May 2020 Exercises

What is Melody? 

“The true goal of music—its proper enterprise—is melody. All the parts of harmony have as their ultimate purpose only beautiful melody. Therefore, the question of which is the more significant, melody or harmony, is futile. Beyond doubt, the means is subordinate to the end.” Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1771) 


Melody is a linear succession or sequence of notes that are perceived to be unified. 

Melody is made up of several musical elements. Interval, pitch, timbre, texture, and range are all known as characteristic of melody. 

Interval is the distance between two pitches.

Pitch can be defined as the highness or lowness of a specific tone depending on its frequency. 

Timbre is the quality, color, or tone that differentiates two sounds in the same frequency. 

Texture is how the melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and timbers relate to the overall effect of the musical piece. 

Range is the distance between the highest and lowest tones in the melody. 


 The melody will generally be recognizable when played within a variety musical dynamic and can be characterized as a linear sequence. But, depending on the genre of music melody might look a little different.  


Check out these great examples of melody: 

  • In Jazz music, the term lead is often used to refer to the main melody of the musical piece which is then used as a starting point for improvisation. Look at Jack Teagarden’s I got Rhythm as an example of how the lead can be used to create a series of dynamic melodies. 

  • Rock, Pop, and Folk music typically have two to three melodies that are commonly referred to as the verse, chorus, and bridge. The variety will typically be shown in the lyrical content. Some examples of melody in pop music are Rolling in the Deep by Adele or All you Need is Love by the Beatles 

  • Indian Classical music relies heavily on the melody and rhythm because there are no chord changes and is typically absent of harmony. Tabla-Dhwani by Ravi Shankar is a great example of how the melody line is used to set the tone and the song is then built of a variety of rhythmic patterns. 

  • Balinese gamelan music will use intricate variations of a single melody and play them simultaneously, known as heterophony. 

  • In Western Classical music, the initial melody will be introduced and then used to create variations of that initial melody. These variations are known ad melodic layers or polyphony. Examples of these melodic variations can be found in fugues like the opening of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. 

  • In contemporary music of the 20th and 21st century you will notice that the pitch and duration are lessened in importance, but the quality of the melody gained importance. Look at the third movement of Ruth Crawford- Seeger’s String Quartet 1931, which creates melody from an unchanging set of pitches through dissonant dynamics. 



  1. Write a list of songs that demonstrate melody in the following genres and how those melodies are different and the same: 

    1. Blues- 

    2. Bachata- 

    3. Country- 

    4. Flamenco- 

    5. Hip- Hop- 

    6. Rag Time- 


  1. Review a song that you have written and write down the following as it pertains to the melody: 

    1. Interval- 

    2. Pitch-  

    3. Timbre- 

    4. Texture- 

    5. Range- 


  1. In this exercise, you’ll discover how changing chords while a melody note stays the same gives the impression of melodic movement. 

    1. Play the following chord progression several times: C Bb F Bb 

    2. Sing the note E as you play through the progression, improvising rhythms, but staying on the melodic note E. 

    3. Play through the progression again while singing E but allow your voice to rise and fall above the E note to fit the movement of the chords. 

    4. Now create your own progression and choose a different starting note.