Harmony came to be thought of as chords that laid the foundation for the melody. Major and minor as we know them today became established as keys instead of modes, and the harmonic patterns of tonality began to evolve. This became such a fundamental element of Western music that even today we expect chords to follow each other in a particular order in order for the music to sound ‘familiar’. Basso continuo, meaning an accompaniment for melodies with harmonic accompaniment improvised on the basis of a bass line furnished with numbers indicating the chords (thorough bass, similar to the chord symbols used in popular music today), evolved at this time. The basso continuo group became the core of the orchestra, and orchestras were usually led by the basso continuo keyboard player and not a separate conductor. This was the origin of the clear separation into melody, bass and harmony that survives to this day in many genres of music.
Elements of music
Rhythm is a part of our daily lives. We often talk about a sense of rhythm. We have weekly rhythms, our bodies have rhythm, and so does dancing and any other regular activity. Rhythm is often the element that makes us move or groove along to music.
A melody may stick in your ear for an entire day. If we hum a familiar song, it is the melody that we are humming, and melodies have the ability to remind us of important moments.
Harmony symbolises tranquillity and peaceful coexistence. In music, harmony is what we hear underlying the melody. Harmony can be discordant and tense. Often harmony sets up tensions that are then satisfyingly resolved.
Our everyday life is full of forms, shapes and structures. We easily recognise things like shoes, vases or chairs on the basis of their form. If we hear the word ‘school’, we have a fairly good idea of what the building may look like. Musical compositions also have specific forms and structures.
Our eyes are used to seeing colour. The sky in the morning is different from the sky at midday. A person’s face may be pale, bright or sombre. We can also say we perceive colours with our ears. Sometimes the key to a piece of music is whether it sounds bright, soft or dark.
We can be quiet, whisper, talk or shout. What we say changes in meaning as the volume changes. Changes in volume, known as dynamics, are among the most powerful and most expressive elements of music.