From Rhythm to Melody

How can we go from Rhythm to Melody?

If you are wanting your students to explore melody writing then starting with a rhythm and then building on this can be a really good approach. We want our students to be creative, exploring sounds and ideas. But we also need to help guide them in their musical journey. Coming up with a melody from scratch can be tough, but going from rhythm to melody is a nice way to scaffold this task.

In this Sound Advice for Soundtrap blog I will be looking at how we can guide our students from rhythm to melody.

Creating a Rhythm

Creating a rhythm is a fairly simple process and you can follow the steps in my blog on creating your first beat. However we need to think about creating a rhythm with a melody in mind. What are some of the rhythm characteristics of a melody and how do composers use rhythm.

There is one famous example of this that I am sure will spring to your mind – Beethoven 5!

Beethoven Symphony No. 5 (arranged on piano)

I really like this video because the visuals link nicely with Soundtrap and the idea of MIDI. It is also a great example of how a rhythm can be used throughout a piece of music – and this rhythm is far from complex.

But, as students will hopefully notice, it repeats, over and over again. It is the DNA of the piece. It might be good to ask students to write this rhythm out, clap it back or sing along. We want them to really embrace this idea that a rhythm can be a starting point for a piece of music.

They of course don’t have to come up with a rhythm on Soundtrap, they could start with drums and then move to Soundtrap. The key thing is that they rhythm needs to have some key characteristic.

Key Characteristics

When creating their rhythm, students should consider the DNA of their rhythm – the thing that makes it unique and that binds it together. This could be:

  • Triplet/Duplet
  • Dotted rhythm
  • Off-beat feature
  • 4 Semi-quavers
  • Dotted crotchet/quaver pattern.

We basically need to ensure that the rhythm has a unique feature. You could provide students with some starting points that they can then use in their rhythm.

Adding a rhythm in Soundtrap

Once a rhythm is created, this needs to be put in to Soundtrap. This can be done in a number of ways. Firstly you could write the rhythm in a score editor and then export it into Soundtrap. It is easy to import a MIDI file into Soundtrap and you are given the option to import when you create a new track:

Another option is to input the rhythm directly using the Patterns Beatmaker. The only thing to keep in mind with the beatmaker option is that students will need to think about off-beats and rests and avoid creating a random rhythm

Having said that, for some students, adding a relatively random rhythm in Patterns Beatmaker might be a good place to start. Once they have something you can chat to them about whether or not they think it will work as a melody. It is all about the conversations and students listening to their ideas before taking them forward.

My main tip is to just use one single drum in the Patterns Beatmaker. This will mean that the rhythm, when converted to pitch, will all be on one note. This can be helpful for students, see below where I expand on this.

Moving a rhythm to a melody

Once you have a rhythm in Soundtrap you can simply drag and drop this on to a “melody” instrument. I am thinking of something like a trumpet, clarinet or violin. It doesn’t matter really, the rhythm will convert to that instrument and the MIDI sound will change. But of course it is only a rhythm, and so the notes will need to be changed.

A two bar rhythm on one drum

Rhythm to Pitch

Here is the rhythm above, but it has now been dragged on to a clarinet. Notice that I have kept a “copy” of the rhythm on the drum track so that I can use it later.

The clarinet now has a rhythm, but this needs to be turned into a melody

You can now start to convert the rhythm to a melody. This can be done fairly “randomly” by dragging the MIDI to different notes. The crucial thing is for students to listen to their creation to see if they think it is working as a melody. Here you can see the Piano Roll and I have simply dragged the rhythm to form an ascending and descending C-Major Scale. You will need to do a bit of work with your students to show them how the Piano Roll works – but I hope that it is all fairly self explanatory for you! Here is a short video that might help you with this

Using a Major scale pattern as a starting point for a melody might be a good idea, or you can focus on a Pentatonic. We do want our students to think in a musical way, but we can scaffold this work for them. Giving them some parameters might help to get them going. We also want them to listen back to their melody and make decision about what is working.

From Rhythm to Melody

In this blog I have shown you how to go from rhythm to melody. Staring with a rhythm will help students to get things started and will also mean that they have a framework on which to add pitch. This starting point might be good for students who tend to have fairly random melodies or melodies that only use one note value. The next stage is to think about rhythm repetition and using their rhythm throughout the piece. It is a good idea to get them creating a couple of different melodic patterns using the same rhythm

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