Saturday, December 27, 2014

Acoustic Guitar Journal #7: Melody Matters

I've been making slow but steady progress with my voice to the point that the overall improvement is now pretty clear. In fact, it got to where I wasn't totally afraid of playing one of the cammed videos I use to hear what I sound like for my husband. I had to know if I was crazy or if I was really getting better. (Luckily, he is not someone to coddle me). I played one for him, and he agreed that it was okay (something no one has ever said about my singing!). It's not good singing, but the effort and practice is paying off. That's all I need to know to be really happy.

As I'm making this progress, I'm running into several things I have to think about while singing: how I breath, where I project from and to, and restraining myself so I don't over-sing. It's slow going for me to get all this right. However, it's worth it for more reasons that just learning voice. Learning to sing is teaching me about how to effectively write songs. For example, just the other day I had a living case study about why it's important to actively compose the melody line and not wing it by relying on what 'sounds good' with the music. By 'melody' I mean the notes being sung (I may not be using correct terminology).

I had been totally winging my melody lines, not knowing what notes were being sung. I learned what a mistake this is the other morning when I had the house to myself (and was therefore free to practice singing). All morning, I was consistently missing specific notes in the song I was working on. It wasn't a range issue, because the notes were sandwiched in the middle range of the song. Over and over I missed the same two notes, and I could not figure out why. As I played around finding the specific notes on the guitar so I could pitch my voice to them and solve the problem, I realized that neither of the two notes I was missing were part of the chords I was playing while they were to be sung. In fact, each was a half step off from the closest note in the chord. The problem was that I had no guide for my voice and - worse - the chord was guiding me away from the correct note!

The solution, fortunately, was simple. I adjusted the chords to match the melody line. Then I went through the melody of the whole song to make sure it was aligned with the music. I performed the song again was like a switch had been thrown. I could easily sync up to the vibrations in the body of the guitar and hit my notes. Even better, not falling out of tune made it easier to get through the entire song smoothly.

After the initial burst of triumph, I felt kind of dumb for not figuring this out sooner. I mean, wow, yeah, how surprising is it that the music should match the melody line? Who would've thought? It seems so obvious now, but then part of the fun in learning is figuring things out.

Another plus is that by adapting the chords to fit the melody line, I ended up shifting towards less commonly used chords. This added some interesting color to the song and perhaps made it sound a bit more distinctive. I'm sure this is going to help me write better music in the future, as my composition of melody is a bit more intuitive and less constrained by ideas of chords and structure. If I sing it and it works, then it's the melody. By letting the melody more directly influence the music, I should end up with far more interesting songs. 

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