What is A Melody?
Great question. I guess we should start with a good old Google search.
“A sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying.”
As amazingly helpful as this definition is, it hardly expresses what a melody truly can be. In my opinion, a melody is “A part of any piece of music which is capable of causing the intended feeling.” This is what music is all about: conveying emotions. If that’s what we’re considering a melody (for the sake of the lesson) let’s check out a few examples, shall we?
1: Ocarina of Time. In this soundtrack, there are many examples of songs without a traditional melody (basically any dungeon theme). My argument here is that these songs actually do have melodies, albeit boring ones.
2: Super Smash Bros. menu theme (Smash 1). This song is kinda fun… but quiet and easily missed. Certainly, that solo instrument could be considered a melody, although once again not entirely interesting.
3: MegaMan 2 (or really any). Wily Stage 2 is plenty an example enough of an epic memorable melody.
4. Donkey Kong. 25m. Certainly memorable, but also not very interesting.
So what separates all these tracks of music? I went over why we remember some, but not others last time. This time let’s examine their purpose.
How do they differ?
OoT: These tracks are impossible to remember, and boring to listen to in isolation. These are also possibly the most effective pieces of music I’ve ever listened to. It immediately puts me on edge, it makes me think, it causes me to worry about my safety. Sure enough, The dungeons are creepy, filled with puzzles, and scattered with dangerous enemies. Maybe I don’t remember the song, but I remember this game. The song served its purpose.
SSB1: The menu theme here is calm and kinda fun. It’s not easy to tell if it’s particularly happy or sad, but we can definitely tell that we don’t have much to worry about yet. The calm before the storm. Also, ironically, the song didn’t make me want to stay on the menu for too long, and it got me to actually play the game. Not many games can say that in my case. XD
MegaMan: The music in the whole series is exciting, but far from dark. Light, but far from happy. The minor keys mixed with major chords gives such a drive to keep trying, which is a necessary touch for a game that shows you the game over screen more than the level select. Better yet, the game over music is always really happy, sometimes to the point of being humorous. I don’t feel bad for failing, I feel good for learning from my mistakes. Wily Stage 2 is no cakewalk, but it’s one heck of an experience, even now.
Donkey Kong: I’ve played this game. I’m not too good at it, but it’s definitely fun. However… I never really understood the music. Most arcade games had fun lighthearted songs before play, then between stages. While the level start theme follows this, the basic song just didn’t give me any particular emotion. I didn’t feel worried for Mario or Pauline. I didn’t feel excited to keep playing. I didn’t feel calm and calculated. I felt… kinda annoyed at DK for being so boring. The song will never be forgotten, but it also wasn’t the best composition of all time.
How to Implement This
Now that we know it’s important to get a feeling into your music, just how do we do this? Here are a couple tips:
- Major is happy.
- Minor can be extremely solemn. However…
- Melodic minor, and/or mode mixture based in minor can be extremely invigorating. Think Natural 6 and 7.
- Avoiding the 5th (dominant) and 7th (leading tone) make for a less driving song. This can be good for menu themes or ambient music. Also ok is only 1 and 5.
- 4ths are really weird. Chords and Subdominant. They aren’t major or minor, often giving a weird uncertain feel.
- Ending with only the tonic and its fifth, avoiding the third at all costs, also leads to uncertainty. This is due to major and minor being determined by the third.
- Locrian is really scary. But going from that to Aeolian, especially with natural 7, sounds sooooo heroic. It’s epic.
- Fast songs make you want to go fast.
- Slow songs make you want to go slow.
- So, so much more.
Hopefully, these are helpful in some way or another. ^^
One More Thing
Don’t let anything stop you from writing what you feel sounds good. It’s ok if no one around you likes what you’ve created. There’ll always be someone who does. I’m certain I’m not the only person who listens to the OoT soundtrack daily, and I’m even more certain I’m not the only person who can’t stand rap. XD When you create real art, the fans will find you. Just get out there, and nothing will stop you.
Create the feelings you want to feel. Put your memories into it. For example, once I was a youtube comment section addict. No joke. My worst enemy was UltimateGeek. He challenged me to write a song, only giving me ten minutes to create, record, and prove. Here is that song:
I put my love for my favorite series into the song, while also leaving out extra content for lack of time. I tried to express a fun field theme that didn’t offend but also got my strength in composition across. I feel I accomplished the task.
Now that you know how to create catchy tunes, and a bit more about how to create more emotional pieces, you’re ready to actually do it. Get to work! You may have noticed my strange featured image. I mean, it’s Metal Sonic doing a ribbon dance. What does that have to do with music? Nothing. That’s me. I am a Ribbon Dancing Metal Sonic. No one else is me. I’m who I am. Similarly, nothing will make a song mean more than putting your heart into it. Write with your heart, fix with your mind, embellish with your soul. That is the creation of a true masterpiece. That comes before any amount of theory. 😀
Until Next time,