May 12

A great melody rarely pops into my head all by itself. For me, I’ve got to coax it out like trying to get my cat to take his medicine.

When I write, or when I’m faced with finding the right melody for a song written by a friend or someone I’m collaborating with, I doodle on the piano as I’m listening to the chords play over and over. Usually it’s just the verse chords at first, then something for the chorus.

Granted that’s fine if the song is a chord based song, but if it’s a riff based guitar song, or melodic piano number, well then I work it differently. I prefer trying to fine a simple vocal melody to support or complement the guitar riff or piano rather than using a richer or more complex melody.

It’s all about spotlighting. Something has to take center stage. If not, you can run the risk of everything sounding like an orchestra tuning up. Too much can be too much. Now, that’s not to say that one can’t find a rich vocal melody and overlay it onto the guitar or piano melody, but then it all becomes an issue of placement. Don’t upstage your own song.

Some people will tell you that a good rule of thumb is there are no rules, and everything works just try everything. As a matter of fact, I believe I stated that in an earlier blog post. Hmm, maybe it is me I’m talking about. Well, that shouldn’t surprise many of you, it’s always about me. ;-)

Too many things going on at the same time can be a 3 ring circus. I remember when I was a kid and went to one I was surprised that they had so many things going on at the same time. Even then I thought that maybe each act by itself wasn’t really all that good to begin with.

I wrote this line for a song once (ended up becoming one of those fragments):

You can never see so clear until your head’s above the water, only then can you distinguish the surface from the flood.

Maybe it wasn’t a good enough line for me to use in a song, but for me it always rang true.

Consider this: When you look at a drawing, it’s the space between the lines that makes you see the line. I learned a while ago when I started painting that it’s all about the underdrawing. It’s not always about what you draw, either. It’s also what you erase. Negative space is part of the overall composition.

A painter composes a painting so that the viewer’s eye follows a specific path. Take a look at this painting by the Dutch painter Vermeer called “Girl with a Pearl Earring”:

Girl with a Pearl Earring

In this painting, the viewer’s eye naturally falls on the girls face, particularly her eyes, circling around the face to her lips. Then the viewer is drawn to the headscarf, following down the drape of it to the coat and back up to the face (the resolve).As a matter of fact, I had an art teacher tell me that the Dutch Masters used to compete against one another to create paintings that would cause your eyes to circle round and round in the painting. The thought at the time was the longer a persons eyes would stay in the painting, the better the piece was, the more likely the person was to buy it.

What does this have to do with songwriting? The drawing is the song. The painting is the melody.

Become a mental painter.

In my opinion, it’s a good song that get’s stuck in your head and won’t leave (though there are terribly annoying songs that do that in a different way). That’s the same as having someone’s ears staying in the tune. The focal points are here, there and ev… um,…. all around it. :-)

Negative space in a song can be useful, allowing you to spotlight certain parts. It allows you to create focal points.

So, as it is written: go forth and multiply. Remember to create spaces, add your color, pick some focal points (lyrical or melodic) and you might find the song getting stuck in your head.