A bar from J.S. Bach's "Fugue No.17 in A flat", BWV 862, from Das Wohltemperirte Clavier (Part I), an example of counterpoint.About this sound Play The two voices (melodies) on each staff may be distinguished by the direction of the beams.

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 combination of pitch and rhythm, while, more figuratively, the term has occasionally been extended to include successions of other musical elements such as tone color. It may be considered the foreground to the background accompaniment. A line or part need not be a foreground melody.

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 "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."[2] 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.[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]


A part is the music played by an individual instrument or voice (or group of identical instruments or voices) within a larger work, such as a melody. It also refers to the printed copy of the music for each instrument, as distinct from the score, which holds the music for all instruments in an ensemble. For example in a string ensemble you would have separate parts for Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola and Cello, even though there might be several of each instrument (and therefore several copies of each part).

Parts may be an outer part, the two on the top and bottom, or inner part, those in between. Part-writing is the composition of parts in consideration of harmony and counterpoint. Melody can be distinguished from harmony from the fact that Melody can be described as "Notes Over Time" whereas Harmony can be described as "Notes At One Time".

A part in great Highland Bagpipe music is a musical sentence. Usually each part consists of four phrases, either one or two bars long. Several sentences combine to produce a paragraph or complete work or tune.

In a polyphonic context the term voice is used to denote a single melodic line or textural layer. The term is generic, and is not meant to imply that the line should necessarily be vocal in character, instead referring to instrumentation or simply to register.


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


  1. ^ Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott. "Melodia". A Greek-English Lexicon publisher=Perseus project. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  3. ^ Narveson, Paul (1984). Theory of Melody. ISBN 0-8191-3834-7.
  4. ^ Marquis, G. Weston (1964). Twentieth Century Music Idioms, p.2. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Inglewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Further reading

  • Apel, Willi. Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed., p. 517-19.
  • Edwards, Arthur C. The Art of Melody, p.xix-xxx.
  • Holst, Imogen (1962/2008). Tune, Faber and Faber, London. ISBN 0-571-24198-0.
  • Smits van Waesberghe, J. (1955). A Textbook of Melody: A course in functional melodic analysis, American Institute of Musicology.
  • Szabolcsi, Bence (1965). A History Of Melody, Barrie and Rockliff, London.

External links

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