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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A melody (from Greek μελῳδία - melōidía, "singing, chanting"[1]), also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity. In its most literal sense, a melody is a sequence of pitches and durations, while, more figuratively, the term has occasionally been extended to include successions of other musical elements such as tone color.

Melodies often consist of one or more musical phrases or 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 conjunct or disjunct or with further restrictions), pitch range, tension and release, continuity and coherence, cadence, and shape.



Given the many and varied elements and styles of melody "many extant explanations [of melody] confine us to specific stylistic models, and they are too exclusive."[2] Paul Narveson claimed in 1984 that more than three-quarters of melodic topics had not been explored thoroughly.[3]

The melodies existing in most European music written before the 20th century, and popular music throughout the 20th century, featured "fixed and easily discernible frequency patterns", recurring "events, often periodic, at all structural levels" and "recurrence of durations and patterns of durations".[2]

Melodies in the 20th century have "utilized a greater variety of pitch resources than has been the custom in any other historical period of Western music." While the diatonic scale is still used, the twelve-tone scale became "widely employed."[2] Composers also allotted a structural role to "the qualitative dimensions" that previously had been "almost exclusively reserved for pitch and rhythm". DeLone states, "The essential elements of any melody are duration, pitch, and quality (timbre), texture, and loudness.[2] 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"[2]


Different musical styles use melody in different ways. For example:

Melody from Anton Webern's Variations for Orchestra, Op. 30 (pp. 23-24)[4]

See also

Further reading

  • Apel, Willi. Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed., p.517-19. [2]
  • Edwards, Arthur C. The Art of Melody, p.xix-xxx. Includes "a catalog of sample definitions." [2]
  • Holst, Imogen (1962/2008). Tune, Faber and Faber, London. ISBN 0571241980.
  • Smits van Waesberghe, J. (1955). A Textbook of Melody: A course in functional melodic analysis, American Institute of Musicology. Includes "an attempt to formulate a theory of melody." [2]
  • Szabolcsi, Bence (1965). A History Of Melody, Barrie and Rockliff, London.


  1. ^ Melodia, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus project
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i 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.
  3. ^ Narveson, Paul (1984). Theory of Melody. ISBN 0819138347.
  4. ^ Marquis, G. Welton (1964). Twentieth Century Music Idioms, p.2. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It has been suggested that this article or section should be merged with Music. (Discuss)

Melody, music

  • "The continuity and diagetic 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'."
    • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music, p.264. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0335152759.
Look up melody in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by Laura E. Richards

Table of Contents

Chapter I. The Child

Chapter II. The Doctor

Chapter III. On the Road

Chapter IV. Rosin the Beau

Chapter V. In the Churchyard

Chapter VI. The Serpent

Chapter VII. Lost

Chapter VIII. Waiting

Chapter IX. Blondel

Chapter X. Darkness

Chapter XI. Light

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1943, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MELODY (Gr. u€Xwbia, a choral song, from yaos, tune, and c t ibri, song). In musical philosophy and history the word "melody" must be used in a very abstract sense, as that aspect of music which is concerned only with the pitch of successive notes. Thus a "melodic scale" is a scale of a kind of music that is not based on an harmonic system; and thus we call ancient Greek music "melodic." The popular conception of melody is that of "air" or "tune," and this is so far from being a primitive conception that there are few instances of such melody in recorded music before the 17th century; and even folksongs, unless they are of recent origin, deviate markedly from the criteria of tunefulness. The modern conception of melody is based on the interaction of every musical category. For us a melody is the surface of a series of harmonies; and an unaccompanied melody so far implies harmony that if it so behaves that simple harmonies expressing clear key-relationships would be difficult to find for it, we feel it to be strange and vague. Again, we do not feel music as melodious unless its rhythm is symmetrical; and this, taken together with the harmonic rationality of modern melody, brings about an equally intimate connexion between melody on a large scale and form on a small scale. In the article on Sonata Forms it is shown that there are gradations between the form of some kinds of single melody like "Barbara Allen" (see Ex. 1) and the larger dance forms of the suite, and then, again, gradations between these and the true sonata forms with their immense range of expression and development. Lastly, the element that appears at first sight most strictly melodic, namely, the rise and fall of the pitch, is intimately connected by origin with the nature of the human voice, and in later forms is enlarged fully as much by the characteristics of instruments as by parallel developments in rhythm, harmony and form. Thus modern melody is the musical surface of rhythm, harmony, form and instrumentation; and, if we take Wagnerian Leitmotif into account, we may as well add drama to the list. In short, melody is the surface of music.

We may here define a few technicalities which may be said to come more definitely under the head of melody than any other; but see also Harmony and Rhythm.

I. A theme is a melody, not necessarily or even usually complete, except when designed for a set of variations (q.v.), but of sufficient independent coherence to be, so to speak, an intelligible musical sentence. Thus a fugue-subject is a theme, and the first and second subjects in sonata form are more or less complex groups of themes.

2. A figure is the smallest fragment of a theme that can be recognized when transformed or detached from its surroundings. The grouping of figures into new melodies is the most obvious resource of "development" or "working-out" in the sonata-forms (see Ex. 2-7), besides being the main resource by which fugues are carried on at those moments in which the subjects and countersubjects are not present as wholes. In 16th-century polyphony melody consists mainly of figures thus broken off from a canto fermo (see Contrapuntal Forms).

3. Polyphony is simultaneous multiple melody. In 16th-century music and in fugue-writing every part is as melodious as every other. The popular cry for melody as an antidote to polyphony is thus really a curious perversion of the complaint that one may have too much of a good thing. Several well-known classical melodies are polyphonically composite, being formed by an inner melody appearing as it were through transparent places in the outer melody, which it thus completes. This is especially common in music for the pianoforte, where the tone of long notes rapidly fades; and the works of Chopin are full of examples. In Bach's works for keyed instruments figures frequently have a double meaning on this principle, as, for instance, in the peculiar kind of countersubject in the 15th fugue of the 2nd book of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier. A good familiar example of a simple melody which, as written by the composer, would need two voices to sing it, is that which begins the second subject of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata (Op. 53, first movement, bars where at the third bar of the melody a lower voice enters and finishes the phrase).

4 (a) Conjunct movement is the movement of melody along adjacent degrees of the scale. A large proportion of Beethoven's melodies are conjunct (see Ex. 2, fig. B).

4 (b) Disjunct movement, the opposite of conjunct, tends, though by no means always, to produce arpeggio types of melody, i.e. melodies which move up and down the notes of a chord. Certain types of such melody are highly characteristic of Brahms; and Wagner, whose melodies are almost always of instrumental origin, is generally disjunct in diatonic melody and conjunct in chromatic (Ex. 2, fig. C, is a disjunct figure not forming an arpeggio). For various other melodic devices, such as inversion, augmentation and diminution, see Contrapuntal Forms.

We subjoin some musical illustrations showing the treatment of figures in melody as a means of symmetry (Ex. I), and development (Ex. 2-7), and (Ex. 8-13) some modern melodic transformations, differing from earlier methods in being immediate instead of gradual. (D. F. T.) Ex. 1. "Barbara Allen" (showing the germ of binary form in the balance between A' on the dominant and A 2 on the tonic).


Ex. 2. Main theme of the first movement of Beethoven's Trio in B .. Op 97 ' tr tr 2 - - r -r- ? C R R -

- -R- ? I IB I I B2 pA Further sequential developments afp sfp sfp  ? ?

S f p i ? s f p ?lt of A.

Ex. 4.

Ex. 3. Figure A of above developed in a new polyphonic 4-bar phrase.

A = ? I f  ? ?. t ??? - 4 1 -  ? ?. ? F -4 Ex. 5. Development of C with B. C I C 1 I X' 1 I ?_?

? I `? 120 !.. ?

C x SI 1 1 B .

tr Ex. 6. Further development of B by diminution, in combination with the trills derived from C. C 2 f o r tr t tr _?

-? ?' f ,?J &c.

? L ?j?

I ? {? = ?H -?- -I ? ? I: ?

?-? ?


_ _ =?: ?? -?- 6:„..o u B diminished.

7. Further development of B by diminution and contrary motion (inversion).

B inverted.

, --i 3 o i - f r - A scA rl Ex. 8. Brahms, Quintet, Op. 34.


? ? - - ? B `- ?? - Ex. 12, The Nibelung's Talisman. N ?

Ex. 11. The Rheindaughter's Toy. W a gner, Das Rheingold. Ex. 13. Walhalla. _ oEf2_$- _?

? -? _ ? _ ?-?----? :. - = -. +-- C 2 t ?  ???

C 2 tr pizz. Ex. 9. A and B 2 diminished.

Ex. i o.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also melody




From the noun melody; in regular use since the 20th century.

Proper noun




  1. A female given name.

Related terms


Simple English

A melody in music is a group of notes of various pitches (How high or low a note sounds) which are played one after another. Together they make a tune in the same way that a group of words make a sentence. Some people like to sing melodies. Melodies have rhythm (the length of the notes).

In music, 'melody' contrasts with 'harmony'. Harmony means notes which are played at the same time, like chords. Composers often think of a melody and then add harmony to it.

Some music has more than one melody happening at the same time. When this happens throughout the whole piece, it is called polyphonic music. Rounds and fugues are types of polyphonic music. If the other melody only happens sometimes, then the second melody is called a countermelody.

The adjective of melody is melodic. There is also the adjective melodious which means: 'a sweet-sounding melody'.

Music that does not have an obvious melody may be hard to understand (unless it is focused on rhythm, such as a drum solo).

Many melodies are easy to sing, while others are difficult to sing. Still other melodies are impossible to sing. Those melodies can still be played on instruments such as the piano or guitar.

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