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A melody type is a term used by musicologists and ethnomusicologists to represent a set of melodic formulas, figures, and patterns which are used in the composition of an enormous variety of music, especially non-Western and early Western music. Such music is generally composed by a process of centonization, either freely (i.e. improvised) or in a fixed pattern.

Most cultures which compose music in this way organize the patterns into distinct melody types. These are often compared to modern Western scales, but they in fact represent much more information than a sequence of permissible pitches, since they include how those pitches should function in the music, and indicate basic formulas which serve as a basis for improvisation. In non-improvised music, such as codified liturgical music, it is still usually clear how the melody developed from set patterns.

Melody types are considered the precursors to modes and, later, scales. These later developments place less emphasis on the stock of melodic figures, and allow more free composition.

Melody types around the world

Extra-melodic implications

In most cases, these melody types are associated with extra-musical implications, particularly emotions (see Indian rasa, for instance). They are also often associated with certain times. For example, most ragas are associated with a certain time of day, or a wayang performance in Java implies a certain succession of pathets.

Many of these traditions have a corresponding rhythmic framework. These include:

  • Usul in Arabian and Turkish music
  • Tala in Indian music
  • Bentuk in Javanese music

See also

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