Speeding Up A Melody, As Done By Gwen Stefani
By Anthony Ceseri - 12/06/2012 - 08:24 PM EST
Occasionally, it's appropriate for your melody and lyrics to sound sped up within your song. Maybe you want more contrast in your song, or maybe your lyrics deal with the idea of speed, or quickness and you want to incorporate prosody into your work, so your music will match what your lyrics are saying. Whichever the case, what we'll talk about here will be an easy way to have your melody sound faster, without having to alter your tempo.
The main thing you need to be aware of when implementing what Iím about to show you is that some beats in a measure are stronger than others. For example in 4/4 time, the first and third beats of a measure come off as the strongest and second strongest, respectively, and tend to stand out as the strong beats of the measure. The rest of the beats tend to act as unstressed beats.
So what does this have to do with speeding up your melody? Itís simple. The more words or syllables you cram in between the stressed beats of a measure, the faster your melody will sound.
Thereís a great example of this that happens in the song ďThe Sweet EscapeĒ by Gwen Stefani. The song opens with these two lines:
If I could escape, I would but first of all, let me say
I must apologize for acting stank & treating you this way
Letís study how these lyrics fit into the beats of the measure. Iíll put the syllables that hit the first and third syllables of the measure in bold. Remember, those are the strong syllables of the measure. So our lyrics will look like this now:
If I could es-CAPE, I WOULD but first of ALL, let me SAY
I must a-POL-ogize for ACT-ing stank & TREAT-ing you this WAY
In the above lyrics, the syllable ď-capeĒ of the word ďescapeĒ hits the first beat of the measure, and the word ďwouldĒ hits the third beat of the measure. The rest of the words shown in bold also hit the first and third beats as the melody moves forward.
You can tap a beat and follow along to what I wrote out here:
At this point in the song, a pretty standard pace was set, based on how many syllables were stuffed in between those strong first and third beats. By looking at the syllables in bold above, youíll note that thereís typically between one and three syllables in between the strong beats of each measure. For example, the three-syllable phrase ďbut first ofĒ appears between the words ďwouldĒ and ďallĒ in the first line (those two words fall on strong third and first beats).
If you go back and listen to the beginning of the song, youíll notice that after those first two lines, the next set of lines sound very sped up. The lyrics of those lines are:
Cause Iíve been acting like sour milk fell on the floor
Itís your fault you didnít shut the refrigerator
Maybe thatís the reason Iíve been acting so cold?
There isnít a change of tempo or anything that happens here to create this speed. Instead, there are simply more syllables stuffed in between the strong beats of the measure. Check it out. Once again, Iíll highlight the words that hit the strong first and third syllables:
Cause Iíve been ACT-ing like sour milk FELL on the floor
Itís your FAULT you didnít shut the re-FRIG-erator
Maybe THATíS the reason Iíve been ACT-ing so cold?
When we write out these lyrics with the strong syllables bolded, you can see that most of the time there are five syllables in between each strong beat. If you remember back to the first couple of lines, there were only one, two or three syllables between each strong beat. Five syllables is a lot more than three when it comes to what you can stuff between the strong beats. And itís certainly significantly more than one. As a result, we get a piece of the song that sounds very sped up compared to what we heard before it.
A standard was set in the first couple of lines. By comparison the next group of lines sounded much faster because they outdid what was done in the first couple of lines.
You can also use this concept to decelerate a melody in the same way. The only difference would be youíd start with a lot of syllables in between each beat, and then switch to less than what you started with. That would make the last set of lines sound slower.
To achieve prosody, ideas like this usually work best when the move you make ties into what your lyric is saying. Speeding up your melody in this way would be a great move to make if you were singing about speed, things going too fast, or anything else along those lines. Conversely, if you were singing about things moving too slow, or being slowed down, it would make sense to establish a quick melody first, and then slow it up when you go to the part about things moving slowly. Have fun with this idea and use it where it works best for your music.
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