Songwriting Tips for Pianists (Part 2)

 


Guest post by Doug Hanvey of Creative Keyboardist Adult Piano Course.


In this second article of this two-part series, author, composer, and teacher Doug Hanvey expands on the advice he offered in last week's post. Thank you, Doug for sharing your songwriting tips in these two articles!

 

In Part 1 of this series, you finished composing the melody for the folk song By and By. Here's an example of a melody I wrote using the same rules:





Notice the following:


  • The first four measures move entirely by skip (interval of a third or more), apparently violating the guideline that the melody should move more by step in order to be singable. However, every note in these measures is a chord tone, making it easy enough to sing.
  • The first four pitches (E-G-E-C) of the melody constitute a motive. A motive can be defined as the smallest unit of musical form that possesses a unique and distinctive identity by virtue of its intervallic patterns and/or rhythm. Motives are useful because by definition they are repeated (in some form) many times, providing unity, one of the most important aspects of an effective musical composition. 
  • In measures 3-4 the motive is transposed down a third, with a slight alteration. Repeating the rhythm of a motive while largely maintaining its intervallic contour also establishes unity.
  • Measures 1-4 trend downward. Measures 5-8 initially trend upward, offering contrast, which helps to maintain interest.
  • The first note of measure 7 breaks the rule that a chord tone should be used when the chord changes. This note (D) is an approach tone. Yet it works because it quickly resolves to C, a chord tone of the F chord.
  • Measures 9-14 are exactly the same as measures 1-6. Measures 15-16 are slightly different than measures 7-8 to match the given rhythm and authentic cadence. 
  • The melody ends on C, providing the satisfying sense of "coming home" to the tonic.
  • The melody's range falls within an octave (G3 to G4), which is singable for nearly any amateur (though some singers might need it to be transposed).


Ready for another challenge? Here's By and By with a slightly different chord progression. Use the same rules as before to write a new melody. After doing so, check out this example:





Notice the following about this second example:


  • Like the first example, the first four measures move entirely by skip (interval of a third or more). But again, every note is a chord tone, making it easy enough to sing.
  • Also like the first example, in measures 3-4 the motive is transposed down a third, with a slight alteration. 
  • Again, measures 1-4 trend downward, while measures 5-8 initially trend upward, providing contrast. In addition, measures 5-8 move mostly by step, providing another source of contrast to measures 1-4.
  • The melody again ends on C, providing the satisfying sense of "coming home."


Doug Hanvey specializes in online piano lessons for creative adults.  He started playing piano at age 6 and eventually studied classical piano and music composition at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington, later working as an accompanist at the School. In Los Angeles, Doug studied contemporary (jazz/blues) styles with keyboard guru John Novello. In addition to his musical training, Doug holds a master’s degree in adult education. He is the author of the Creative Keyboardist Adult Piano Course and composer of hundreds of piano pieces and songs and the score of a full-length musical. He is a member of the Oregon Music Teachers Association. He is the originator of the Creative Keyboardist Adult Piano Course.

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