Exploring Music's Complexities



In the previous article, rhythm, melody, harmony and dynamics were identified as making up the material essence of music (1,2).  It was also noted that rhythm is probably the most instinctive or “primitive” element as it is the one component of music that is felt instead of heard.  Melody, on the other hand, is the most basic of all because it actually makes sound.  While noise may be an integral part of rhythm, tones or pitches are required to convert sounds into melodies.

What is Melody?

Stringing together notes or sounds within a particular pitch and duration creates melody  (1, 2).  The link between one pitch and another is called “tonality” or “key”.  It is believed by some that from the early beginnings of banging out a rhythm on a drum musicians began to incorporate sounds found in primitive instruments to separate pitch.  Further discussion of this hypothesis may be found at http://www.greensych.ca (3).  As time went on, gaps in pentatonic melodies were filled with tones that are known today as “leading tones.”  Because these scales don’t have a “leading tone” they have their own unique sound.   A “leading tone” is usually the 3rd and 7th notes of the diatonic scale.

 It is thought early separations were probably octaves, fifths, and fourths (4).  These pitches made up the early pentatonic scale of five tones. The major pentatonic scale is the basic scale of Chinese and Mongolian music.  American Indian music provides an example of monophonic melody often sung in octaves.  The singing is often gutteral and song styles strophic.  The scales may seem to sound Asian (5).   The pentatonic scale is also very common in Celtic music. The minor pentatonic is used in folk music.  Jazz music commonly uses both the major and the minor pentatonic scales.   Pentatonic scales are useful for improvisers because they work well over several chords diatonic to the same key.

 The diatonic scale is most familiar as the major scale or the “natural” minor scale (or aeolian mode).  It has the highest number of consonant intervals, and the greatest number of major and minor triads.  It also is the only seven note scale that has just one tritone . The diatonic scale is an ideal resource for both melodic and harmonic music – it has lots of consonant triads, it has few dissonant intervals, and it is melodically smooth with just two consecutive-step sizes.

 Another characteristic of a melody is it is structured by length and intensity much like a spoken sentence and gives the sounds soul (6).  A melody begins, moves, and ends; it has direction, shape, and continuity.  It may move up or down by step or leap, or may simply repeat the same note.  At its simplest, a melody is the tune of a song. Sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to yourself.  Notice that you just sang the melody. That was easy because that particular song is practically all melody.   The melody is able to stand on its own without chords.  If there are multiple melodies going on at once the relationship between melody and harmony becomes an important factor to understanding the composition.

Going Home Again

Buy it now at http://www.wonderofsound.com

 Classical melodies are most often tuneful and easy to remember and may have a folk or popular flavor.  The melodies often sound balanced and symmetrical because they are frequently made up of two phrases of the same length. The second phrase, in such melodies, may begin like the first, but it will end more conclusively and it will be easier to sing.

 A rhythmically organized sequence of single tones may be so related as to make up a phrase or “idea.”  Extra notes such as slides or trills may be added to make the melody more complex and interesting.  The range of a composition is the distance between the lowest and the highest notes in the series.  Instrumental music often has the widest range or melody.  This combination of leaps and rapid notes may be difficult to sing.  The manner in which the melody is performed may vary as well.  It may be sung or played in a smooth, connected style or in a short, or a detached manner. Words like tunes or song are often used to describe “compositions.”  The harmony, rhythms or timber of a composition remain recognizable as the same piece.  If the melody is changed it is generally considered to be a different composition.  The one exception to this description is a typical performance of a jazz composition.

The shape of a melody refers to a literal geometric line that may be made if the notes were joined together.  If the melody moves stepwise and is connected the movement is considered conjunct (1, 2).  If it leaps from pitch to pitch within no natural connections it is considered disjunct.

When you listen to a song notice that, even without chords to support it, a melody seems to want to end on one particular note of the scale.  Music from the Western culture has a tendency to gravitate back toward one central tone or chord before it sounds finished.  These places are called cadences.  As will be addressed in the next of this series, the cadences most familiar to us are primarily a function of harmony.

The Role of Melody in Today’s World

 Western cultures generally attach the most importance to melody (4).  Prior to the 20th Century pop music frequently featured “fixed” and easily recognizable frequency patterns.  In the Modern era, new musical techniques emerged. 20th century composers use a greater variety of pitch resources and include the use of the chromatic scale in addition of the diatonic scale (3).    Time has seen the importance of melody diminish with emphasis being placed on harmony and rhythm (3) http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.

In folk music the composer generally stays in the diatonic realm within one key center.  These pitches are used to create melodies using the One/Four/Five chord progression.  Adding the perfect fourth adds a bit of passionate “longing” to a pentatonic group.  As time went on, gaps in pentatonic melodies were filled with tones that are known today as “leading tones.”  Because these scales don’t have a “leading tone” it has it’s own unique sound.   A “leading tone” is usually the 3rd and 7th notes of the diatonic scale.

Rockers often use folk music principles to create their music.  Pentatonic colors in both major and minor provide groups of pitches that when applied to diatonic chords rarely sound off key because they are historically significant. With the advent of the Jazz combo and Rock music, Native American drumming has influenced American popular music (5).

 Seventh chord tones emerge in the blues.  Rockers also use it.  Jazz players do it all, in all keys, styles and tempos.   It probably is the most complex of the American music.  Jazz tunes tend to use a few keys and different color tones to spice up common chord progressions (4).

While melody continues to be important in music with contrapuntal texture its value in other music is diminished with emphasis being placed on harmony and rhythm.


1.  Leland, William.  The Nuts and Bolts of Music – Part Two:  Melody. http://pianoeducation.org.

2.  The four elements of Music – Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, and Dynamics.  http://www.essortment.com.

3.  Bob Fink.  Stages in the Evolution of Melody, Scales, and Harmony.  http://www.greenwych.ca/stages.html

4.  Narveson, Paul (184).  Theory of Melody.  ISBN 0-8191-3834-7.

5.  Reublin, Rick& Maine, Bob. Native Americans & American Popular Music, March 2000.


6.  Kliewer, Vernon (1975). “Melody: Linear Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music”, Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music, p.270-301. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.

 The album, Going Home Again is available at http://www.wonderofsound.com.





Tagged as:

50 Responses

  1. Superb, what a website it is! This weblog presents helpful information to us,
    keep it up.

  2. I needed to thank you for this wonderful read!! I certainly
    loved every bit of it. I’ve got you bookmarked to
    check out new things you post…

  3. This info is priceless. When can I find out more?

  4. Normally I do not learn article on blogs, but I would
    like to say that this write-up very pressured me to try and do so!

    Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank
    you, quite great article.

  5. My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different web page and
    thought I may as well check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you.
    Look forward to looking into your web page again.

  6. What’s up, after reading this awesome article i am
    as well happy to share my know-how here with friends.

  7. Usually I don’t read post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to
    try and do it! Your writing taste has been surprised me.
    Thanks, quite nice article.

  8. For most recent information you have to visit world wide web and on internet I found this web page as
    a finest web page for most up-to-date updates.

  9. Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Thank you for supplying this info.

  10. I like what you guys are usually up too. This type of clever work and reporting!

    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve added you guys to
    my personal blogroll.

  11. Amazing! Its in fact amazing paragraph, I have got much clear
    idea concerning from this paragraph.

  12. Hi there to all, the contents present at this site are really amazing for people experience,
    well, keep up the nice work fellows.

  13. I’m not sure why but this site is loading incredibly slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end?
    I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  14. When someone writes an paragraph he/she retains the
    thought of a user in his/her mind that how a user can know it.
    So that’s why this post is great. Thanks!

  15. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s
    both educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail
    on the head. The problem is an issue that too few men and
    women are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy
    that I found this during my hunt for something concerning this.

  16. Paragraph writing is also a excitement, if you know afterward you can write or else it is complicated to write.

  17. magnificent submit, very informative. I ponder whyy the other specialists of this sector
    do not realize this. Yoou must continue your writing. I’m sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

  18. What’s up, the whole thing is going well here and ofcourse every one is sharing data, that’s genuinely excellent, keep up writing.

  19. each time i used to read smaller content that as well clear their motive,
    and that is also happening with this post which I am reading at this time.

  20. May I just say what a relief to find an individual who actually understands what
    they’re talking about online. You certainly realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important.
    A lot more people have to look at this and understand this side
    of your story. I can’t believe you are not more popular
    since you definitely have the gift.

  21. Thanks for sharing such a pleasant thinking, article is
    good, thats why i have read it fully

  22. What’s up, its pleasant article on the topic of media print, we all know media is a fantastic source of information.

  23. Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It really
    useful & it helped me out much. I’m hoping to give something again and
    aid others like you aided me.

  24. Hi, I do believe this is an excellent web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to come back yet again since i have book marked it.
    Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help other people.

  25. What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads.
    I hope to contribute & assist other customers like its helped
    me. Good job.

  26. Can you tell us more about this? I’d care
    to find out more details.

  27. Fantastic web site. Lots of helpful information here.
    I am sending it to some pals ans also sharing in delicious.

    And certainly, thank you in your sweat!

  28. Great post. I will be experiencing many of these issues as well..

  29. bookmarked!!, I love your web site!

  30. It’s really very difficult in this active life to listen news on Television, so I only use internet for that reason, and get the most
    up-to-date information.

  31. Valuable info. Lucky me I found your website by accident,
    and I’m stunned why this twist of fate did not happened earlier!

    I bookmarked it.

  32. Hi to all, since I am actually keen of reading this website’s post to be updated on a regular basis.
    It includes good material.

  33. Greate article. Keep writing such kind of info on your site.
    Im really impressed by it.
    Hi there, You’ve performed a fantastic job. I’ll definitely digg it and in my view recommend to my friends.
    I’m sure they will be benefited from this website.

  34. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.

    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to
    say superb blog!

  35. I’m gone to convey my little brother, that he should also
    pay a visit this blog on regular basis to get updated
    from hottest news.

  36. Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with us so I
    came to take a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking
    and will be tweeting this to my followers! Great blog and excellent style and design.

  37. I think the admin of this web page is truly working hard for his web page, as here every information is quality based stuff.

  38. Genuinely when someone doesn’t understand then its up to other people that they will assist, so here it happens.

  39. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design this website yourself or did
    you hire someone to do it for you? Plz respond as I’m
    looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from.

  40. Hi, I check your blogs regularly. Your humoristic style is witty, keep it up!

  41. Excellent post. I certainly love this site.

  42. Hi, I do believe this is a great web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will return once again since i
    have book marked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich
    and continue to help other people.

  43. There’s definately a great deal to know about this topic.
    I love all of the points you’ve made.

  44. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article.

    I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info.
    Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.

  45. you are really a good webmaster. The site loading speed is amazing.
    It sort of feels that you’re doing any unique trick.
    Also, The contents are masterpiece. you’ve performed a fantastic process on this subject!

  46. Post writing is also a fun, if you be familiar with afterward you
    can write otherwise it is complex to write.

  47. Spot on with this write-up, I really feel this amazing site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the info!

  48. That is so go very gratifying for me!

  49. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It really useful & it helped me out much.
    I hope to give something back and aid others like you aided me.

  50. Wonderful post, I think website owners should learn so much from this web blog its user-friendly
    and posts are wonderful.

Translate »
Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.
%d bloggers like this: