Learn how to write melodies in counterpoint, using a music theory hack from Slipknot “Unsainted” (off their upcoming album “We Are Not Your Kind”).
Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate Harmony and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory. We help you make great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! If that sounds useful to you, then subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit that bell to get notified every Thursday, when we publish our new video. Also, if you’re new to our channel, be sure to download our free book “12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords” below. Alright, it’s time to open your DAW to hack music theory. But first… tea!
Slipknot’s new single “Unsainted” begins with a totally unexpected women’s choir, which sings the chorus melody, but without the lyrics. These “aahs” cleverly deliver the melody before the vocalist even starts singing, so by the time he comes in, the chorus is already familiar. It’s essential that Slipknot hook listeners in the first few seconds, cos this song is the lead single from their upcoming album, and this intro does exactly that. But, as effective as it is, what actually makes this song special is their use of counterpoint, which is the technique of writing melodies that counter each other and result in distinctive musical layers.
Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version, and what you see on the screen right now is our version that we made earlier. So, start by setting up four bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/8 notes, and your tempo set to around 100 BPM. The intro and chorus of “Unsainted” is in the key of B minor, so we’ll use it too.
STEP 1. CHORDS
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, what? Chords? I thought we were talking about melodies here?” We are, but, the best counterpoint always creates powerful harmony from the individual melodies playing simultaneously. So the easiest way to start writing a counterpoint section, is to choose your chords first. And the chords in B minor are: Bm, C♯dim, Dmaj, Em, F♯m, Gmaj, and Amaj. Also, you can use F♯maj (instead of F♯m), if you wanna use the harmonic minor like Slipknot do here.
STEP 2. COUNTERPOINT
Alright, now that you’ve got your chord progression down, it’s time to turn it into counterpoint. And when writing counterpoint, you can have as few as two simultaneous melodies, or, as many as you want. In this lesson, we’ll just be doing two (which is known as two-part counterpoint, and that’s what you see here), but in the playthrough at the end of this video, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear a third melody coming in, which will demonstrate what three-part counterpoint sounds like. Now, when writing two-part counterpoint, a great place to start is to outline each chord by playing its root and 3rd. For example, we’re starting our chord progression on Bm, and you can see we’re playing the root of the chord (B) in the low voice, and the minor 3rd (D) in the high voice. But then over our last chord, F♯maj, we’re doing the opposite: we’re playing the root of the chord (F♯) in the high voice, and the major 3rd (A♯) in the low voice. Right, now that you’ve got your chords outlined, you can start adding in some other notes to create your final melodies. And remember, the high voice will be your lead melody, so that can have more notes than the low voice, which will be your bass melody, so keep that a little simpler.
And by the way, if you need help writing melodies, no problem, just use our Melody Checklist, which is the ultimate list of dos and don’ts for writing great melodies. It’s available in our Songwriting & Producing PDF (click & scroll down), which also includes the other essential hacks you need to write great music, like our ultimate counterpoint hack.
Okay, so now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write the other sections? How do you transition between them (especially when they’re in different keys)? And, how do you structure and arrange your song? These are issues that many songwriters and producers struggle with, and that’s exactly why we made our online course Apprenticeship #1. So, if you wanna overcome these obstacles once and for all, then sign up now!
Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada
Level 1 - Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
Level 2 - Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
Level 3 - Practice making music using our lessons (PDF+MIDI+WAV)
Level 4 - Learn our secret art of song-whispering & finish your music
Hack Music Theory is a pioneering DAW method for making great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé wife Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his method. On that note, the "Hack Music Theory" YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).
© 2019 Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony
Thumbnail photo courtesy of https://www.kerrang.com/the-news/corey-taylor-announces-one-off-solo-show-in-los-angeles
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