Music during the Renaissance era were written mostly for voice. As one would assume, the music made was in turn restricted by the capabilities of the voice. Meaning, that the range of the melody in Renaissance counterpoint was limited to that of voice (review the modes and see how each fit with a voice part). In addition, the melodic contour and interval make up of the melody had to be written at the ease of a vocalist. So, no difficult leaps or jumps!
Below is a chart of all the melodic intervals used for composing in the Renaissance era, their direction of ascending or descending, and how frequently they were used:
One thing to take note in the chart above is the banning of augmented and diminished intervals. In any natural key, there will be a tritone formed between two pitches. Not only does this ban include the melodic and harmonic intervals, but also the melodic outline. Meaning, a melody starting on F and ascending stepwise to B would be unacceptable because the melody spanned a tritone. Composers of the Renaissance era used musica ficta, accidentals, to get around this by flattening pitches to correct them to a P4 or P5.
Occasionally, musica ficta was used to raise pitches, but that would only appear at cadential points. Regardless, these accidentals are to be used as little as possible.
Besides that, there are some other rules to follow when constructing a melody:
- Use steps more often than skips.
- Precede and follow a large skip with stepwise motion in the opposite direction
- Don’t use more than two skips in succession
- Two skips in succession should cover a P5 or P8 in range.
- Rarely, a P4 may follow a P4 in the same direction – same as P5’s.
- An ascending P5 may be followed by a m3 in the same direction, if the mode is Dorian.
- Attempt to stay within the “pyramid rule” of having larger intervals of skips in succession stay at the bottom.
- Never have your melodic line outline a dissonant interval (expect for a m7).
- Be cautious with repeating notes, as the melody becomes too stagnant.
- Arrive at the extremes of you modal range with steps instead of skips.
- Accidents are to be resolved in their proper manner (flats go down, sharps go up).
Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.