The Composer Arranger 04

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.]

10 thoughts on “The Composer Arranger 04

    • No, just a sloppy screw up. Quick search, saw the book, copied the link without any thought.. I’ll fix it soon. I also need to write you back about artists and design and my new iPad Air. Need to get you my new ID number for beta testing purposes.

    • Thanks. That is such a precious little piece of music I just had to share it. Perfection in miniature.

      I played it on a HP507 Roland Electronic Piano which I recorded directly to USB. Then I snipped it a little at the beginning and end and normalized the overall volume. Believe it or not my wife insisted I pick out one such instrument so she could listen to me learn or write things as she knits. I prefer headphones until I’m ready to “perform” but I guess she likes me flaws and all!

      I am treating your book kind of like a semester or two of coursework and I don’t know how long or often I’ll continue to post about it. If I cannot make non-music analogies as things go forward then the posts will quiet down. I’m learning, and maybe even sometimes I’m learning what you intend!

      One thing I’ve noticed about the area I’m living in is that there is no jazz station on the radio. There are two classical stations, RAP, Metal, Classic Rock, Country, Pop, but not one jazz station. I used to live in a little different area where there was a single jazz station run by the college I attended. Jazz is part of why I selected your book, because I am not very familiar with that style and I’m hoping to broaden my horizons some. It can’t hurt.

      Been really busy this week, and tomorrow is my wife’s birthday and the next day is our anniversary. 16th? 17th? We don’t count. I’m anxious to get into that first section on Harmony.

  1. “‘My” harmonies are exactly the same as yours except for the descending FM7 at the end along with the final note of the melody delayed — artistic license. The repeated chords that seem to be extra are the same chord inverted, so they are all your chords. I will say that inversions of chords done for voice leading and easier playing do sometimes sound like different chords altogether, such as a simple F Major chord in second inversion contains what could be considered a 4-3 suspension that wants to resolve to C Major in root position.

    Here’s what’s interesting from the Author > Reader perspective. On page 30 with the same example you refer to a future place in the book for further explanation. That caused me to not examine it further and just move on with the assurance that it will be covered elsewhere. I am not accustomed to so very many frequent references to other places in books and it causes me to disconnect. That was a significant part of my disconnect and dislike of the opening part of the book. I will say that at the very beginning you stated that the book needs to be read twice. I am very prone to distraction and this flaw in myself makes the book so far unnecessarily difficult to follow.

    I will glean many valuable tricks and understandings from your work as that is my agenda and I look forward to my next foray into the unknown.

  2. Oh my, your comments are alien to me as my music theory does not extend that far but it brings back happy memories of theory of music at school over 30 years ago. I will follow your critique with interest and see if anything ‘speaks’ to me.

    • I am going to try very hard to write my articles in a very general fashion, relating the music theory to other forms of art and not getting into the dirty details. Here in the comments it is entirely possible that technical discussions about the actual contents of this book — The Composer/Arranger by John Morton — might happen. Please feel free to join in if and when that happens, and at whatever level you feel comfortable approaching it.

      I am just starting to read the next section about Harmony and it is at least starting out getting very traditional about functional classical chord theory which I am already familiar with. It will likely proceed into that which I am not familiar with and to things I will have to struggle with and stop and experiment and think. For me, that is the whole point of this little journey, to grope and grow.

    • Yeah, two different things. Music Theory usually means — to me — a study of traditional western music as gleaned from classical music. The Theory of Music more likely would deal with broader and more abstract ideas that would encompass any sort of organized sound systems including things that would not make sense to our western ears.

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