Melody

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.

 

Melody is the most identifiable feature in any musical composition. In songs, the singer has the melody, but in orchestral music any instrument may play the melody. Often melody is given added meaning by the instrument that plays it.

"I’ve been fascinated by melody ever since I was a child. Whether I was listening to Jeff Beck, a choir, the sea or the wind, they all had melody." –Carlos Santana

"A great melody over great riffs is the key to everything for me." –Steven Tyler

Melody in the Renaissance era
Renaissance music is predominantly polyphonic, where each voice has a separate melodic line of its own. A polyphonic work does not have a single melody to follow but instead has several melodies superimposed.

Melody in the Baroque era
In the Baroque era, the previously dominant polyphony was joined by homophony consisting of a melody and accompaniment instead of several independent melodic lines. Polyphony evolved into new forms in the Baroque era (such as the fugue). The interaction of text and music in vocal music became more intense. Melodies were ornamented, and improvisation was an essential part of making music.

Melody in the Classical era
In the Classical era, melodies followed current ideals of form. The notion of balance and contrast led to the use of contrasting themes, or subjects, in a pattern that became established practice in the writing of works in genres such as sonata, concerto and symphony. In their purest form, themes were shaped in two halves of 8 bars each: the first half was rising (question) and the second half descending (answer).

Melody in the Romantic era
Rich melodies are often seen as the very core of the Romantic style. Virtuoso soloists dazzled audiences with their unprecedented instrumental skills. Melodies became freer in form than in the Classical era, and the concepts of through-composed melody and unending melody emerged. The Leitmotif technique involves associating a particular melody or phrase with a particular thing that the music is describing, such as a character in an opera. Soaring melodies were often paired with rich, overwhelming accompaniment.

Melody in Impressionism
Whereas melody was in a leading role in Romantic music, here it became passive. It floats over the music but rarely governs the harmony or rhythm. Instead of melody, the principal element in Impressionist music stems from brief motifs. There are no principal or secondary subjects, and the melodies rarely involve large leaps. The 7th degree of the scale, or the leading tone, is used only rarely because by its nature it creates a tension requiring a particular resolution.

Melody in expressionism
A single note full of expression may be considered a melody. Melodic lines favour large intervals. The aim is for melodies to be as un-songlike as possible and to avoid any impression of tonality.

Melodia in the modern era
The concept of melody has exploded. A melody may be a single note or a handful of notes instead of the traditional soaring arc. There may also be no melody at all.

Elements of music

Rhythm

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. 

Melody

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

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.

 

Form

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.

 

Tonal colour

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.

Dynamics

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.

 

Musical eras

1400-1600

Renaissance era

1600-1750

Baroque era

1750-1820

Classical era

1820-1910

Romantic era

1890-1920

Impressionism

1910-1930

Expressionism

Modern era