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Writing a melody to given words

GUEST,Helen 24 Jan 01 - 11:43 AM
Deckman 24 Jan 01 - 10:43 PM
paddymac 25 Jan 01 - 07:41 AM
GUEST 24 Jun 09 - 09:45 PM
olddude 24 Jun 09 - 09:56 PM
Stewart 24 Jun 09 - 10:46 PM
M.Ted 25 Jun 09 - 12:36 AM
Artful Codger 25 Jun 09 - 11:36 PM
M.Ted 26 Jun 09 - 03:34 AM
GUEST,Paul Davenport 26 Jun 09 - 03:39 AM
The Sandman 26 Jun 09 - 07:26 AM
Jack Blandiver 26 Jun 09 - 07:43 AM
Artful Codger 26 Jun 09 - 06:08 PM
Paul Burke 26 Jun 09 - 07:18 PM
GUEST,mg 26 Jun 09 - 10:59 PM
GUEST 24 Dec 10 - 06:31 PM
GUEST 24 Dec 10 - 07:35 PM
Smokey. 24 Dec 10 - 07:50 PM
Tootler 24 Dec 10 - 07:56 PM
GUEST,Grishka 27 Dec 10 - 08:44 AM
GUEST,synbyn 28 Dec 10 - 08:08 AM
Tim Leaning 28 Dec 10 - 02:07 PM
Charley Noble 28 Dec 10 - 09:30 PM
GUEST,Grishka 29 Dec 10 - 07:45 AM
Charley Noble 29 Dec 10 - 10:43 AM
Alaska Mike 29 Dec 10 - 11:31 AM
Charley Noble 29 Dec 10 - 01:13 PM
GUEST,Grishka 29 Dec 10 - 03:04 PM
Tim Leaning 29 Dec 10 - 03:24 PM
GUEST,leeneia 29 Dec 10 - 03:44 PM
GUEST,Grishka 30 Dec 10 - 05:50 AM
Charley Noble 30 Dec 10 - 09:06 AM
Alaska Mike 30 Dec 10 - 11:16 AM
Lonesome EJ 30 Dec 10 - 12:23 PM
GUEST,Doug Saum 30 Dec 10 - 12:26 PM
Artful Codger 30 Dec 10 - 06:21 PM
Tattie Bogle 30 Dec 10 - 08:17 PM
GUEST,Grishka 31 Dec 10 - 08:32 AM
Artful Codger 31 Dec 10 - 06:36 PM
Tattie Bogle 31 Dec 10 - 08:17 PM
Artful Codger 31 Dec 10 - 09:06 PM
Artful Codger 31 Dec 10 - 09:07 PM
Charley Noble 31 Dec 10 - 09:22 PM
Doug Chadwick 01 Jan 11 - 06:19 AM
GUEST,Grishka 01 Jan 11 - 06:37 AM
Rumncoke 01 Jan 11 - 10:16 AM
GUEST,Doug Saum 01 Jan 11 - 12:48 PM
Artful Codger 01 Jan 11 - 06:18 PM
GUEST,Grishka 01 Jan 11 - 06:58 PM
GUEST,Grishka 03 Jan 11 - 11:45 AM
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Subject: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Helen
Date: 24 Jan 01 - 11:43 AM

The same applies to me when I tried to create a sequence of steps for my student to follow when he writes a melody to given words. I tried to give him the following sequence:

1) Find the accents in the words. Write syllables of the words below the staff. 2) Put bar lines before each accent. 4) Put lightly a quarter over each syllable 5)See if the syllables do groups of 2, 3, 4, 5 quarters etc. and decide accordingly the time signature. If the syllables ar grouped in 2s the most convinient time signature would be 2/4. If the quarters or syllables are grouped in 4s the most convinient time signature would be 4. 6) Change a few quarters into half notes or eighth notes so that the rhythm be logical with time signature lighly above the staff 7) Divide the rhythmic composition into phrases. 8) Decide about the key signature 9) Put notes, melody to the rhythm according to the words of the poem. 10) Put dynamics


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Deckman
Date: 24 Jan 01 - 10:43 PM

Are you serious? If you want to sing (wite) a song (melody) to words that already exist ... it's simple. RELAX. Get ALL the fog and chitter chatter out of your head, think/feel the words, and let your mind float.

It's simple, it WILL work if you don'y clutter it up with useless formulas. CHEERS


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: paddymac
Date: 25 Jan 01 - 07:41 AM

There's rarely ever just one approach to an endeavor. I think Helen's advice to a student is well designed to make him/er aware of both a) the things to be considered and b) ways to look at those things. After going through the exercise a time or two, a student should begin to develop a "feel" for the process and become gradually less dependant on the formulaic approach.

When you think of lyrics as poetry, you will usually find an inherent rhythm in the phrasing, which translates to tempo. I'm no expert on poetic technique, but most seem to have what I think of as a syllabic formula - a mathematical pattern in the number of syllables in each unit of the poem. Those patterns are often irregular in the sense that the number of syllables may vary. When converting such poetry to song, that irregularity can be resolved by either changing time value of notes so as to accommodate all the syllables, or by adding "extra" notes to be played where there are no syllables to be sung. It sounds more complicated than it really is when you try to reduce it to words, but, it is a way to begin.

Another wat to encourage students, ultimately toward the same end, might be to have them start by writing parodies to songs they know or like. That would make them see the rhythms of words quickly. It would also force them to expand their vocabulary.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Jun 09 - 09:45 PM

you are the one i have been looking for


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: olddude
Date: 24 Jun 09 - 09:56 PM

Helen
I like your approach. I taught myself how to play guitar and I do everything wrong (including writing songs). I wished I had done everything as correctly as it should have been done when I first started and learned proper techniques. Anything that gets them to start thinking of structure I think is a nice approach. Me I find a melody in my head and then do the words. Sometimes my phrasing isn't great and I am trying to work on that. A little better structure may make a ok song a good song. Nice idea I think. I once read that experience is a hard teacher first it gives you the tests then it gives you the lessons. Doing it my way was and is full of tests then lessons.

Dan


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Stewart
Date: 24 Jun 09 - 10:46 PM

I've turned a few poems successfully into songs. Although I probably unconsciously followed most of your detailed steps, it was a more intuitive thing.

My first step is to read the poem over, aloud, a few times in order to get some idea of the internal rhythm. That usually determines the meter (4/4 or 3/4 or maybe 6/8).

Then I start a simple melodic vocalization of the words. Does a certain line start low and then rise, or high and then go lower? Where is the climax of the verse - that should be the melodic high point after which it should taper down. Often as I do this a melodic line will just come to me, or the words will suggest it. I can't tell you how that happens, it just comes from somewhere.

As a fiddle player I think of song melodies in terms of 8 bars of the "A part" and the same of the "B part," where the B part ends like the A part. The B part is sort of a turn between A parts. That makes the song less monotonous, rather than just repeating over and over the same 8-bar melodic line.

When a melody comes to me I like to have a recorder handy to capture it before it disappears. My best melodies seem to come quickly and seem to be dictated by the words. Where they come from, I have no idea.

Then I try to think if I've just stolen a pre-existing melody or if it's really original. Often I find little bits of other melodies sneaking in, but that's not surprising - there's only so many ways you can put 8 notes together.

That's just my own method.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: M.Ted
Date: 25 Jun 09 - 12:36 AM

The real weakness in Helen's approach is step nine, which says "Put notes, melody to the rhythm according to the words of the poem." That is the equivalent of saying, "And then build a magic skyway to the moon"--which is to say, the "How" is missing--


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Artful Codger
Date: 25 Jun 09 - 11:36 PM

I think there are deeper problems with Helen's approach than step nine, the most obvious being that it's most prone to produce formulaic, uninteresting music. For instance:

(1) Accents frequently appear at other places than on the first beat of every measure. In fact, for variety, it's often desirable to place them elsewhere: on syncopated pick-ups, on the second or third beat rather than the first...

(2) The meter of a song is not really dictated by the rhythm of the words; texts in duple meter work wonderfully well as triple meter songs, and vice versa. Often, a song written in one meter is performed by others in a different meter. Nor do you have to stick to a single meter--I've written tunes that flip between 6/4 and 4/4, or between 6/8 and 9/8--these variations were not dictated by the meter of the text, they arose from other considerations.

Even if you're starting at an introductory level, mental fixity is the first thing to be avoided in writing tunes, since tunes often have to compensate in interest for the boring regularity of meter in texts.

The major advantage of Helen's approach is that it chunks down the daunting task of producing a song into smaller, simple subtasks. The major weakness is that it approaches the task from the wrong end: from the details up. One should begin looking at the overall picture and chunk down to the smaller units.

The first task is to select the right kind of text. The best poems to set are the ones which the writer wrote somewhat envisioning them as songs--many of Kipling's poems are good examples: they even include "chorus" verses or interspersed refrain lines. Free verse is a particular challenge due to the lack of regularity in meter, line length, verse pattern or repeated elements.

What attracts you to the text, what parts of it would you like to bring out? If you can't explain this to someone else, you probably won't have a clear idea yourself, and will probably miss the mark.

What is its overall shape? Do you envision it as a simple tune that repeats for each verse, or verse and chorus, or an "A B B C B" pattern, or what? Where does the text build, crest, release? What sort of emotional contrasts exist? For longer texts, how do stanzas group thematically? Do you need the whole text, or are there weak parts to omit?

What's the mood? What musical subgenre does the text suggest or does it need to fit? What other songs in that subgenre would you like this song to resemble? What specifically appeals to you in them? What are the conventions of that type of song? (Conventions are both guides and indications of where you need to break established patterns.)

Look at patterns within the stanzas. What sort of units do the thoughts and phrases comprise? Are there prominent subgroupings to the words? Natural pauses? How do these groupings compare stanza to stanza? Are there words or phrases that beg to be emphasized (for instance, by lengthening or punching)? Texts that have discernable suppatterns tend to be most workable. For strictly regular texts (like broadsides), you may wish to add something to make them more song-like. You might want to repeat a phrase or final line, or extract an epigrammatic couplet to use as a refrain. For longer songs, consider writing two or more tunes to interleave, to maintain interest.

Don't rely on relaxing and "letting your mind float" (as Deckman suggests)--for most people, that's too unmanageable and unproductive: there's not enough direction. Rather, approach writing the song like a newspaper reporter writing a story. He has to get the overall picture, then find out the details, and he does this by asking lots and lots of questions. The answers to the first questions lead you to what other questions you need to ask until you have all the material you need. What parts do you want to echo, what parts do you want to contrast? Where do you need particular musical interest, like a leap, syncopation, unusual progression or modulation? Where do you need to leave space for extra words or syllables in other verses that will have the same tune? How should you tie two bits together? Do certain words suggest certain musical mimicry?

Serendipity and creativity come both in what questions you ask and how you answer them. Your creativity will also charge in full bore once you hit a level of detail small enough for you to handle, and it can be amazing how much flows from that. In the "research" process, you'll discover some musical lines and ideas you'll definitely want to try, and a bunch of other possibilities. Once you get into it, you weigh what seems to work and what doesn't.

When you get to a certain point where the song seems to have taken shape, then you begin editing and re-editing with a more critical ear. Does it really achieve the effect you were hoping for? Where is it too dull or too overdone, where are you not getting the punch or feeling you were after... (Again, more questions--our minds are generally better at problem-solving than at dreaming up out of the sky without direction.) If your inner critic gets too negative--"That's rubbish!"--make it explain why and offer a better alternative. In this way, you make your inner critic a creative collaborator. Editing is the kind of task at which it excels.

To avoid expecting too much from your early attempts, at the outset pose yourself the goal of writing five different tunes to the same text. Regard each attempt as completely disposable, since ultimately you'll only use one. (Whether you actually have to write five, or even more, to hit on one that really pleases you is a different story, but you must be willing to keep trying and not get too attached or critical in the formative stages of a tune.) From each you'll get ideas of what you like and don't like, of what works and what doesn't with this particular text. You'll be more willing to try an experiment that could lead nowhere. If you don't have the willingness and determination at the outset to write at least five tunes, then you'll probably end up with a hack song that no one should have to listen to. Spare us.

Capture musical ideas as they occur to you--don't rely on your memory later. If you can't write musical notation, use a tape recorder. (Yeah, you probably hate listening to your recorded voice, but there are worse things.)

Similarly, if you find certain questions particularly useful, jot them down, keep a list. You can refer to it later when you write other songs.

Now, I don't follow a rigid approach to tune writing, but I find that this is pretty much how I go about things internally. The one thing I don't do enough of is keep searching for other tunes even after I've found one I like. If I did, I'd probably end up with better tunes.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: M.Ted
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 03:34 AM

All of those are good points, AC, and, as you undoubtably know, each point is subject to debate, discussion, and further exposition--if it was that easy to write melodies, everyone would be doing it--


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Paul Davenport
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 03:39 AM

A really simple and time-tested device is called 'word painting'. Here the composer uses pitch to outline the meaning of the words. A brilliant example is used by Handel in 'Messiah' in which he rises up on 'every valley shall be exalted' and then dives down the scale in the line, 'every mountain and hill made low'.
I used this technique when setting the tune to 'Under the Leaves' and came up with a tune that works really well.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 07:26 AM

have a listen to Sailortown,words C fox Smith tune, Dick Miles.I like Paul Davenports approach.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 07:43 AM

In putting tunes to Ron Baxter's words I just pick up an instrument and start singing; sometimes there'll be something traditional (Ron always writes his verses with a traditional tune in mind - but he never tells you what it is!) but a lot of times it'll be something quite unexpected. Is there a formula? Sometimes I'll improvise a melody to a set words against a drone; the words determine the mode. Quite often I find myself with a tune-less ballad, but it doesn't stay tuneless for long...

Always have a recording machine handy though - I've lost a lot of good tunes to poor memory!

Use the force...


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Artful Codger
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 06:08 PM

M.Ted: It is that easy to write tunes, and everyone doesn't do it because, first, it seems too "formal" for a "creative" endeavor and, second, it requires a little discipline.

Remember that I was addressing the original focus of this thread: how to set a text, for someone who doesn't know how to go about it. If someone can just sit down and start dreaming up melodies, they don't need guidance on how to do it.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Paul Burke
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 07:18 PM

When I have invented (not written- I'm musically mostly illiterate) a tune around words, the process has been generally to start out from what it should sound like. Say, it's a Scottish song from Sir Walter's books. OK, a Scottish tune. None that fits, right, a Scottish sounding one. But then the words don't fit. Poem's aren't songs and vice-versa, so change the words a little bit so they fit. Keep evolving it till it flows like a song.

Example:

Wlater Scott had

O HEARD ye na o' the silly blind Harper,        
How long he lived in Lochmaben town?        
And how he wad gang to fair England,        
To steal King Henry's Wanton Brown?        


and between tune and words the song evolves as:

Have you heard of the harper blind,
How he came fronm Lochmaben town,
And how he went into fair England
To steal the Lord Warden's stallion brown?

Changes to make it flow and scan; to take out Scots formations if you don't speak it; to translate dialect words- keep people listening to the story, not wondering what you're talking about; and Henry doesn't pop up again, so use a character that does.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 10:59 PM

Oh goodness. I think the original words are way better, no offense, but they almost always are. mg


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Dec 10 - 06:31 PM

Help... I have to write a song for Christmas fun tomorrow using these words and my adult children have to perform... Any ideas.... THank THank Thank you for any help.
A tired Grandma

oven
fish
dog
keg
easter bunny
drunk
truck
jingle
snot


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Dec 10 - 07:35 PM

The easter bunny had a keg
The old drunk taught the dog to beg
Jingle bells are on the truck


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Smokey.
Date: 24 Dec 10 - 07:50 PM

A keg full of dogfish snot will never get you drunk, but a truck of easter bunnies makes you jingle.

There's your chorus, you just need a song now..


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Tootler
Date: 24 Dec 10 - 07:56 PM

I think both Artful Codger's and Helen's approaches have the risk of being formulaic, but I can see the value of them if you are trying to encourage someone who lacks confidence. It gives you structure. Both methods are equally valid. Some people seem to like to work from the particular to the general - use details to build up a picture - others like to start with the big picture and develop the detail from there.

My own approach is somewhere between Deckman's and Stewart's. I like to read the words over, get a feel for them and let the words suggest both rhythm and melody. I use a recorder to capture the melody and I keep a little manuscript book handy to write down tunes I come up with.

There is a lot of value in Deckman's "Relax. Get ALL the fog and chitter chatter out of your head." I sometimes sit down with a recorder and improvise freely. Maybe start with a known tune or a part of a tune, then see where the music takes me. Sometimes, something worthwhile will come out of it, in which case I will go back and try to repeat it (you never do exactly, but you can usually capture the essence of it). Once I have it fixed, I write it down. Even if nothing comes out one of these musical "free association" sessions, I find it helps develop a sense and feel for melody so that when you set out to write something, you can usually produce something. I have written a number of tunes that way, including tunes to fit words.

Another useful thing is not to discard fragments of melody that you find worthwhile but at the time, seem to go nowhere. They are often still worth recording. I use Noteworthy to enter them into the computer and store them in a sub folder called "Fragments". If I am writing a tune, I can take a look at the fragments and see if I can do something with any of them.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 27 Dec 10 - 08:44 AM

Why don't we start a new sort of Song Challenge, where the words are given and the entrants must produce tunes in ABC format? That may add some substance to this very interesting discussion.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,synbyn
Date: 28 Dec 10 - 08:08 AM

Please listen to Johnny Coppin's settings of the poems of Gloucestershire: Forest, Vale & High Blue Hill is the title from memory- but it may be close to that- he's one of the few setters who really listens and responds to the words of the poems...

many setters approach them from the singer/musician's angle and lose the power of lyric in their virtuosity- imho Johnny Coppin is beyond that, in that he tailors his craft to the needs of the lyric, adjusting his playing rather than forcing the stresses... have a listen and see what you think- his settings certainly move me to a greater appreciation of the poetry.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 28 Dec 10 - 02:07 PM

U just add a tune to the words.Doh!


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Charley Noble
Date: 28 Dec 10 - 09:30 PM

My approach is probably closer to Artful Dodger's than Helen's. Whether a setting sounds right to you or not does depend on your musical experience, your ability to interpret the mood of a tune.

I've heard, for example, competing settings for poems by C. Fox Smith and my first judgement has more to do with how well the tune mirrors the spirit of the poem. Then, for me, there's the question of the rhythm of the poem. Some C. Fox Smith poems do lend themselves to a dirge-like presentation but certainly not all of them! That lady had a strong sense of humor as well as an appreciation for the hardships the common sailor experienced. So sometimes a sprightly fast paced tune is appropriate. Sometimes the words suggest a change in pace or even of the tune itself rather than AABB or AABA (for the fiddle crowd). But sometimes the only tune that fits is "The Old Orange Flute" and one is stuck with that!

I do encourage recording whatever you come up with during the experimental stages. It's too easy to lose a useful tune or phrase of a tune.

I also encourage a marinating phase in which you work with the tune rather than deciding that just because you can sing the lyrics that it's the right setting. But after a while you should feel that whatever you are doing is in fact the right solution.

An additional test of your tune is to present the new song to your band to sing, and then see what happens to "your" song. Sometimes it's better and sometimes you think it's worse.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 29 Dec 10 - 07:45 AM

Would someone please suggest or write a short poem that does not have a known tune to it, so that each of us can demonstrate her/his method (post tunes here in ABC format)?


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Charley Noble
Date: 29 Dec 10 - 10:43 AM

Grishka-

A good example might be what I and others did with the "Yangste River Shanty" as composed by Hamish Maclaren who suggested that it was to be sung in the traditional "shanty style." Here's a link to the original words, the lyrics as I revised them, and a MP3 sample of how I originally sang it: Click and go to MP3 sample

Barry Finn reworked the song as a more traditional style shanty and it's since been recorded by him and Neil Downey on Fathom This!, by John Roberts on Ye Mariners All, Danny Spooner, and most recently by Two Black Sheep & a Stallion. I'll see if I can dig up some links to how they sing the song. Most of the renditions are closer to Barry's version than my own, and I now sing it closer to Barry's version myself.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Alaska Mike
Date: 29 Dec 10 - 11:31 AM

My friend Seamus Kennedy is not very tall,
In fact, he is really quite short.
If a man's average height were compared to a gallon,
Poor Seamus would be missing a quart.
But his playing is flawless, his voice is divine,
And his wit is as sharp as a tack.
And as soon as he's finished and gone on his way,
I know I'll be wishing him back.

OK, go for it.

Mike


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Charley Noble
Date: 29 Dec 10 - 01:13 PM

Mike-

On first reading I'm certainly channeling an Irish tune, most likely inspired by "Nell Flaherty's Drake" or whatever Andrew McKay used for composing "Jerry the One-Legged Rigger."

Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 29 Dec 10 - 03:04 PM

Charley, I see why that "shanty" is unsatisfactory: we cannot really imagine sailors working to it. But then, the words have a parodistic effect anyway.

Since it was my idea, I have to start with a tune to Mike's words. Please take into account that this is the very first "folksong" I ever wrote, and I'm afraid it turned out somewhat sentimental. Some Irish touch is of course required, without imitating the dedicatee. Nuff said, chords should be evident. I'm looking forward to your criticism and your own versions.

X:1
T:My Friend Seamus Kennedy
M:3/4
L:1/8
Q:1/4=160
K:D
F2|A2A3B|AFD2zD|E2D2E2|F4A2|A2F2E2|D2<C2D2|Ez4z|z4FG|A2F2A2|
B4FB|c2B2c2|dB3zB|^A2F2GB|^A2<F2C2|F4z2|z4FG|=A2F2B2|A2F2zA|
=c2B2^A2|B4B^c|d2B2d2|^dz3c^d|ez4z|z4^AB|=d2c2B2|=AF4D|B2A2G2|
F2z2D2|E4EF|G2F2E2|A6-|A2d4|d2z2AF|G2F2E2|D6|]
w:My friend Sea-mus Ken-ne-dy is not ve-ry tall, In fact, he is real-ly quite short. If a man's ave-rage height were com-pared to a gal-lon, Poor Sea-mus would be miss-ing a quart. But his play-ing is flaw-less, his voice is di-vine, And his wit is as sharp as a tack. And as soon as he's fin-ished and gone on his way, I know I'll be wish-ing him back, - I know I'll be wish-ing him back.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 29 Dec 10 - 03:24 PM

Pedant Alert!
The "writing of a folk song "as mentioned in the post above is in no way intended to imply that any folk songs have been, or have claimed to have been, or are in any way capable of being written bu any known person,or unknown person still extant.
Phew!
Can you guys try and remember that this thread can be viewed by people in the UK. please.
Excellent thread will keep coming back to read some more...


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 29 Dec 10 - 03:44 PM

It's easy to make up a tune. The hard part is notating the timing of it - the lengths of the various notes.

Here's how I do it.

I get familiar with the words.

I sing a song to the words.

I enter the notes I just sang into Noteworthy Composer, using my MIDI controller (piano-style keyboard which connects to my PC).

I tell the computer to play back what I just entered. If I didn't get the timing right, I try again until it's right.

I put chords to it, trying to make a song which can be accompanied by guitar without making it sound like a military piece which is all 1-3-5-8.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 30 Dec 10 - 05:50 AM

Joe or a clone has inserted line breaks into my ABC code, now the usual software no longer positions the lyrics correctly. Please, Joe or any user, replace those line breaks by ordinary spaces, except the one before "w:". You can then copy the code into the concertina conversion page to obtain black dots or a MIDI. Sorry for the mess, I'm a newbie at ABC as well.

Tim, how many quotation marks would satisfy your pedantism?

Leenia, we are looking forward to your example. Strange military piece you are describing anyway, is it for horses with a sore leg?


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Charley Noble
Date: 30 Dec 10 - 09:06 AM

Here's a link to Andrew McKay's home page where you can access the tune to "Jerry the One-Legged Rigger" (that I suggested above) via the MP3 Juke Box in the right corner of the screen: click and go to MP3 Juke Box

Sorry, I don't do dots and am otherwise musically illiterate.

I do find the process of tune channeling of interest.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Alaska Mike
Date: 30 Dec 10 - 11:16 AM

I like it Charley. I don't read or write music. All of my melodies are made up in my head. Usually I try different tempos, odd chord progressions, different keys (majors and minors) or anything else I can think of to try. Sometimes I will do the verses in a major key and then use a relative minor for the bridge or chorus. I work hard to make each of my melodies unique and interesting.

Mike


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 30 Dec 10 - 12:23 PM

Wow.I have never really considered "the" method of songwriting I use. Depending on the song,I believe there are several.

1) write the lyrics first. This might be the most unusual for me. When I write a poem, it is usually conceived and executed as a poem, and the rhythmic structure, rhyme sequences, and verse/chorus pattern is lacking.

2)write the melody first. This is more common. I sometimes noodle on the guitar and come up with a chord sequence that is intriguing. Then I come up with a chain of words that seem to fit the melody, for example "the dawn disturbs the darkness", and then extrapolate to write the rest of the tune and lyric.

3)Words and melody arrive as a piece. Riding my bicycle once, I found myself singing, over and over, "come down with me to the rendezvous/ you can sell your skins and kick off your shoes" to a specific tune. It was easy to then add the second couplet "plenty of grub, and plenty of booze /when we get to the rendezvous." The rhythm was and is obvious, and I put it in standard 1-4-5 chord structure. This became the chorus/refrain. The verse needed to be different, so I started each verse stanza on the 4, but kept the 1 and 5, and reverted to the same chorus melody to conclude each verse. The rest of the lyrics, the verses, had to be about a rendezvous (obviously), and so I did some online research and kicked up some place names and famous mountain men to give it an aroma of authenticity, and inserted these into the verses.

I don't know that anyone else writes songs this way, but using methods 2 and 3, I'll bet I could sit down and come up with a complete song in a half hour with only a moment's notice. Might not be a good song, but...


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Doug Saum
Date: 30 Dec 10 - 12:26 PM

No doubt there are many ways to do this task. In this day and age we could even program computers to do it. In considering this problem, I suggest that we remember that the root of the word "music" is "muse." In order to produce the inspired melody, one must be inspired. This is the method I've adopted to do this sort of work. (I've been setting W B Yeats to song since 1996 and have released six CD's of the material so far.) Now as to how one becomes inspired, I suspect each must discover a way suited to one's unique perspective.
Cheers to all who try it.
Doug Saum


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Artful Codger
Date: 30 Dec 10 - 06:21 PM

Chunking down or focusing on certain aspects makes it much easier to become "inspired" (which is really just intuition and serendipity taking over when an appropriate point of preparation is reached). As with creativity, if you wait for inspiration, you may wait a long time. But there are various techniques to prepare for and provoke inspiration, so that it occurs on demand. One shouldn't reject formal techniques because they don't appear to be artistic, because, if you examine your inner chatter during creative work, you'll probably find that you are applying some formal approaches, even if you don't recognize them or label them as such. It just rankles Artists to think that what they do can described; might be arrived at more easily by other, formal means, and by other, "less creative" people.

In my experience, the "spontaneous inspiration" approach so seldom pays off well, despite the frequency with which interesting song snippets occur to me. I've have much greater success with deliberate approaches, even if they didn't flatter my self-image as an Artist until I was able to step back and appreciate how satisfying and well-crafted the final results struck me (YMMV). So for those who aren't natural song writers, I heartily recommend dispensing with the ideas that a song just has to "come to you" and that using formal techniques is not "creative". Try them and you may be surprised what inspired work you can create, even when you're "uninspired".

A reminder (if the thread title isn't sufficient) that this thread is specifically about writing a melody to given words. We'd love to have your comments about writing melodies first, or writing both together, but please put them in another thread (there have already been several such) so this thread doesn't devolve into debates about which is better in general, and remains maximally helpful to those with the stated challenge.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 30 Dec 10 - 08:17 PM

There is perhaps a difference between a) writing a song to given words as in a student's songwriting exercise, and b) having a friend who is a good lyricist give you words for which he/she wishes a tune: I have done the latter on several occasions. We are not able to sit down together to work the tune out, and to a certain extent he gives me free rein, tho' I would usually read through the words and then ask him what was HIS concept of what style of song it was to be, before taking it away to work on it.
On the whole, he has been happy with what I have come up with, even to the extent of occasionally allowing my comments or suggestions for fitting the words to the tune via some minor amendments.
On one occasion only he really did not think the tune I had written was anything like what he had in mind for this song: but no tune is wasted - I just kept it and used it for something else, one of my own songs!


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 31 Dec 10 - 08:32 AM

Inspiration may send you some tune, but that will rarely be the tune without hard work, consciously or subconsciously.

If the poem has a fairly regular metric structure (as Alaska Mike's one above) and/or many verses, and a "folkloristic" style is desired, this will limit our creativity. In pop music, we like to have more characteristic, irregular rhythms, so that we can support the important catch-words by rhythmic and melodic "hooks". To assign the highest notes to the most important part is still a useful trick, as it was in earlier centuries (see "sharp as a tack" in my above example). Use it sparingly, of course.

BTW: is anyone here who would like to post a tune but can only produce MIDI files? In this case I can give some instructions on how to convert them to ABC. (Artful: if you know about a thread where this is explained already, please give us a link. TIA.)


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Subject: RE: MIDI to ABC conversion
From: Artful Codger
Date: 31 Dec 10 - 06:36 PM

Alert: Thread drift: MIDI to ABC conversion

Converting from ABC to MIDI is a snap: many ABC programs support this, and there are several online converters (notably at Concertina.net and folkinfo.org).

Converting from MIDI to ABC is more problematic. MIDI files represent music not with an analogue of musical notation but as a sequence of instructions to musical devices. Most converter programs have insufficient analytical abilities to properly detect key, time signature, pick-up notes or repeats. Note lengths are expressed in terms of real-time milliseconds, which inconsistently and inexactly map to lengths in standard notation, particularly when tempo varies or is "swung" (as for a hornpipe). Grace notes are treated as regular notes, and triplets, quadruplets, quintuplets etc. may not be recognized as such. So the resulting notation is usually shifted within bars (when the tune starts with a pickup) and contains bizarre note lengths, with a proliferation of ties between notes and across bars--next to unusable, and certainly not suitable for posting.

It may be better to feed the MIDI into some music editor which routinely deals with these issues (due to real-time input), clean up the representation, then export either directly to ABC or (if that option isn't available) to MusicXML, which some other utility might be able to convert to ABC. Sadly, MusicXML is not well standardized, and many musical features are unsupported or only partially supported in ABC, so even ABC programs which accept MusicXML imports may choke on well-formed output from a music editor.

Alternatively, you can just ask someone with a good ear and experience with ABC to transcribe your MIDI. Once one learns the basics, writing tunes in ABC is a walk in the park, so as long you don't require our indulgence too often, a number of us here (including myself) would be happy to handle the transcription--and even post the ABC and MIDI here, if you give us the URL to an appropriate thread; just PM us for an e-mail address to which you can send the MIDI. Note that if the work is copyrighted by someone other than you, don't be surprised if we refuse for legal or ethical reasons.

You can also bypass the ABC route and ask Joe Offer to post your MIDI directly. This may be less useful to other people, who may want to see the dots, transpose the tune or otherwise alter it, but it enjoys the virtue of simplicity. Be sure to furnish Joe a thread URL (or better yet, a message URL, gleanable from the message history links at the top of a thread page).


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 31 Dec 10 - 08:17 PM

Sorry but I'm an old-fashioned musician: i don't yet do midi or ABC (tho' I have used concertina.net to ABC to notation): I go straight to notation, tho' I have moved on from pencil and manuscript paper to the free version of Finale Notepad for a tidier result! Is there something to convert notation to ABC?


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Artful Codger
Date: 31 Dec 10 - 09:06 PM

Tattie: ABC is mostly just a straight-text way of representing standard notation--very simple to learn. So if you've got a score, either on manuscript paper or in Notepad, it should be straightforward to jot down the equivalent ABC notation. An ABC tool like Barfly, which allows you to view the ABC in standard notation as you write it, can help verify the transcription.

Finale Notepad (like Finale and PrintMusic) may support exporting as MusicXML, which might be importable to an ABC program; see my caveat above. Similarly, some music editors can reconstruct scores from scans of printed music, which can then be exported as MusicXML, etc.

FWIW, MusicXML is itself a purely text-based representation, but so verbose that it's not amenable for either posting or for simple creation by hand.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Artful Codger
Date: 31 Dec 10 - 09:07 PM

Grishka said: "If the poem has a fairly regular metric structure (as Alaska Mike's one above) and/or many verses, and a "folkloristic" style is desired, this will limit our creativity."

Overly regular meter is a challenge, particularly since older poetry tends to be relentlessly regular. But I look at the situation differently: it's a springboard for another set of questions that provoke your creativity. Amid the usual prescribed conventions, how does one introduce variety? The vast majority of traditional songs may sound rather drably uniform, but there is still a plethora of songs that are musically interesting despite having regularly metered texts. Examine them; what makes them stand apart, what grabs your interest? What techniques do they use to avoid dull regularity? You don't have as free a hand as with a modern song, but that may help you focus on more subtle techniques for creating interest. And nowadays, a little modern (in)fusion will hardly lift eyebrows.

The only thing that really limits your creativity is the belief that your options are limited.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Charley Noble
Date: 31 Dec 10 - 09:22 PM

The other generalization that one might make is whether the first tune is so common that it makes a boring presentation. Not everyone is thrilled to hear something set to the tune of "The Old Orange Flute/Sweet Betsey from Pike." So one might better step back and reconsider, or not.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Doug Chadwick
Date: 01 Jan 11 - 06:19 AM

Take the words – convert them to a rap.

No tune needed – problem solved.


Happy New Year
DC


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 01 Jan 11 - 06:37 AM

AC, I knew that you would never be a dodger, and I agree with most of your writing.

My idea is that we discuss snippets of melodies and possible alternatives. It seems that many songwriters use some MIDI software, but cannot post ABC yet. I was in the same situation a couple of months ago, and my ABC proficiency is quite rudimentary still.

This is how I do it:
  1. Enter the tune to your software, respecting the meter ("tap"); "quantize" if necessary.

  2. Tell your software to save ("export") your piece as a MIDI file

  3. If you have not done so yet, download and install the software ABCexplorer

  4. Start ABCexplorer, click menus New->NewFile and Import->Import MIDI file...

  5. Press F5 and correct any errors. Watch the black dots in the bottom window, use the "Play" button. Add space characters to avoid long non-breaking lines of note characters (the error I committed above, punished by the elves as deserved!)

  6. Press Ctrl-A and Ctrl-C to get the whole code into the clipboard

  7. Paste it into the Mudcat entrybox (Ctrl-V). Change any occurence of < to &lt; and > to &gt;.
Happy new year with new skills and lots of inspiration to all of you!

Grishka


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Rumncoke
Date: 01 Jan 11 - 10:16 AM

Sometimes I am just so glad that written music is a closed book to me.

Setting poems to known tunes was a sort of Victorian parlour game, and I think there is a word in Welsh for the doing of it.

If anyone has difficulty I would suggest finding a known tune that the words will go to, sing it a few times to that and then consider similar sized tunes that might fit - sing those through a few times - then next day look at the words again and with any luck a tune unique to them will have been worked on by your subconscious overnight - if you have a talent for it you might have been humming it over the bathroom sink.

Anne Croucher


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Doug Saum
Date: 01 Jan 11 - 12:48 PM

Dear Artful Codger and all,
You must be in possession of great learning to be so authoritative about inspiration and the motives of self-absorbed artists who insist on "spontaneous inspiration." The fact is that there are many ways to skin this cat, one being spontaneously. You may have heard Paul McCartney relate how the melody for "Yesterday" came to him in a dream?
As for staying on the thread (music to existing words/poetry), if the comment was addressed to me, you may wish to note that I was on the topic. I set the poems of W B Yeats (Nobel Laureate)to music. Nearly all of the poems I've done (about 250) have come through spontaneously, sometimes very rapidly (on three occassions 12 at a time in about 40 minutes each session). Now whether they are any good or not will be judged later by the listeners, but still I can not minimize the validity of spontaneous inspiration. Yes, I do agree that preparation is a key, but I know that the Muse is real. Evidence on CDbaby.
Cheers, Doug Saum


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: Artful Codger
Date: 01 Jan 11 - 06:18 PM

I agree, your comments on spontaneous inspiration are on-topic--and I never indicated they weren't; reread my comment.

As to my qualifications, not only do I speak from direct experience, but my advice agrees with that of professional coaches and creativity researchers--I've done my reading and test-driving. So, yes, I do consider my learning great, and my advice reflective of an informed concensus.

The fact is that the great majority of people (such as those who have to ask how) are not blessed with a spontaneously free-flowing font of musical ideas. To us, the most daunting, discouraging prospect is the silence, the blank page. To tell us "just wait for it, it'll come" is to offer useless and condescending advice--who passes up the right musical idea which occurs spontaneously? Our problem is that useful ideas largely don't occur without some form of provocation. For us, preparation and narrowing of focus are active, practical steps we can take to provoke "inspiration". It's a good way to open the floodgates to the level of flow we require, when we require. And it has been proven to work for most people who bother to apply it, not just for a lucky few.

Our brains excel in two things: pattern matching (analogous thinking) and targeted problem solving. Ideas come most readily when you can either liken your goal to something else or pose a question, the more specific, the better. That's really the core of the approach I've suggested. Basically: chunk down (narrow focus and reach a manageable level of granularity), consider similar things having the virtues you want, and ask guiding questions to give your problem a more well-defined form and provoke the creative responses you seek. Once you reach the right level or focus, ideas start to flow.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 01 Jan 11 - 06:58 PM

Doug, "inspiration" is another word for "I don't know how I did it" - ok for yourself, but worthless as an advice to others. Or are you perhaps suggesting that we should buy your CD to see the Muse at work?

Inspired composers are still left with the task of selecting the good inspirations from the mediocre ones. How many dreams did McCartney have that did not become vinyl, let alone world hits? Actually, the Beatles have told us many times that they laboured on their ideas, criticizing each other, discarding material and waiting for further inspiration, just like normal people, so-to-speak.

Perhaps I should emphasize that I do not claim any scientific knowledge about the topic, I am not reflective of any census and do not censure anyone, condescending or otherwise. I'm still looking forward to hands-on demonstrations.

Doug, fyi: Artful Codger 30 Dec 10 - 06:21 PM refers to Lonesome EJ 30 Dec 10 - 12:23 PM.


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Subject: RE: Writing a melody to given words
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 03 Jan 11 - 11:45 AM

Isn't anyone going to take the bait of my tune of 29 Dec 10 - 03:04 PM (to the lyrics of Alaska Mike 29 Dec 10 - 11:31 AM; please read my post of 30 Dec 10 - 05:50 AM as well)? Have Mudcatters suddenly become too shy to hit at others' exposed weaknesses? "Grishka, your melody is quite good for a start, but ..." is what I expect to read. Too regular? How would you further break up the scheme without harming the character of the lyrics? If you find the "poem" too banal, suggest another one. We should not strive for perfection, but illustrate our criterea.


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