Audio: melodisation (0:16)

Figure: melodisation

melodisation plays a melodised harmony in the key of C with a jazz combo consisting of trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax and trombone. The melodisation figure shows:

  • Lead sheet format:
    • The trumpet plays the melody.
    • The trombone, tenor and alto sax respectively play the root, third and fifth of the chord.
  • A four chord progression, I-V-vi-IV, C-G-Am-F, repeated four times.
  • Bars 1-4: a parallel melody based on the root of each chord:
    • This is a very common method of melodisation.
    • It is especially good for creating a bass part.
  • Bars 5-8: a drone melody on the tonic.
  • Bars 9-12: a suspended counterpoint in contrary motion to the root.
  • Bars 13-16: chordal harmony:
    • Bar 13: step motion between two chord notes.
    • Bar 14: an arpeggiated chord.
    • Bar 15: syncopated rhythm between two chord notes.
    • Bar 16: a tied note common to two chords.

Melodisation is the process of extracting a melody from a harmony.

Melodisation is an invented word but the meaning is hopefully obvious, it is the opposite of harmonisation. You can harmonise a melody, so you should be able to do the opposite, melodise a harmony.

melodisation reverse engineers the approaches to harmony covered in the guide. Bars 1-4 reverse parallel harmony, bars 5-8 reverse drone harmony, bars 9-12 reverse counterpoint, and bars 13-16 reverse chordal harmonisation and use an arpeggio.

The principles of melodisation are the same as harmonisation: keep it simple and let the melody follow the chords. One significant difference is the treatment of rhythm. A single melody note can overlap two or more chords in a fast rhythm, whereas, in a slow rhythm with widely spaced chords, there is an awful lot of discretion in the melody, so much so, that this is probably the reason melodisation is far less well documented than harmonisation. There are so many possible melodies that you will have to exercise judgement of some sort, even a driven soul will not have the time to sort through all the options

A lead sheet is a type of notation used in harmony. The single staff contains the melody. A chord progression is written above the staff using chord names or below the staff using chord numbers. Lyrics are optionally written below the staff. The aims of a lead sheet are to specify a melody and to outline a harmony whose voicing can be worked out later.

Lead sheet format is an excellent tool for writing harmony. It can be used to harmonise a melody and to melodise a harmony or both together. The beauty is its simplicity and flexibility. Its technical name belies the fact that it is just a melody plus a chord progression, both of which could be written on the back of an envelope.