As any beginning musican knows, the 7th degree of the major scale has
an extrememly strong tendency to resolve to the tonic note a half-step
In fact, all
melody notes have some kind of tendency. And often a note will have
more than one tendency.
A melody note having more
than one tendency can be resolved many different ways. What makes one
choice better than another?
Having played a short introductory
series of notes at the beginning of an improvised phrase will surely
bring you to a note that has many resolution options. Which one do you
Your choices are based (in part) on either implicity or explicity understanding
the following guidelines:
1. Newton's first
law of melodic motion: "An ascending line tends to continue to ascend"
2. Newton's 2nd law
of melodic motion: "A descending line tends to continue to descend"
3. On a strong beat
the melody note tends to be a tone inside the current underlying chord.
4. The Surrounding
Note Figure (aka "Enclosure" or "Encirclement"): If your melody line skips or jumps (any non-stepwise
motion) there is a strong tendency to play the note in between the last
two notes played immediately previous.
5. Cultural Factors:
You are most likely to emulate the styles of music, phrasing and melodic
features that you are most familiar with. A chinese musician will approach
the subject of melody from a completely different viewpoint than, say,
an Arabic or East Indian musician. For example, the more Jazz you listen
to, the more likely your lines are going to sound like Jazz.
* * * * *
or not you are consciously aware of the abovementioned factors,
or improvising a melody is much like a game of chess.
snippet brings you to a point where you have to make a melodic decision.
several choices facing you and any choice you make immediately offers
several more choices until the phrase reaches its natural resolution.
copyright 2005 Jeff Brent