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Topic: Melody is King.

  1. #1

    Melody is King.

    I've taken some good natured ribbing, and received some amusing messages about my principle that melody is King, so i thought i'd expand on this, and invite some discussion.

    I've heard it said that film is not a symphony. I've also heard that film music today can often be cues between pop songs, and in notable recent output from the system that may well be true.
    In my studies here in Russia, i've seen many films (and to be fair, not all of the early stuff is glorification of the soviet system) and much of the music is thematic and redolent with that of which i speak, melody. Often, popular folk tunes make appearances in one orchestral guise or another, almost inviting the audience to sing along and enjoy a heightened degree of participation. Many of the composers made the transition from concert to film, and shostakovich himself wrote music for 41 films.

    And colleagues here and elsewhere have impressed on me the importance of understanding the structure of film music is different, more a collection of pieces to strengthen the emotive sense of a scene, give the action more oomph, and paint an aural landscape that encompasses the beauty of a wideshot, than a structured 'symphonic' layout with beginning, middle and end.
    But even so, i wonder if the absence of a definable melody in film is lessening the experience. And the inclusion of a set of pop songs, each with it's own thing to say, for me, muddies the waters further, as audiences don't have one melody to associate with the images they see. I think of films that have a melody or defineable theme, and i'm transported back in time, as recent output seems to have moved away from the musically important principle (IMO), melody is king. Good examples for me are Psycho, with it's repetitive, sinister strings to a more modern day Star Wars, or ET.
    We remember the melodies because they are so strong in relation to the images. And importantly, if we, as musically aware listeners get the theme, then the ordinary man in the street is more likely to hear a tune they can whistle, hum, or sing, recalling the images in their heads, and reliving the film or parts of it, all over again.
    And the strength of a good melody is clarified in concert music too. Some composers have concentrated on melody, structuring the orchestration to vary, modify, and mould, and yet retain the theme in an understandable way. Others have explored harmonic variation in new and interesting ways, with melody not so obviously discernable. We listen as musicians, admiring or admonishing as our creative ears tell us, and to be fair, much of what was written at the beginning and middle of the 20th century goes past the understanding of those ordinary folk who don't listen as we do.

    But, for me, good melody with images gives an important aftertaste to a cinematic experience. It provides the watcher/listener with a continuation of the experience whenever they choose. It's my opinion that modern film suffers from the lack of definable, unique melodic intention, and the stock impression of block harmony, and yes, those drums, is actually detracting from the process. Rather than the watcher/listener getting a lasting experience, they lose the impression quickly, and don't retain the experience to the same level. Now i say this not to start a battle about the worth of film music vs Concert because that's a time worn arguement that has merit and lack of merit on both sides.

    But i do wonder if the film industry is missing a trick at the moment by not paying more attention to input of a different kind from composers, who may have that defineable after-experience melody just waiting to get played, and provide the punter with lasting memories.
    Naturally, i will use this to strengthen my point that melody is king. And the orchestration that goes with that melody should reflect an individualilty that complements the melody, not an imitation of that which has gone before, somehow manhandled into a place, as an uneasy compromise between harmonic confusion, and less than brave producers.

    Yes, for me, a good melody is the key to a lasting impression, and practically, a great sales tool for modern film. Trailers are a separate entity, or so the studios would have us believe, but the single biggest thing that trailers in general lack is a definable theme or melody. Melody, more than anything, has the power to get people interested, and as they find themselves whistling that tune or hearing it in their head over and over, they are far more strongly compelled to live the experience. Had i seen the trailer for ET that included the music for the flying theme, i would have been far more likely to pay my money and see the rest of the film.
    Perhaps the money men of today have forgotten this as they command composers to ride a particular 'style' to it's death in the dust of boredom through repetition, because i'm sure there are writers for film out there with great melodies already written, that aspire to include those themes in a fresh cinematic experience.........
    In concert music, we are spoiled for melody, as the masters from the past had among their principles that which is the most important of all, and never forgot it.

    Melody IS King.



  2. #2

    Re: Melody is King.

    I think I agree with you

    I would add that most trailers for big Holywood films seem to be very percussive or rythym driven, and lack melody or theme (maybe becuase the main composer hasn't written them yet). Which is fine, since I feel that percussive music, or big hits stuff, for trailers has a big immediate emotional impact and that is waht is required in a 30 second trailer ... but the emotional impact doesn't last very long... or easily remembered... at least for me.

    I find soundtracks without themes or melody quite boring ... there's an anology with the content of the film ... all action and no character development is quite a shallow experience.

    For me, melody has a longer term, and ultimately deeper emotional impact.
    VSL Symphonic Cube, PLAY Gold, Project SAM, Altiverb, US2400, Cubase 4

  3. #3
    Senior Member Steve_Karl's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Pittsburgh, PA 15206 USA

    Re: Melody is King.

    I do ... ~personally~ ... agree about melody, however I don't believe that our experience and prefference for music is going to be the same as others.

    I'd not at all be surprised if there is someone on the planet that would have been delighted if the LOTR trilogy would have used all pop music.
    For that person ... it is their personal prefference and in their mind they are right ... just as in our minds we are.

    I can't assume that my way is going to work for anyone other than myself.


  4. #4

    Re: Melody is King.

    But dress it in the right harmony and melody is a king with stylin' clothes.
    Steve Hanlon, guitarist/composer
    Logic 7, PowerMac DP 2.0 (8- RAM slot model), 4GB RAM, OS 10.4.11
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    Lots of V.I. and sound effects
    Apogee Rosetta 200
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  5. #5

    Re: Melody is King.

    Melody is king in certain types of music, not others. Certainly in African music, rhythm is king. In post-serial music sound is king. In punk music, attitude is king. In trance music a drug induced stupor is king. (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

    Blanket aesthetics are inapplicable to such a diverse art form as music.
    Composer, Logic Certified Trainer, Level 2,
    author of "Going Pro with Logic Pro 9."


  6. #6

    Re: Melody is King.

    Melody wins in some motion pictures situations in terms of ordinary audience. With the help of impressive and simple melody, a certain scene, plots, events, character introductions, and most importantly, the main title/theme can more easily be made memorable. In these situations, melody does do the trick. Audience trends to be more able to reproduce the passage of a score if it is simple and memorable. It could provoke the association of visual elements so as to (1) do what the motion picture producers want, "remember" the film even afterwards; (2) commnuicate the film idea with others. Two audience could have the same visual association when one hums the melody.

    However, although it is quite difficult to make a melody really memorable, repetition on melody could help. (such as Main title of a film) There is no right or wrong on it is a king or not, but different musical elements function differently in terms of motion images itself, or in terms of audience, (and someone uses musician aspect) it is just a point of view that you take to judge the "assumption".

  7. #7

    Re: Melody is King.


    More than a thousand years ago, the Chinese wrote down the rules for their best music---that which was to be played at the royal court:

    * Primacy is given to the song
    * Within the song, primacy is given to melody
    * During live performance, the soloist is expected to improvise.

    Sound familiar?

    PS, Ashermusic, Africans also have a folk music which is played on a small stringed instrument. That music is very definitely melodic.

  8. #8

    Re: Melody is King.

    Ashermusic makes a great point. The "king" depends on the style.

    To take this a step further, the real king is the "hook". Typically it's melody, but it could also be a unique, compelling rhythm, lyric or sound. An example would be Don Davis' use of breathing brass clusters in the Matrix. It's not melody, per se, but it made a big impression and was memorable. I can't hum it, but I can play it back in my head.

    That said, the two things that satisfy me the most when composing to picture are 1) finding a melody that works, rather than just a sound, and 2) getting the piece to breathe in dynamics, timbre and tempo to highlight the emotional arc of the scene.

    I've seen films where the melody was too defined for the scene, and I've composed generic sounds to fill the gaps when I couldn't find anything better for the picture. In both cases it's possible that a defined melody is the best solution, it's just that the composer doesn't always find it.


  9. #9

    Re: Melody is King.

    Alex, I couldn't agree more, and you articulate your opinion very well. As others have stated, there are exceptions; sometimes quiet dialogue or a suspenseful scene will dictate a non-melodic bed or percussive approach, but by and large, strong melodies are what people carry home with them, and they certainly aren't as prevalent in films as they used to be.

    Our local newspaper recently ran an article about the absence of melody in current TV theme songs. All of the classic shows of the 60's and 70's had strong melodies that you couldn't get out of your head, and they have become part of our culture. But as great a piece of music as it is, I can't imagine anyone humming the "ER" theme ten years from now-

  10. #10
    Senior Member
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    Dec 2003
    Budleigh Salterton

    Re: Melody is King.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hoff
    All of the classic shows of the 60's and 70's had strong melodies that you couldn't get out of your head, and they have become part of our culture.
    That's right. Melody plus rhythmn equals strong brand indentification - like say The Man from Uncle or The Avengers or Sooty & Sweep.

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