable economy is a factor too. In addition, guitar is no longer the driving force in popular music. Most music is created “in the box” with programs like Ableton eliminating the need to spend years mastering an instrument. Also, there are so many different instant gratification apps, video games, social media sites and digital sources vying for the public’s entertainment time and money. Can an instrument, which requires tremendous personal sacrifice to master, really compete?

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What does this mean for the future of private guitar lessons? It’s clear that the days of making a living solely as a private instructor are gone for now. Guitarists and musicians in general, must develop multiple income streams and embrace technology as an integral part of their skill set. For the 21st century musician, it will no longer be viable to simply play or teach an instrument. Lessons will always be a piece of the puzzle, but today’s musicians must know how to write for commercials, film, video games, record voice over, distribute and promote themselves online and through social media. If you have the right skill set, technology becomes a tremendous tool to sell your music and skills to a wider public than ever before.

Most schools and universities are developing music and technology degrees to meet the needs of today’s musicians. For example, Gwinnett County Public Schools now offer courses in music technology which focus on recording, composition, film score and video game composition. Private schools such as The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media also offer degrees in music and technology, job placement and industry contacts, so the future is not bleak, just different than the 80s or 90s.

MT

I agree with Derek Stottlemyer, who wrote, “As a web architect I see a lot of options, and online offers the opportunity to earn passive or residual income in addition to paid lessons – but instructors have to break the mold and be willing to try new things.” Indeed!

2014 Society of Composers National Conference

The 2014 Society of Composers National Conference took place March 20-22 at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. It featured three days of concerts and paper sessions in Sursa Performance Hall by select composers from across the US. The conference wordpress blog and facebook page contain specific details regarding the concert schedule and events. The overall quality of the concerts and paper sessions was excellent!

Sursa

Inside Sursa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notably, the majority of concerts featured electronic resources and multimedia. To be sure, there were a number of pieces with traditional acoustic instruments and some old school electroacoustic music with outstanding spatialization enhanced by Sursa’s eight-speaker configuration which enveloped the audience. That being said, many, if not a major of pieces on the program featured both acoustic instruments and either prerecorded electronic accompany or manipulation of live sound in real time. Some pieces also contained video projection in which case, a video screen was lowered above the stage.

audienceIt is exciting to note that 21st century composers are embracing technology and multimedia. With all of the new resources available to composers, it seems that composers of new music are blurring the lines between electronic and acoustic music. This most assuredly will be an area of research for some musicologist in the not too distance future.

In addition, many of the paper sessions discussed topics related to emerging technologies and live performance. For example, Zachary Boyt discussed MIDI bows, while Orlando Legname presented electronic sensors for conducting which interact with MAX/MSP in real time.

Orlando Legname

 

Zachary Boyt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a great conference. I’m definitely planning to attend the 2015 conference. I would recommend it to all composers of new music who wish to stay abreast of the latest developments in new music.

By the way, I was a presenter at the first paper session on Friday, March 21. My paper was entitled Metamorphoses Nocturnes a Stepping Stone in the Compositional Development of Gyorgy Ligeti.

mephoto(6)Here are a number of links to photos and other media from the conference:

https://twitter.com/Music_comp/media

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qgo8nrk7t8l6te0/V_HOi3Dh3D

Special thanks to Michael Pounds, Keith Kothman and Jim Rhinehart for organizing such a great conference. If I have left anyone out, my apologizes. Please send me your name and a link to your blog and/or website, and I can include it in this blog. Thanks again! See you in 2015.

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

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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