Your favorite popular music as a source for composition

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Member Since: Aug 26, 2005

Lyrical considerations aside, I had the idea, and I'm sure I'm not the first, to take a melody from your favorite song and write it out inverted, retrograde and the retrograde-inversion. This alone produces just kind of stilted melodies in my experience but when you combine them with just two or three other techniques it really works well. Decide which one sounds the best starting on the down beat and call that the chorus.

Then decide where in the form the chorus is going to go, in the A or in the B section. Then, transpose the remaining phrases to starting points below the chorus'. Perhaps so that sections B, C and D's starting notes progress upwards consecutively until they lead to the starting note of the chorus. (The highest notes may also be an important consideration since you probably don't want any other parts to reach higher than the chorus).

Then use rhythmic displacement on these non-chorus melodies so that none of the melodies start in the same place. Displace them forward or backward by either an eighth note or a quarter note.

I think if you did that to a lot of your favorite music or public domain stuff then you'd A) have a lot of melodies and B) find some gems.

Setting lyrics to existing melodies is another problem entirely. Not my specialty (yet).

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Ultra Magnus
Since: Nov 13, 2004

Sep 10, 2005 06:22 pm

I've heard this before, something else i've heard about is hearing something through a wall or in a different room and taking the melody as you hear it from there. I may have done that actually.

Since: Jan 18, 2003

Sep 11, 2005 04:33 am

i want to hear more about this process. for some reason i couldnt follow it.

when i was 20 my band recorded smells like teen spirit backwards. we had to alter the final chord, and the melody was different, but it sounded good.

Since: Aug 26, 2005

Sep 11, 2005 07:04 am

Dear Rigsby,
interesting comment. I had the experience of listening to my music through headphones only I wasn't wearing them and they were halfway across the room. Suddenly I heard interesting Reggae music that wasn't really there at all.

It was just weird overtones that were more audible when the bass was so suppressed and an unusual eq that the distant headphones provide. I definitely could have gotten a Reggae tune out of that.

Forty Mile,

I'll go over it again more thoroughly.

1) write 1 section (the verse or the chorus) of your favorite song backwards. That's usually two phrases.

2) write that section of music upside-down too.

3) write it upside-down and backwards (These alone are quite a bit of work and not for the faint of heart or the incompetent!)

4) pick one of these new variations to use as the chorus and make sure it starts on the downbeat.

5) transpose the other melodies to start on a different note than the chorus, preferrably a lower note. (Also, more work)

6) rhythmically displace the non-chorus melodies. This means to shove them forward or back by an eighth note or a quarter note so that none of the melodies start in the same place either. (Even more work)

7) you probably also want to make sure that the chorus ends in a rhythmically strong place so that it sounds like it could be the end of the song. In a four measure phrase the strongest ending position is the first beat of the fourth measure. In a two measure phrase the strongest ending position is beat 3 of the second measure.

8) Make sure that the choruse ends also on a strong note(either 1,5,3 or 7 in that order of prefference. Or on a chord tone if the chorus doesn't end on a "I" chord).

9) make sure that none of the other sections end in a strong place (or on a strong note) the lines can even bleed into the next section.

10) can also make one of the sections rhythmically augmented which means to stretch it/ play it slower by changing eighth notes into quarter notes, essentially doubling the length of everything. In other words, play it twice as slow.

11) Last point. It's probably best not to put the retrograde section next to the retrograde-inversion because they have the same rhythm even if they are displaced by half a beat or two.

12) Become a staff writer for a major label and write tunes for Metallica and Puff Daddy.

13) Retire young, move to Tahiti, and marry a young, fine assed woman like no one has ever seen before. Heck, two or three of them.

new melody to the lyrics is a great idea too and not too difficult.

When I was first exposed to all the inversion, retrograde and retrograde-inversion stuff I thought it was interesting but impractical and dropped it for a long time. With the addition of the rhythmic displacement and augmentation techniques it brings the writing to a whole new level. I can't even keep up with all the music that wants to come out of me now.

As you may have seen, I just finished 13 pieces and got another 13 in the que at the back of my brain. The thirteen I finished writing just need one more contrasting section after the second repeat, faster tempos and better production to bring them up to the standard where they need to be.

If you've got the lead sheets to your favorite songs laying around just give it a try. Or better yet, transcribe it by ear. I guarantee you'll be happy with the results, if you don't have anything better coming out of you at the moment.

This is just my twist on the info contained in the Berklee book on melody writing which is the only place I "EVER" saw this info in print and I've read a lot. Every other songwriting book's melody advice sucks *** in comparison to that book in my not so humble opinion.

Anyway, I'm comitted to working this way now much of the time. It's working for me.


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