The five elements of music
MelodyWe might consider melody to be the single most important element within a song. In everyday language, this is the element we call ‘the tune’. In technical terms, however, the melody is a series of pitches, or notes, that are organised to form a shape or pattern. Each individual note is given a length determined by the rhythm of the melody, so we might think of melody as ‘pitch plus time’. In addition to this, we can identify that a melody has a number of different characteristics which we will refer to as phrase, contour and interval. We will deal with these aspects of melody in more detail in Week 2, but for now, just observe the way the melody has movement (provided by the fact that the pitches are of different lengths) and shape because the notes literally move up and down as the melody proceeds. In popular music, the singer in the band usually sings the main melody, while the other performers play an accompaniment that complements the singer.
HarmonyThis element of music arises when pitches are vertically combined, usually in groups of three notes. The common terms are chord or triad. Chords are used to harmonise a melody – providing accompanying notes that blend with and support the melody, and the notes of each chord are formed by combining notes together. We will investigate this topic in some detail in Week 4, so for now, just listen to the way pitch is divided in this piece between the melody sung by Nat Johnson and the notes played on the guitar and double bass to accompany the voice.
Want to keep
The University of Sheffield online course,
How to Write Your First Song
MetreThis element gives us a means of understanding one of the ways that time is organised in music. The metre of a piece is created by regularly recurring ‘pulses’ or ‘beats’ which are in effect accented units of time. So in this song, the metre is 4/4 and is created by a strong accent on the first of every four beats with milder accents on beats two, three and four. As the song progresses we can get a sense of the regularity of the beats (we tap our foot to them) and it underpins and organises the element of time within the song.
RhythmThis is a term that we will all be familiar with – rhythm describes the way time is applied to music. In this instance, the notes of the melody have rhythm since they are of different lengths. Crotchets (or quarter notes) last for one beat, quavers (or eighth notes) for half a beat, for example. All of the parts of the band – instrumental and vocal – create the rhythm of this song.
How to Write Your First Song
Our purpose is to transform access to education.
We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.
We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.