A well-crafted melody is the soul of a hit song. But what do we mean by “well-crafted”. And what accounts for the haunting beauty of a memorable tune. Volumes have been written about harmony, rhythm, song form, lyrics, and the art of arranging, but when it comes to melody, theory sputters to a halt at the doorstep of a great mystery. Even after scholars have been pondering the problem of melody for hundreds of years, no one yet can explain the whys and wherefores of a song such as “In My Life” or “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and it still seems almost sacrilegious to even try. When I started seeking advice on melody writing decades ago, I found the lack of answers as fascinating as the riddle itself. Back in the 1980s, for example, there was a computer scientist who made so bold as to predict that a program he was working on would soon churn out Mozart sonatas like popcorn. Ten years later, when Silicon Valley was making phenomenal strides in computing power, with one “revolution” succeeding the other every six months, I noticed that I was still waiting to hear the first computer-generated sonata. Now here we are, techno-savvy citizens of the global village of 2014, with iPads and apps galore, and I have yet to hear so much as a decent pop song from a nonhuman composer. (And by the way, where is my George Jetson private air car with the bubble top.) A couple of years ago, when I started writing “Measure for Measure” for American Songwriter, I was as obsessed as ever with the problem of melody. Then something interesting happened: the column format forced me to consider just one element of meaningful melody at a time. For example, one column was about interval color. Another was about scale-tone mood. Another weighed the emotional value of phrase contour.... Sign In to Keep Reading
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