Lessons for Rufus: the value of a great counter-melody

October 7, 2006

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A new composition by Prof Berlioz!

My dear Rufus,

Thank you for the postcard from Berlin. I’m happy to hear that you are happy and healthy and musically productive.

I have something I would like you to become extremely sensitive to. I want you to start paying attention to counter-melodies. You already have a great gift for melody, the primary melody, but your counter-melodies can be stronger. You dabbled in it while improvising your multilayered vocal tapestry, but I want you to sit down with paper and pencil, AWAY FROM THE PIANO, listen to your song, hear the counter-melody and write it down. The counter-melody has the role of the listener. It rhythmically stays out of the way of the melody, but complements it.

I don’t think you need to compose Baroque fugues, but you should study them. As I’m sure you know, the primary melodic material for the composition is a “subject.” After the voice has stated the subject, it gets out of the way for the next voice to come in. What it then does is to state a counter-subject, the listening riff. Each has a character, each fits together like a hand in glove. When one voice holds the other moves and vice versa. Sometimes they move together.

Your music is melodically based. When your choruses come in, they do so in the tradition of popular musics of the past 50 years. Don’t leave the counter-melodies to your arrangers or orchestrators. Put more testosterone in your counter-melodies. Study Bach counter-subjects. Listen to Puccini love duets. Listen to opera, but make it a rule for one month: you can ONLY listen to the counter-melodies. Then listen to your favorite musicals and do the same. Become more opinionated about how you support your melodies.

Prof. Berlioz

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