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Every time I add a melody with a distinct rhythm (from say the piano) to my vocal melody, I notice that the music starts sounding confusing and irritating. Some songs have riffs (ie a melody of an instrument) and have a vocal melody. Examples to these are Payphone by Maroon 5 and Shape of You by Ed Sheeran.

In Shape of You, there's a distinct melody of an instrument, and there's the vocal melody. I don't know if there are any rules to follow when I try to make a vocal melody sound good with the melody of an instrument.

Could someone explain to me?

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Oh boy, this is a big one.

Yes there are rules, or rather there are methods and tricks. You need to have good counterpoint between the vocal and the instrumental line. Then you need to use your ears to write counter-melodies that complement and enhance the vocal. Really you're just writing a two part counterpoint, but often the counter-melody may be harmonic-based figure which is easier (like the strings in 'bittersweet symphony'.)

Putting two melodies together is a skill and usually needs some knowledge of harmony and counterpoint, although good ears may be enough.

  • Peter, I haven't read your answer: we are using exactly the same words Yes there are rules ... This makes me smile. – Albrecht Hügli Nov 9 at 14:19
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The two terms you have to differ here are homophony and polyphony. If you try to set a simple instrumental 2nd voice you can e.g. write just descending notes of a scale (this might be half notes playing single tones of the fitting chords.)

The other term (polyphony) is connected with counterpoint. Yes, there are lots of rules how you can write in interesting and good sounding counterpoint: This can be completely different theme or contain motif-imitations of the main tune. If you look up some rules for counterpoint, you'll find there advises for voice leading and intervals, good balance of consonances and dissonances phrasing. But this you don't learn by reading rules, the best you are making music (also analyzing, playing, listening, writing).

Btw.:

I've learned my "counterpoint"

  1. by playing thousands of hymns and improvising,
  2. singing canons
  3. playing Euphonium in a Brass bandd

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