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In music, a melody, also tune, voice, or line, is a series of linear events or a succession, not a simultaneity as in a chord (see harmony). However, this succession must contain change of some kind and be perceived as a single entity (possibly Gestalt) to be called a melody. Most specifically this includes patterns of changing pitches and durations, while most generally it includes any interacting patterns of changing events or quality. "Melody IS said to result where there are interacting patterns of changing events occurring in time."
Change is necessary for events "to be understood as related or unrelated." Melodies often consist of one or more musical phrases, motifs, and are usually repeated throughout a song or piece in various forms. Melodies may also be described by their melodic motion or the pitches or the intervals between pitches (predominantly conjuct or disjunct or with further restrictions), pitch range, tension and release, continuity and coherence, cadence, and shape. "Many extant explanations [of melody] confine us [sic] to specific stylistic models, and they are too exclusive."
What melody does[edit | edit source]
In the more specific definition, applicable to the common practice period and popular music, melody may be contrasted with the accompaniment or the harmony it provides. As accompaniment implies, the melody is understood to be the focus of attention, with other parts providing background.
"The continuity and diegetic function of almost all vocal melody draw us along the linear thread of the song's syntagmatic structure, producing a 'point of perspective' from which the otherwise disparate parts of the musical texture can be placed within a coherent 'image'". In other words, a vocal melody line tells a story or narrative over the musical form, uniting and placing in context the various parts vertically and/or rhythmically.
Elements[edit | edit source]
The melodies in most European music written before the 20th century features recurring "events, often periodic, at all structural levels" and "recurrance of durations and patterns of durations" are also important in 20th century music.
While in the 20th century pitch includes "those aspects of sound that are classed as having highness or lowness" earlier music included almost exclusively sounds having "fixed and easily discernible frequency patterns" and composers have "utilized a greater variety of pitch resources than has been the custom in any other historical period of Western music." While materials from the diatonic scale are still used, the twelve-tone scale became "widely employed."
DeLone states "The essential elements of any melody are duration, pitch, and quality [timbre, texture, and loudness].". However, quality is not an essential element of melody, as the same melody is recognizable when played with a wide variety of timbres, textures, and loudness.
Melodies in the 20th century "utilized a greater variety of pitch resources than ha[d] been the custom in any other historical period of Western music." While the diatonic scale was still used, the chromatic scale became "widely employed." Composers also allotted a structural role to "the qualitative dimensions" that previously had been "almost exclusively reserved for pitch and rhythm". Kliewer states, "The essential elements of any melody are duration, pitch, and quality (timbre), texture, and loudness. Though the same melody may be recognizable when played with a wide variety of timbres and dynamics, the latter may still be an "element of linear ordering"
Examples[edit | edit source]
Different musical styles use melody in different ways. For example:
- Rock music, melodic death metal, melodic music, and other forms of popular music and folk music tend to pick one or two melodies (verse and chorus) and stick with them; much variety may occur in the phrasing and lyrics. "Gino Stefani makes appropriation the chief criterion for his 'popular' definition of melody (Stefani 1987a). Melody, he argues, is music 'at hand'; it is that dimension which the common musical competence extracts (often with little respect for the integrity of the source), appropriates and uses for a variety of purposes: singing, whistling, dancing, and so on."
- In western classical music, composers often introduce an initial melody, or theme, and then create variations. Classical music often has several melodic layers, called polyphony, such as those in a fugue, a type of counterpoint. Often melodies are constructed from motifs or short melodic fragments, such as the opening of Beethoven's Fifth. Richard Wagner popularized the concept of a leitmotif: a motif or melody associated with a certain idea, person or place.
- While in both most popular music and classical music of the common practice period pitch and duration are of primary importance in melodies, the contemporary music of the 20th and 21st centuries pitch and duration have lessened in importance and quality has gained importance, often primary. Examples include musique concrete, klangfarbenmelodie, Elliott Carter's Eight Etudes and a Fantasy which contains a movement with only one note, the third movement of Ruth Crawford-Seeger's String Quartet 1931 (later reorchestrated as Andante for string orchestra) in which the melody is created from an unchanging set of pitches through "dissonant dynamics" alone, and György Ligeti's Aventures in which recurring phonetics create the linear form.
- Jazz musicians use the melody line, called the "lead" or "head", as a starting point for improvisation.
- Indian classical music relies heavily on melody and rhythm, and not so much on harmony as the above forms.
- Balinese gamelan music often uses complicated variations and alterations of a single melody played simultaneously, called heterophony.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Melodic expectation
- Melodic patterns
- Music cognition
- Parsons code, a simple notation used to identify a piece of music through melodic motion—the motion of the pitch up and down.
- Psychology of music
- Unified field
References[edit | edit source]
- *DeLone et al. (Eds.) (1975). Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music, chap. 4, p.270-301. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.
- *Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music, p.96 and 264. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
- Kliewer, Vernon (1975). "Melody: Linear Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music", Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music, pp. 270–301. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Apel, Willi. Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd edition, p.517-19. Includes "a capsule definition of melody." (Delone et al 1975, p.270)
- Edwards, Arthur C. The Art of Melody, p.xix-xxx. Includes "a catalog of sample definitions." (ibid)
- Smits van Waesberghe, J. A Textbook of Melody. Includes "an attempt to formulate a theory of melody." (ibid)
[edit | edit source]
- Melodyhound: A Search Engine for Melodies
- Tunespotting: Another Search Engine for Melodies
- DoDoSoSo: Yet another Search Engine for Melodies
- MelodyLoops: Background music & melody loops
- Melodies for Websites
- Free Background Music
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