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The melody is still important.


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I have often thought as someone whose transcribed music for my own uses over several decades now, and went on to write my own tunes, that we often overlook in mainstream music these days the use of the melody, and specifically the importance of the single melodic line; particularly solo line on its own.

There can be the habit of forgetting the beautiful simplicity of a tune, unadorned, in its Own right,

and when played with the space around it unimpeded by chords.

Not to say by that meaning harmonising is unpleasant in itself, but to sometimes let go of the bunches of notes, and contrast suddenly with pure unfettered single melody alone; it can also be quite effective in itself.

In folk tradition there's loads of pure tunes, of course, showing how universal and timeless the single line can work.  I wonder how everyone else thinks about this subject?

 

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I "live" in the single-note melody, so to speak.  I have sung a bit since childhood; the tunes that "live in my head" are primarily melodic lines, and my more recent concertina play has just expanded upon that.  I suspect Irish and "Old Time" American music pull me that way.  While I have always thought of my inability to "think" in chords or bass line accompaniment as a mild disability, I take heart when I read notes like yours.  I still plan to diverge some (left hand chords on Anglo and my Hayden duet are actually beginning to creep in) but am glad to be able to play what I can hum or whistle as a tune.  That's the main thing for me.

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Hello, David, just read your note in response to my topic of melody being important as well as chords...

I am glad you find the suggestions helpful for you, and "take heart" in my own idea on the subject. I have myself composed music on solo line when most others seem to overlook the technique.

I have also for many years transcribed literally hundreds of bits of music, and a great deal on melodic basis! Using books like those adapted for Recorder, surprisingly is very rich in its variety, and of which I have found in its general range suits concertina very well. Some of my early longstanding favourites being pieces by Jacob Van Eyck, called Der fluyten lust hof'.. are all primarily melody line only, and rewarding to play too ( not too difficult) and relaxing after trying out more complex stuff ( I think anyway).

I sometimes keep music books with accompanying parts to study and partly try out chords and the like, as you can see what works that way; however go by instinct is best; many theory books are good but can tend to give theory as if made more for piano keyboard alone, than for alternative instruments as concertinas).

Thirds( chords) are easy on Anglo by just pressing together two buttons, and beyond that find out from experiment which is best for you!

I have masses of melodic line music (90 % works well on my concertina)..and can always send you some to try out if you wish; just let me know). None of which is standard concertina fayre!

Keep playing and practicing; if you want more help let me know.

 

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On 1/13/2022 at 11:34 PM, SIMON GABRIELOW said:

I have often thought as someone whose transcribed music for my own ...

I wonder how everyone else thinks about this subject?

I only just saw this - I agree 101%. I would only change one phrase: "quite effective"

would become "astonishingly effective" in my version...

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I have long been bemused by threads on Mudcat that ask for the chords for a particular song (usually an actual song, though I am also bemused by modern use of the word "song" to refer to an instrumental item). For me, the melody is fundamental, and chords or harmonies can be chosen to suit, according to one's personal taste and ability. (And don't get me started on percussion.)

Edited by Richard Mellish
Corrected a typo.
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17 minutes ago, Richard Mellish said:

For me, the melody is fundamental, and chords or harmonies can be chosen to suit, according to one's personal taste and ability.

 

Somebody once joked that the difference between Northern Week at Ashokan and Western/Swing week at Ashokan is that at Western/Swing week everybody plays the same chords and different tunes, while at Northern Week, everybody plays the same tunes and different chords.

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On 1/13/2022 at 6:34 PM, SIMON GABRIELOW said:

...the importance of the single melodic line; particularly solo line on its own.

 

I would go on to say (as I have said before) that the most effective harmonies are made up not of piles of simultaneous notes that we call chords, but of  musical lines, melodies, that complement the tune and might (or might not) line up to form chords. A music theory professor I had in college said “If you have a good line you can get away with murder."

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2 hours ago, Richard Mellish said:

I have long been bemused my threads on Mudcat that ask for the chords for a particular song (usually an actual song, though I am also bemused by modern use of the word "song" to refer to an instrumental item). For me, the melody is fundamental, and chords or harmonies can be chosen to suit, according to one's personal taste and ability. (And don't get me started on percussion.)

Years ago my mother often told me the tale of her and her friends, when they had people visiting her parents, that they were left to their own devices, and used to form a sort of noisy percussive group in the kitchen, using pots and pans, and other items to form a sort of noisy ensemble!!

I can't help but ask, in a mischievous way really, what got you ( Richard), not wanting to get started on percussion?

( Maybe I shouldn't have asked)..

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Harmony is very important to me. Early on I changed from English to duet (Crane) so as to be able to harmonise more easily. I agree to a fair extent with David:

 

2 hours ago, David Barnert said:

... the most effective harmonies are made up not of piles of simultaneous notes that we call chords, but of  musical lines, melodies, that complement the tune and might (or might not) line up to form chords. ...

 

but I think he's too dismissive of chords. They don't have to be "piles of notes": just two on the left hand (along with a different one in the melody) creates a chord, and a single note on the left usually implies a chord.

 

I usually think in terms of chords as a starting point for accompaniment, often choosing first or second inversions for variety and to make the bass line interesting. But the melody often doesn't lend itself to this* at which point I'm likely to change to a counter-melody for a few notes.

 

*Most tunes, and especially the older ones, were written as pure melodies. They need to be good and interesting in their own right to survive. Some modern tunes, pop songs etc. seem to start from a chord progression then add a dull melody which fits the harmonic structure; and to that extent I agree with Simon:

 

On 1/13/2022 at 11:34 PM, SIMON GABRIELOW said:

... we often overlook in mainstream music these days the use of the melody ...

 

I appreciate a good melody played unadorned (I do it myself occasionally) but I also think a sensitive accompaniment can enhance a melody.

 

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You can half do good dischord too ( hopefully intentionally most of time) or by accident; but can be very effective to be daring and press notes which are exotic! And clash! Then you feel a lot better for it! Say  maybe G natural and at same time G sharp at once etc...  Very devilish to say the least! 

 

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Just an  additional  thought - I think also myself that we are lucky to play concertina instruments because think of the many advantages as say a solo instrument; compared to many mainstream and wonderful orchestral instruments, such a flute, oboe, clarinet, and so on.. all lovely instruments; however on their own they are always limited to single notes too!  Whereas concertinas can stride both sides of the divide, by making their own accompaniment, and chords if required, alone, and a sense of two instruments being played too; even a sort of mini orchestra in a box if you want! [if you really let go!]..

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When you get down to basics, music is built up of several elements: melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre. These are always present, but in different cultures each element has more or less emphasis than elsewhere. For instance, Wagner has a lot of harmony but hardly any rhythm, and his melodies are so-so (I say that as a singer!) In Scottish pipe-band music, on the other hand, we have a lot of melody, but harmony only in its most basic form, the drone; however, rhythm is important - the classic pipe band suite consists of March, Strathspey and Reel. The timbre of the modern orchestra is important for Wagner; the timbre of the snare drum and skirl of the chanter is important in pipe-band music.

 

We find an almost total dominance of melody in areas where, until fairly recently, instruments of any kind were unavailable, and all music - even dance music - was vocal and solo. I'm thinking of the remote areas of the West of Ireland and the Scottish Hebrides. The technique of "lilting" - singing meaningless syllables - was used in place of the more recent fiddle, flute or concertina. But in Ireland at least, the music has remained very melodic. Even when you have a fiddle AND a flute AND a concertina, they all just play the melody, and make no attempt at polyphony. The rhythm is built into the melodies, so there's no need for percussion. (The bodhran is a modern fad - started in the 1950s or early '60s - as are strummed guitars!) Harmony is nevertheless implied by the use of grace-notes, which the melodic instrumentalists have taken over from the singers and lilters. You cannot sing two notes at once, but you can hint at a harmony note by hitting it for a split second before you land on the melody note. (Much the way J.S. Bach gets 3-note chords on the violin,which can, by the geometry of the instrument, only play two notes at once.)

 

I'm a melody-first person, which I suppose is natural for a singer. I do, however, play several chord-capable instruments: concertina, banjo, Autoharp, Waldzither and guitar. But I seldom ask for the chords to a tune, unless I'm going to play it with other chording players, and we want to keep it uniform. For myself, I try to render the tune on the instrument, and use the chords that lie below the melody notes. There are often a couple of possibilities, so there's room for creativity. I seldom find the chords printed in songbooks completely satisfactory, anyway.

One way or another, it is possible to play partial chords instead of "piles of notes", and to keep a chordal accompaniment rhythmically neutral and follow the soloist's tempo-changes. I find that strumming and frailing are very American elements - possibly encouraged by contact with Africans, whose music is predominantly rhythmic. Fine music, but a whole different culture to mine!

 

Long live diversity - to each his own!

 

Cheers,

John

 

 

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Only tangentially related, but I am just reminded of that amazing Hebridean church singing whereby everyone sings their own version of the tune at the same time as everyone else and produces the most amazing heterophony!!  (Incidentally that is one tool available to players of medieval music too) 

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