Making music personal.
The personal touch in your music can be a tricky thing to define. When it comes down to describing exactly what it is that makes you sound like you, most are left scratching their heads. One side of the equation is the instruments you use. On the other side is the melody and how the main musical voice of your music is expressed. Melodies have a unique way of carrying across personal style. Amongst one of the most popular and timeless tools for songwriters, composers, producers, and performers alike, is the use of ‘ornamentation.’
Ornamentation in music can refer to the way in which a melodic line is expressed. When used with care, ornaments can add levels of depth and emotion. It also adds a human element to your productions if you work mostly on the computer. Where one melodic phrase may sound a little flat, ornamentation brings volume and life. How exactly can ornaments be used in your music you might ask? Well, let’s take a look at some examples and break down how ornamentation can subtly make simple ideas truly great.
From the 17th century to today.
While ornaments have their roots deeply ingrained in musical history all over the globe, let’s take a look at a more contemporary example; Frank Ocean’s ‘Thinkin Bout You’. While the song is mesmerizing in its production, it’s Frank’s voice which brings everything together. In the pre-chorus, listen to how he sings “I’ve been thinkin’ bout you… Oh no no no”. In the first half of the lyrics he sets up the melody-line, and in the second half, he brings it back down. If you listen closely, you can hear that “oh no” section uses ornamentation to make a simple melody nuanced and expressive. The specific ornament used in this section is known as a ‘mordent’, where you move either up or down one note and back to the original in a quick gesture. What’s interesting here is that this technique has been around in western music since at least the 17th century! Frank’s voice also uses a series of more complex ornaments in the chorus as well.
Make it compelling.
The quick flourishes and graces notes you hear in a virtuosic pop singer’s voice are all excellent examples of ornamentation. Pop versions of national anthems (O Canada) can give you a strong sense of how ornaments make melodies compelling and exciting. Back in the 17th century, when ornamentation cemented itself as a key component of western music, ornaments themselves were not always included in the written music. It was often left open to the performer to make the music their own through their personal use of ornaments.
If you’re interested in working with ornaments for added inspiration and creativity in your melodic songwriting, try out Melodics’ course on Ornamentation. You’ll have the opportunity to play through some exciting examples ranging from minimalism to trap so that you can improve your keyboard skills and add a definitive personal touch to your future productions.