Composing a Melodic Skeleton that Unifies Harmony and Melody - Online Music Composition Lessons

One of the challenges of composing music is to create a coherent and expressive melodic line that fits well with the underlying harmonic structure. A melodic skeleton is a simplified melody that outlines the main notes and intervals defining the harmonic progression. It can help composers to create melodies that are consistent, logical and memorable.

A melodic skeleton can be derived from the chord tones, the notes that belong to each chord in the harmony. 

For example, if the harmony is C major, G major, A minor and F major, the chord tones are C, E and G for C major; G, B and D for G major; A, C and E for A minor; and F, A and C for F major. These notes form the basic framework of the melody and can be used as starting or ending points for each phrase.

However, a melodic skeleton can also include non-chord tones, which are notes that do not belong to the current chord but add variety and interest to the melody. Non-chord tones can be classified into different types according to their function and relation to the chord tones. Some common types of non-chord tones are:

- Passing tone: a note that moves by step between two chord tones. For example, in C major, D is a passing tone between C and E.

- Neighbor tone: a note that moves by step away from and back to a chord tone. For example, in C major, D is a neighbor tone to C.

- Suspension: a note that is held over from the previous chord and then resolves down by step to a chord tone. For example, in C major, G is a suspension over F major that resolves to F.

- Anticipation: a note that moves by step to a chord tone before the chord changes. For example, in C major, E is an anticipation of F major.

- Appoggiatura (Incomplete Neighbor): a note that leaps to a non-chord tone and then resolves by step to a chord tone. For example, in C major, B is an appoggiatura to G major that resolves to G. The opposite of this is called an escape tone since the chord tone is approached by step and left by leap. Many theorists now group these two kinds of non-chord tones into an embellishment known as an incomplete neighbor. 

By using non-chord tones strategically, composers can create more exciting and expressive melodies that contrast with or embellish the harmonic structure. However, non-chord tones should be used sparingly and not randomly, as they can create confusion or dissonance if not resolved properly. Don't simply include a non-chord tone for the sake of dissonance.

A melodic skeleton can be written as a series of notes on a staff or as a series of numbers indicating the scale degrees of each note. For example, in C major, the scale degrees are 1 for C, 2 for D, 3 for E, etc. A melodic skeleton can also be sung or played on an instrument to test its effectiveness and musicality.

A melodic skeleton is not a final product but a tool for composing music. It can be modified, expanded, or refined to create a more complete and satisfying melody. A melodic skeleton can also be used to create variations or develop motifs throughout a musical work.

Creating a melodic skeleton is one of the techniques that composers can use to unify the harmony and melody in a musical work. It can help composers to create melodies that are coherent, logical and memorable. For more information, watch this tutorial on how to create a melodic skeleton. 


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