Hello everyone, HalcyonMusic here. I’ve been posting anime piano covers on YouTube for over 3 years. I’m happy to be invited to share my ideas about writing medleys!

A medley is a type of arrangement that combines multiple songs and soundtracks into a single composition. There are no strict standards of how long a medley should be, or how it should be written. It’s all up to the writer/arranger’s personal style. Creativity is unlimited!

I’ve written quite a number of medleys in the past. Among the medleys I’ve written, the most popular one is a 30-minute medley where I played 100 anime songs:

In this post, I’m going to share with you my thought process when I’m writing medleys. I’ll be using some of the medleys I’ve written as examples.

My medley-writing routine goes something like this:

  1. Setting the theme
  2. Song choices
  3. Overarching structure
  4. Song order
  5. Writing transitions
  6. Review

Setting the theme

This is the first step – deciding what the medley is about. I think about what’s the story behind the medley and what I’m trying to do. It seems trivial, but it’s the cornerstone of the entire medley.

Medley

Idea

Sword Art Online Medley

Theme songs and soundtracks from the series, must be in chronological order from Seasons 1 to 3

Attack on Titan Medley

Openings and soundtracks from the series

100 Anime Songs Medley

100 of the most popular anime songs in quick succession, target length of 30 minutes.

Song choices

After setting the theme, I should already have a list of songs that could be included in the medley. Personally, I like to use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the songs and organize everything neatly.

For each song, I take the time to listen carefully and memorize the details as much as I can. At the very least, I should be able to remember how the song goes just by looking at the title. You can’t prepare a good dish without knowing all about its ingredients!

I usually don’t finalize which songs should be included at this stage. As I’m writing the medley, I may come up with new ideas and include more songs from the list.

I’ll also write down the tempo, the key and any key changes for each song, which may be useful later.

Here’s a sneak peek of my work sheet for the 100 AniSongs medley. I’ve noted down the key and tempo of each song. The list is also sorted by key (according to the circle of fifths) and tempo.

Work sheet from my 100 AniSongs medley
Work sheet from my 100 AniSongs medley

Overarching structure

Before putting the songs in order, I will always start with the overarching structure of the medley. The overarching structure is the outline / shape of the medley. I believe having a well-defined structure separates a “medley” from a “playlist”, and it’s especially important for longer medleys – the structure binds the medley together.

Here are some examples from my medleys:

Medley

Structure

Sword Art Online Medley

Three movements corresponding to seasons 1 to 3.

Attack on Titan Medley

Three movements in a “fast-slow-fast” structure.

100 Anime Songs Medley

Roughly five movements in a “fast-slow-fast-slow-fast” structure.

K-ON Medley

Songs in chronological order, telling the story from beginning to end.

On top of that, I like to give listeners enough time to rest during a medley. After a section of fast and upbeat songs, I’ll try to insert a slower section to release the tension, and use the opportunity to add some emotional variety. 

Using my 100 AniSongs medley as an example, I have included three sections where the music slows down and turns sentimental:

Structure of the 100 AniSongs Medley
Structure of the 100 AniSongs Medley

Song order

A rule of thumb I use when deciding the song order is to consider, in descending order of importance:

  1. Emotion
  2. Tempo
  3. Key

Emotion – it’s the most important aspect. I always group upbeat songs and sentimental songs into their own respective sections. Transitioning between positive and negative emotions too quickly and frequently dampens the emotional impact, and makes listeners feel like watching a rushed anime adaptation (*cough* CHAOS;CHILD *cough*).

Tempo – songs of similar tempos go together. It takes a lot of time to transition smoothly between songs that have vastly different tempos. Whenever we listen to music, there’s a mental metronome ticking in our minds, so any sudden tempo changes feel jarring.

Below shows the plot of tempos (in BPM) against time of my 100 AniSongs medley:

Almost all downward jumps in the graph are tempo changes where the BPM is about halved (e.g. from 200 BPM to 100 BPM). They let the listeners readjust to a half-time rhythm without the tempo change being explicit. Other than that, tempo changes are gradual and gentle.

Key – It’s the easiest to transition between songs that are in the same key, in keys close to each other on the “circle of fifths”, or in keys close to each other on the chromatic scale. We’ll come back to this later when I talk about transitions.

Writing transitions

Halfway through writing this blog, I’ve realized there’s too much to talk about when it comes to writing transitions between songs.

I’ll talk about writing transitions in details in Part 2 of this blog post.

Review

After finishing the first draft of the sheets, I’ll record a first draft, listen to it many, many times and fine-tune the details of the arrangement. If necessary, I may have to completely rewrite parts of it.

Eventually, the sheets are finalized, and I’m ready to start recording!


Thanks for reading this blog post! There will be a Part 2 of this where I talk about writing transitions in details.

If you liked this post, feel free to share it on social media! Thanks for your support!

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HalcyonMusic

I make piano covers of anime songs and soundtracks. Social links: https://linktr.ee/HalcyonMusic

1 Comment

Animepianoangel · 9 March 2020 at 1:25 am

Wow, this is very interesting! It’s so cool, that you used such a logical approach and even used excel! I just like to add, there are also other ways keys can relate apart from circle of 5th: i.e. relative minor (3rd degree in scale), relative major (6th degree in scale), parallel key etc.

So, then, theoretically, these can also work as transitions? So, is there a particular approach that is better or easier?

Loving this blog so far!

Animepianoangel.

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