Harmony, Counterpoint & Styling a Melody – Music Composition
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Harmony, Counterpoint & Styling a Melody – Music Composition

October 8, 2019


Hi. I’ve written an eight bar melody in the
key of F minor and we’re going to have a little think about what we could do in
terms of harmonizing this melody, turning it into something that’s a piece, not
just a melodic line. But let’s start by listening to the melody, so here we are
in F minor, a phrase that starts on the tonic, kind of goes to an E natural, the
leading note, so that’s suggesting some kind of imperfect cadence, comes back to
the tonic, starts in the same way as the first phrase, goes in a slightly
different direction and finishes on what’s likely to be a perfect cadence in
F minor. This is how it goes… Okay, let’s consider some options for how
we might harmonize something like this. It’s a question that lots of people ask
us, they say I’ve written this great melody but I don’t know really what to
do with it, or I don’t know how to write something in different kinds of styles.
Well let’s start by thinking maybe in something that’s akin to a Baroque style,
maybe working in two parts. Well there’s quite a lot of Baroque keyboard music
that’s written in two parts, and quite often there’s an element of imitation or
counterpoint about it, but not always, because quite a lot of Baroque things have a sort of stronger melody in the right hand with the left hand providing some
kind of bass line. So we could get straightaway involved in two parts from
the opening or we could decide for example that these first few notes are a
little musical idea that could be imitated. For example how about this… So
do you see what I did there, I imitated these first four notes, but starting here,
not on F but on C, so I put this as a dominant chord here. Why did I do that,
well when you look at this first bar that implies a chord 1 in F minor, when
you look at the second bar that implies a chord 5, possibly going to a 5(7) in F minor. So if I were to use this at the same pitch in this bar, it
wouldn’t work so well because I’d have a sort of conflict of interest. So in other
words let me do it so that I play this and then I imitate this at the same
pitch maybe an octave lower in the next bar. Now it doesn’t sound terrible, it works
doesn’t it, but can you hear there’s a slight conflict of interest because
that’s outlining a movement to chord 5 really and I’m playing notes that belong
to chord 1. They fit, I’ve designed it so would fit, but if we take this figure
and transpose it to the fifth so that we start on C and then we go E natural, back
to C, then we can put this under here so it imitates this figure but still fits
with the harmony in that bar, let’s just do that again, and you can do this in the
upper octave or the lower octave whichever you like. I did it in the upper
octave last time, I’ll do it in the lower octave this time. Do you see how that works? Works much more effectively doesn’t it than doing it at the same pitch and it’s already sounding
a bit Baroque. Having imitated that, well this melody then kind of goes off in
its own direction so I’m not going to be able to keep this imitation going, so
always worth when you’re wanting to write in that sort of Baroque style or
even if you’re not wanting to write in Baroque style but you’re wanting to be a
bit more imitative, thinking what is the idea that I can imitate, how far can I go.
Now if I look at this first phrase you could say it’s got a head and a tail.
Here’s the head and here’s the tail. So it may be that I can imitate the head
but the tail isn’t really going to lend itself to imitation in quite the same
way, so having done this imitation around the dominant chord, I could then move off
in a less imitative way. So do you see then, all I’ve done there is
to work the harmony and it works quite nicely that the bass can climb up a
scale there doesn’t it. You see how I did that, so in this bar
the bass went F, G, Ab, Bb, C. Now that’s outlining sensible harmony isn’t
it, kind of 1, 5C, 1B. That’s a passing 6/4 that we’re thinking about there
isn’t there. 1, 5C, 1B, now we’ve got to think cadence,
so I’m sort of thinking well let’s go 2 to 5, but 2B is even better in a minor key,
because of the nature of chord 2 as a diminished chord, and then I’m getting to
a chord 5. Now if I’m in a Baroque style that’s working quite well isn’t it. You may want to vary the rhythm a little
bit there I don’t know. Would give you a little bit of variety
wouldn’t it. So you could just get a bit of rhythmic
independence there. If you’re in a Baroque style I’m wanting to have this sort of
feeling of two independent lines this long note is a little bit of a gift as
well isn’t it because what you don’t want to do is just sit on that note.
having done what we’ve just done. That’ll be a bit of the kiss of death
wouldn’t it just to sit there, so could the lower part now get moving while the
upper part is kind of settling on that note. Well we’ve got to think about the
fact we’re going on to something else that looks like a chord 1 so, one, two,
three, four, one. Do you see what I’ve done there. Having some quavers in the lower part, so
I’ve gone for a crotchet C there and then quavers that go C Db C Bb Ab G that leave me on to the next one. How have I done that, this is all a
chord 5, so C is part of the harmony then if I go from C and I repeat the C that’s
all harmony, Db’s an upper auxiliary, back to C which is harmony, Bb is
passing, but it’s also actually helping to suggest a 5(7), but it’s an unaccented
passing, the Ab is an accented passing, going onto G which is harmony. So remember that thing about you can have an unaccented passing note followed by
an accented passing note onto the harmony, but it gives it character
doesn’t it and you see that sort of Baroque sound of
that. So what have we got so far… Bit of independence going on between. Now you might then think oh well we imitated the head there, let imitate the head
there. You probably could do in some way. It might be a little bit predictable to
do that, so maybe having imitated that one, you don’t imitate this one but maybe trying to keep a little bit of rhythmic
independence so rather than have sort of something like, which would be a little
bit sort of samey between the hands wouldn’t it. So if I started on an Ab
in the left hand I might be able to move down to an F on the second crotchet. So
we get a little bit of Independence there, you see what I’ve done there, so you
see how that gives us a bit of counterpoint between the two parts
doesn’t it and then I’m sitting down here so could this be a moment where the
lower part moves, so… Do you get the idea. That would give us a
possible harmonization of that where I’m actually still thinking about harmony, so
don’t think about counterpoint at the expense of harmony, think what you’re
doing with the harmony but I’m trying to write a second part that’s a bit
independent of that that sounds quite Baroque. So that would be Baroque style –
two-part texture, a little bit of imitation, bit of counterpoint going there,
but of course there are other things we could do with this. We could see this as
a melody couldn’t we, with some kind of accompanying figure underneath like this. That would be a totally different impact
wouldn’t it. It would feel totally different in style, it’s sort of got some classical
features hasn’t it – melody and accompaniment, and the idea of these kind of repeated
notes in the accompaniment, but it sort of feels a bit more as if it’s got a romantic
leaning in terms of its general expression. So you could do that, just
have an accompaniment that’s kind of… That kind of stuff. So again you think the
harmony first, get the harmony in your mind so you know where you’re going, I
purposely use some slightly different harmony there, so that you can do
something with that. You could create a very different effect in terms of speed.
We don’t have to have a busy accompaniment there do we. I could have
something that’s a bit slower, bit more sedate, but maybe with some richer chords
in it, so for example… Now that’s a bit more sombre in mood isn’t it and it’s more romantic in its expression, where I’m trying to use a few more
imaginative chords there, so thinking about where your chromatic chords might
come but a much more sedate idea in the accompanying figure. You could do
something that’s more modern in style couldn’t you, like take something that’s
a little bit neoclassical, so take the Baroque idea that we had – of a bit of
imitation, a bit of two-part whatever, but to treat it in a slightly kind of quirky
style in terms of its harmony, you know to do something less solidly
conventional in terms of the harmony. How about something like this… It’s sort of not wildly dissonant is it
but it’s just doing something slightly quirky, it’s just experimenting with
ideas here. So just a little thought on how do we take a melody, how do we have
different kind of textures, how do we take a different stylistic view, do we
want to do something that’s more Baroque in terms of two parts, imitation, right
hand on a melody left hand on a bass. Do we want to do something that’s more
classical / romantic in terms of melody with accompanying ideas, but how far do
we go with the harmony, how far do we go with a thickness of texture, what could
we do with speed, what could we do with dynamics to make that a different kind
of approach. How could we do something that’s maybe a little bit more quirky.
You could even do that in a sort of completely bi-tonal way couldn’t you if you
want to do something more modern. The possibilities are endless, but it’s about
opening their musical imagination to all these kind of possibilities. Anyway I hope
that’s given you a few thoughts for dealing with a melody that you might
have in various different ways.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Awesome!!! I love this sort of exercises because i feel in a real class. More of these please.
    Also, do you think you could do a Music analysis about Mozart or Haydn???

  2. 11.06 that sudden dynamic fall just killed me! this video is maybe just a demonstration but also a masterpiece under your hands! 😉 cool!

  3. You are opening my mind up to things that I have been searching for. Thank you.

    You broke my heart @9:35

    @10:45 you literally made me cry with your composition. This is what I am missing. I must know more.

  4. Thank you so much for this! You make this topic so clear to me, someone rather insufficiently trained in music. I'm a poet/playwright currently trying my had at writing a musical theater piece. I want to include a musical number in which two characters are singing different melodies in counterpoint. This tutorial really helped me understand how to create the contrapuntal meter in my lyrics so I eventually can explain what I need to a musical composer—if I can find one! In an earlier comment, Neil Walsh said: "We need composers. That's the modern dilemma". I wholeheartedly agree. The 2017 film "Score: A Film Music Documentary" opened my eyes to that world.

  5. I JUST found a classical paperback on Counterpoint for $4.99 in a library… 👀😍😱 Thank you for sharing your knowledge! Crazy how much of this theory is lost in our modern culture 😨

  6. this here and now is forever ecstatic…lovely narrative and most natural of elaborating through reason…i just want to know when does the break not come, in this im guilty i know.

  7. Thank you for your video full of ideas. I was wondering if you could share the score you used for the "romantic" version of the accompaniment? I really like that sound but the video is too fast and I could not catch it.

    Also I like very much your explanation of how to write the "Baroque" style step by step. Can you post more video on this as well? This is more interesting than the dry species counterpoint I am now learning.

  8. What is missing from a lot of modern music…? MUSIC! Composition, melody, counter point, harmony, theme and motif! This was an excellent quick lesson. Very glad to have come across this video. Inspiring and delightful! 
    Thank you!

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