Counter Melody Tips
Now, what we’ve done in the previous example, is creating some separation. This can be done by any combination of these elements:
Rhythm, Range, Tone color and Articulation.
By separating two layers by one or more of these elements, you will make them sound like individual layers and not one chaotic mass. Let’s have a quick look at each of them.
Creating separation through different rhythms. For example having the main melody with longer slower notes, and a countermelody with quicker, shorter notes and more rhythmic activity.
Having the second melody in a lower or higher range than the first one, for example in a different octave.
Using a different instrument with a different tone color for the counter melody. For example, violins playing the melody, and horns doing the second element.
Using different articulations. For example having a legato string melody over staccato or pizzicato counter elements.
You can use a combination of one or more of these two achieve separation between your melody and countermelody. You can for example use rhythm and range, having a cello play a slower counter melody to a quick violin theme. OR you can have the violas play pizzicato patterns, creating separation by articulation. Or you can have the cellos play long legato melodies with spiccato strings on top, using both articulation and rhythm.
For larger ensembles, you can use a combination of rhythm, range, and tone color - for example using legato horns and cellos under a quicker violin melody. Keep in mind that you don’t need to use all these elements to create separation, but 2-3 can work pretty well.
Check out this video to see how I do it:
Listen to the examples I worked with in the video here:
Here you can hear how I have created a simple countermelody by using the tools above. I've used rhythm to make it rest while the melody is moving, and the other way around. I've used a different tone color by giving the countermelody to the horns, while the melody is in the high strings. I've also created separation through range, as the horn melody is the octave below the main melody.
Countermelodies are a great way to make your themes more interesting and is a great way to make your composition grow. One way to use them, is to introduce the main theme once first with only the main melody to avoid it from beimg too distracting, then on the second repetition introduce the counter melody to add some more interest. We'll look at exactly how to use the countermelodies in the orchestration and recording chapter. For now, let's create a countermelody element for our tracks!
Try to compose a counter melody for your main theme. First, you can focus on having a melody that is moving when the main one is resting, then you can start experimenting more with having them playing at the same time, separating them more by the characteristics mentioned above.
Quick string mockup