Tommaso Zillio

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write melodies for singers

If you are primarily a guitar player (which I guess it's your situation, since you are subscribed this newsletter) how do you come up with music for instruments you don't play?

Before you dismiss this as "not your problem", consider:

  • If you are writing songs, and there is a singer in your band, you probably will have to write melodies for them... and guitar players are notoriously bad at writing cantabile melodies ("cantabile" is the fancy Italian musical term for melodies that "can be sung")

  • Your band is most likely composed of other instruments (unless you are in a guitar-only-sextet or other unlikkely ensemble)

  • Even if you are writing melodies just for your instrument, you may find that the melodies you write are awkward and don't "flow" well. Guess what? Today's video can help you even in that case.

See, the issue with all the above is due to a very simple fact:

You are thinking like a guitar player.

The guitar, with its strings and frets, makes certain things much easier than they would be with other instruments (voice included).

And after a while, we can become accustomed to the sound of melodies that work on the guitar, because that’s what we spend the most time playing.

So even when you start writing vocal melodies, you will probably still be thinking like a guitar player, and not like a singer. And that's fatal.

Now, far from me to tell you to become a singer - I can't even hold a pitch myself.

But learning to think like a singer? Or like a trumpet player? Or like a cello player? This is the key to learn how to write great melodies on your guitar.

So let me show you a view into the mind of a singer (a view that often even singers themselves are not aware of) and see how this makes you a better melodist:

Of course, if you want to be great at writing melodies, on the guitar, voice, or otherwise, it's incredibly important to understand scales and modes. If you want to learn more about scales and modes on the guitar, check out my Master of the Modes guitar course.

Video Transcription

Tommaso Zillio 0:01
Hello internet, so nice to see you! This is a video of our series band problems where we use music theory to solve the problems you may have in your band. And this is something that happens all the time. Let's say you are the songwriter for the band, and you don't play all the instruments in the bands.

Or sometimes you even want to add the more instruments because the specific song that you have totally needs a bitching, oboe solo or a clarinet part, or a euphonium bass line or something like that. So you don't play those instruments. How do you write music? For instruments you don't play?

These could be actually very, very simple because it could be very common because for instance, you may be a guitar player, or a keyboard player or an under playing an instrument in general, but you will may not be able to sing. How do you write music for a singer? If you cannot sing yourself?

And what if you can sing but as a singer as a different extension or different abilities? So how do you write music? For instruments? You don't play yourself? That's super important, because just imagine if somebody was writing music for you, a guitar player, and they are not a guitar player, just imagine what kind of mess they can make.

Okay? You don't want to make the same kind of mess when you play when you write music for other instruments. So what are you going to do? Well, a student asked me exactly that. How do we write music for instruments we don't play or for singers if we don't sing ourselves? And this is the answer I gave him.

Speaker 2 1:38
I can write chord progressions. I can write melodies. I can write lyrics, but combining them is hard for me, not on a music theory aspect, but from the expressive aspect.

Tommaso Zillio 1:55
What's happening?

Speaker 2 1:57
Yeah, the thing is, for example, if I write a melody with my guitar, which I want to use with lyrics over a chord, I, the first thing my mind does is an arpeggio, change the order at some neighbor or passing tones. And that usually works if I write guitar melodies, but I'm not a natural singer. And that is sometimes too complex. For the melody for the lyrics. Right. And it's okay that they hook up the problem.

Tommaso Zillio 2:34
Well, so it is a problem of theory out of fit those lyrics into the melody. Yeah, sense.

Speaker 2 2:44
I think I overcomplicate the melody. I have to make it simpler.

Tommaso Zillio 2:49
Okay, let the singer over complicate the melody. They're great. Okay, and write a simple melody. There's something to be said for synthesis in music. Okay, like being synthetic, just just put down the main notes. And if you really put that put some embellishment, just a few of them don't lovingly carve out every note with all the extra melodies if it's for a singer, let them do that.

For a number of reasons. First of all, you're not a natural singer, you say I mean, I don't like an unnatural sing natural singers exist, but you could do it on singing Okay, so you have no idea right now, what a singer can or cannot do reliably with a voice also because it's different from singers to singer by the way.

Second singer have to have fun do Okay, so you write the melody you write the lyrics, then you write also the embellishments. What is this thing here to do? Just put some air into a pipe? No. Okay, so you want let them some, give them some creative expression. This will be a good idea. Why are you writing the metal, they give them the lyrics and give them the backing track. Let them figure it out.

And then we'll come back and see what they were doing and then modify the melody and make it better as a possible solution. Some people start with the lyrics Some people start with the music. Okay. And it's very personal. It has Elton John always have Bernie Tobin by the lyrics first and then he writes the music. And you can see that he can hear that in the music isn't that he has to adapt the music to make the lyrics fit.

Okay. How do people start with the music? And they just sing something on top and then until and then they write the lyrics. But they just improvise the lyrics. The band the band REM. Okay. Michael slapping improvises practically all the lyrics, and then he forgets them and then he never writes them down in the first three albums. We have no idea what he's saying. He has no idea. Well, this. Apparently the lyrics have lost at this point.

Anyway, it's an exaggeration, but either way, you can have the melody and then fit the lyrics to the melody. Or you can have the lyrics and feed the melody the lyrics that works. Okay, try both processes and see what works best for you. Okay, again, simple, simple, simple, when you're cool. composing a song, when you're writing a song, you want to put down the music with the least possible specification that you can do. Sure, specify the instrument, specify the tempo, what notes they have to play, but don't try to specify every single nuance not right now. Get down as simple as possible. Okay?

And talk with your players, if it's the real people, okay? And see what they want to do with that, because they typically know their instruments better than you know their instrument. And they can do something you don't even think about. If you ever seen a jazz chart, for instance, they have the melody, I've written the chords, and then they've done everything else is up to you. So the men can do whatever you want with whatever they want. And it's fun, because then you can get to be part of the arrangement of the song, you can change the chord with substitution, etc. Decide if you want faster tempos, lower tempo, walking bass, or other staff, etc.

So you have lots of freedom and ease, dysfunction, demand and things like that. Right? For an orchestra, they want a bit more specification, quite a bit more specification, but they are totally happy to eat to tell you what they want to Okay. So at this point, you can start putting some indication that there's an accent on this note, or this kind of thing.

The problem we have is that many of us are not writing for a jazz band, they're not writing for a croc pen, they're not writing for an orchestra, we're writing for a computer. Right? Now the samples. And both are a great invention. But the samples are not players. And then you have to go in and specify every single nuance and it takes forever. Okay, that's annoying. And it's also damaging because you get into the habit of over specify every single thing.

Okay, I want you to have a dynamic of 78 over 128 middle level, okay, at this point, and you know, you should be 77. Violent, I'm very like, No, I just play with it like, okay, notation is just notation, not complete specification and why some composites in the past really wanted to have complete specification we found out once we got it, it is certainly not as good as a deal. Okay, and letting the instruments to something put the put their own actually works best. Okay, then you have to find an equilibrium here. That's the I mean, imagine you have to play on these will do enjoy playing something where every single phrase in nuance is already written down.

No, you will rather have a general skeleton melody. And maybe some indication for the first scale here, like put a vibrato here, put something here, put an accent here, and then you'll figure out the phrasing is life, the vibrato, this the exact the exact shape of the scale of this kind of thing to fit what you like, and your abilities.

So think about it this way. It's a partial specification of music adapts to one instrumental player, same goes for the sink, okay? You think this way, is going to be much easier. And then if later, you really want the super specification, you're like, No, I'm gonna be a music control freak. Okay. You can do that. If you find the right musicians, or you can program a computer to do exactly the thing you want, but first, get the song together. Okay, yeah. Great. Thanks. Fantastic. Thank you.

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