Analyzing Song Melodies
Danny Boy

This lesson on song melodies is the second in a series of lessons on what goes into making great melodies. In our first lesson we looked at a very simple melody to Beethovens Ode to Joy.

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In that lessons we learned that many simple but memorable melodies start on the third note of the scale or chord and very often will end on the tonic or first note of the scale.

Many simple song melodies will also keep to using the notes of the pentatonic scale related to the key of the song.

Words that often describe these kinds of melodies ard catchy, bouncy. easy and memorable.

In this lesson we will expand a bit and look at another memorable song melody for Danny Boy.

The Melody for Danny Boy is actually an Irish folk song called Londonderry Air and the original composer is unknown.

The most popular lyrics for the tune are "Danny Boy" ("Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling"), written by English lawyer Frederick Edward Weatherly in 1910, and set to the tune in 1913.

My favorite vocal version is by Tony Bennett along with Stan Getz featured in the video below.

The Chord Changes

I have included the chord changes that I use while playing this song along with the melody of the song so you can see how the notes function over the chords as well as how the melody flows.

Analyzing song melodies.

Notice that not counting the three pick up notes at the beginning, the melody starts on the third of the C scale which is the third of the C maj 7th chord and ends as is most common on the Tonic note C.

The reason I mention that is that the third of any chord defines weather  the chord is major or minor and is also a note which stands out to the average listener.

In listening analysis classes at school we would often take each note of a melody and find its function with regard to its underlying chord. i.e R for root, 3 for third, 5 for fifth etc.  We used T7, T9, T11, and T13 for notes that were ninths, elevenths and thirteenths (the capitol T standing for Tension.)

If you take the time to do this exercise it will help you in a number of ways.

It will help your reading skills, chord theory knowledge, and allow you to see why certain notes seem to stand out in a melody. It will also be a benefit when it comes to actually making you own arrangement.

What else to look for.

You will notice in most memorable song melodies there is a lot of repetition of musical phrases and rhythmic phrases.

If you look at or play the first four lines of Danny boy you will see that demonstrated. There are very few differences between the first two and the second two staffs of music.

Rises and falls.

Most great melodies will rise and fall in an almost wave like motion and if you were to draw a line over all the notes you could see this wave like pattern.

These ups and downs add to the interest a melody has and creates its emotional highs and lows.

Notice that it kind of flows, and doesn’t just jump all over the place from one end of the stave to the other.

Doing that could be effective for creating a certain type of sound, but wouldn’t really work most of the time if you want a nice, smooth sounding melody.

Some song melodies are written around a lyric idea or poem and in those cases the words will somewhat dictate at least the rhythmic part of the melody. In the case of Londonderry Air, the lyrics for Danny Boy were added later.

In this case the melody in some way dictated the way the lyrics flowed

If you watch the next video, you and I can go through the song little by little and discuss the melody and how you might play the song using the changes I provided above.

By looking at more and more melodies, and playing them as well, you will begin to be able to create your own outstanding melodies using hints you get from this lesson and others.

The Lyrics.

There were actually several lyrics written to the tune of Londonderry Air but by far the most popular were the lyrics below to "Danny Boy" which has been covered by dozens of recording artist both vocal and instrumental from Pop to Jazz.

If you are a vocalist or will be accompanying one you may find these lyrics helpful to establish the sentimental mood of the song.


"Danny Boy" by Frederic Weatherly

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side

The summer's gone, and all the flow'rs are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow

'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh, Danny boy, oh, Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be

I pray you'll find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warm and sweeter be

And then you'll kneel and whisper that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

or I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

or And I shall rest in peace until you come to me.

or Oh, Danny boy, oh, Danny boy, I love you so.

Best Home Study for "Ear Players"

After checking out dozens of home study courses that teach you to play by ear and focus on chord progressions I am convinced that the folks at Hear and Play have the best, most well rounded program available for just about all styles of music from Gospel to Jazz. Read my review or visit Hear and Play for more information.

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If you have any questions, suggestions, or ideas for future lessons feel free to Contact Me.

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