Teach Yourself Music Theory – 39.) Beginning to Craft a Melody

As mentioned previously, Renaissance era counterpoint was vocal – but that doesn’t mean that they song only on “ooo”s and “ahh”s. Their lyrics usually came from liturgical texts, like psalms.

Before beginning to write a contrapuntal piece, one must be able to master the style of writing a single melodic line before trying to weave multiple independent lines together. This blog will talk about the process of doing so.

First thing you want to do is decide on the text you want to set to music.

Second, you will need to decide on the appropriate mode. Each mode has its own qualities an shades to best fit the mode of the text.

Third, you will want to assign the melody to the right voice. Look below at the different voice ranges. The out-most notes are the “extremes of the voice range, while the two pitches in the middle connected by a line suggest the comfort range:

Fourth, start the melody on the authentic or plagal pitch. Adjacent voices (when we start incorporating more melodic lines) with start on the opposite choice.

Fifth, start writing your melody to shape the text. Keep in mind:

  • Word Painting – doing something musical to invoke the images of the lyrics
  • Accenting important words with skips and leaps
  • Keeping the overall melodic line moving with stepwise motion instead of repeating notes
  • Be sure to cover the range of the mode within the limits of the vocalist without hitting the extremes too much
  • Have a interesting melodic contour
  • Avoid outlining or moving by dissonant intervals

Sixth, cadence by stepwise motion from above or below.

  • The Dorian, Mixolydian, and Aeolian modes should have the their leading tones raised.
  • Ionian and Lydian already have natural leading tones and require no raising of pitches.
  • Phrygian has its own unique cadence of going down by half-step and going up by whole-step.
  • The Aeolian mode can have a “Phrygian cadence” by lowering the tone from above.

Below is a chart of the modes as if they were in the key of C:

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 36.) Church Modes

As we begin entering the realm of counterpoint, we need to touch upon some music history. Renaissance counterpoint will be the first destination.

Early chant, called plainsong, were composed using 8 different modes. Modes, as we have previously talked about, are scales the encompass the same pitches as a key area, but are not technically our known major or natural minor. By the 16th Century into the Renaissance era, it expanded with a few more.

These Ecclesiastical Modes, or Church Modes, define which notes are more important than others in contrapuntal musical pieces. Each modes are built off of different species of whole and half-note combinations.

There are authentic church modes, which are the “main” modes than cover a range of an octave (but can go a step out from each end of the mode). And there are a plagal church modes which are derived from the “main” modes by starting on the fifth degree above the tonic.

Church modes have their own special characteristic notes of finals (the literal “final” note of a melodic line), and dominant (the recitation tone which is held during chant).

In the picture above, the half-notes denote finals within a mode while the triangles denote dominants.

When composing, is a person uses way more than the range of the mode – it is called excessive. If the melody of the contrapuntal piece covers both the range of the authentic and plagal church modes – it is called mixed. And for those melodies that never cover the range of an octave – it is called incomplete.

Before wrapping up this post, it should be mentioned that certain scale degrees can be flattened to avoid the tritone interval, and other scale degrees can be raised for cadential purposes.

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Tip #195 – Dorian Vamp

This will be a short tip.

Say that you want a jazz or funk groove but don’t know where to start when it comes to harmonic progressions.

Well, a typical progression used in these styles is the Dorian vamp, which is a repetition of the progression:

i – IV7

Of course, these chords can be altered with upper extensions and sus4, but the root motion is the same.

Both of these chords are naturally found in the Dorian mode (in the example above it would be E Dorian), so it fits right with the tonality you want to be in.

Try it out and feel free to experiment.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 26.) Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale

Not only are there modes built from the diatonic scales of Major and natural minor, but there are modes of the melodic minor, too.


Similarly, they are constructed with the same pitch-class collections, but starting on different pitches and spanning an octave from there.


Below are the different modes and names built from the A melodic minor scale in the key of C:


NOTE:
these are the names I use for the modes. You will encounter multiple names for the same scale, so always be open to change.

Further NOTE: it should be a b6 in the Hindu Scale, my apologies.


Practice building the modes, playing them, and memorizing the names.

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Tip #193 – Using Lightness of a Scale

You might have heard the term the “brightness” or “darkness” of a scale/mode. Typically they are referring to how scales/modes containing a lot of sharp or raised scale degrees from the tonic are referred to as “bright” while those that have flattened scale degrees from the tonic are “dark”.

This is not to say that flat keys are “dark.” We are saying that the intervals that make up the scale that are flattened in comparison to the major scale tend to be more “dark” in tonality.

Can you change a scale to make it more “bright” or “dark?”

Essentially yes by either raising or lowering pitches in the scale (usually done in a circle of fifths pattern of selecting which pitch to alter).

This is good to keep in mind as you are writing and trying to find the right emotion and color to express your musical ideas. That might mean using an unconventional sale/mode or building one from scratch.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 25.) Modes of the Harmonic Minor Scale

Not only are there modes built from the diatonic scales of Major and natural minor, but there are modes of the harmonic minor.


Similarly, they are constructed with the same pitch-class collections, but starting on different pitches and spanning an octave from there.


Below are the different modes and names built from the A harmonic minor scale in the key of C:


NOTE: these are the names I use for the modes. You will encounter multiple names for the same scale, so always be open to change.

Practice building the modes, playing them, and memorizing the names.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 24.) Diatonic Modes

Now, there are more scales in music than just the major, natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. In fact, I have came across a reference book that listed over 2,000 different scales. That being said, we are not going to cover all those (just yet), but we do want to cover a new way to look and build scales.


Modes are scales the encompass the same pitches as a key area, but are not technically our known major or natural minor. Their “tonic” and tonal sense of gravity is elsewhere away from the accepted tonic. Diatonic modes are ones constructed from the diatonic pitches of a key – we will go over this shortly.


There are 7 diatonic modes (6 to some people that do not include Locrian), with one scale built on each pitch of a key. Taking the key of C Major for example, here are the modes with their names:


Notice that each mode is a scale that travels an octave length in distance; basically C major scales starting on different pitches. However, they are all obvious different scales even though the contain the same pitch-class collection because of the intervals in the scale.

NOTE: the major scale is the Ionian Mode, and the natural minor scale is the Aeolian Mode.


To build a diatonic modal scale, you can do one of two things:


Say you wanted to build E Dorian. Dorian is the second mode – so, we know that Dorian comes from D Major, just keep the accidentals and start a scale on the second pitch. Or, you can memorize that Dorian is | 1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – b7 – 8 | and construct it from there.


Practice building the modes, playing them, and memorizing the names.

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.