Learn to improvise. 2004-2005. Lesson 14: melody building blocks.

Musically critical people sometimes sit at their instrument rejecting all their melodical creations, with the result they end up with no melody at all. That's a pity. Especially these musical people must not let discourage themselves to continue improvising and composing.

Melodies may be originated from channeling (just entering your mind without any explanation), but when this phenomenon stays away, it may be practical to analyze the process of creation. If you want a computer to create a melody, you must teach him to do the following things:
  1. Make at random a little melody (a)
  2. Make another little melody (b) at random
  3. Compare both melodies (a) and (b) according to a certain criterion
  4. Replace melody (a) by the best of the two
  5. Repeat point 2,3,4 a number of times
By this process the melody will meet the requirements of the criterion better with every repetition. The point, of course, is the criterion: what is beautiful? For a nowadays computer this problem cannot be solved.

But the hesitant improviser can! He only has too little experience to go through the points 2, 3, 4 fast enough. The most important gift, a good taste, he already has. The only problem now is to speed up his process of choice. Apart from lowering the level of his musical requirements, he may apply the following techniques.
  1. By experience a 'library' of prefabricated short melodies will be originated as building blocks for larger melodies, e.g. c d e. If you sing or hum this melody you may feel its musical value. Creating a melody by means of suchlike melody building blocks goes faster than with single notes. Click
  2. This melody may be repeated (that's easy and fast).
  3. Also a variation of that little melody may be used (this is faster than creating a new melody from scratch). This may be repeated also.
  4. A refinement may be ferret out and remembered. Click
  5. The building blocks may be longer than about three notes as also repetitions, variations and combinations may be used as building blocks. Click
  6. Certain melody notes have a special effect in modulations. These may be added to the library too. Click
  7. If the flow of the chords has already a meaning, the melody may be restricted to very few notes. Click
  8. The touch is a powerful means to let a simple melody be enough (provided the instrument is velocity sensitive and has a nice sound). Click
  9. You may learn complete songs by heart to have a start.
  10. The building block melodies may be thought in groups:
    1. riffs for blues and boogie-woogie Click
    2. parts of scales for Viennese waltz Click
    3. starts for festive music Click
    4. broken chords for musette Click
    5. rhythm effects for the tango Click
    6. romantic elements Click
    7. Antillean elements Click
    8. etc, etc.
Last but not least: don't ferret out till you have the quality of Chopin. If it is good, it is good enough. Otherwise you might keep on searching and never come to playing.
HOMEWORK: Don't make a problem out of making a melody. Just take some simple building blocks and repeat them in all kinds of variations. Be content with it! Sing along with it; it will seem better then.
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