In music, a melody (from Greek μελῳδία - melōidía, "singing, chanting), also tune, voice, or line, is a series of linear events or a succession, not a simultaneity as in a chord (see harmony). However, this succession must contain change of some kind and be perceived as a single entity (possibly Gestalt) to be called a melody. Most specifically this includes patterns of changing pitches and durations, while most generally it includes any interacting patterns of changing events or quality. "Melody is said to result where there are interacting patterns of changing events occurring in time."
Change is necessary for events "to be understood as related or unrelated." Melodies often consist of one or more musical phrases, 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 conjuct or disjunct or with further restrictions), pitch range, tension and release, continuity and coherence, cadence, and shape. "Many extant explanations [of melody] confine us [sic] to specific stylistic models, and they are too exclusive."
The melodies in most European music written before the 20th century features recurring "events, often periodic, at all structural levels" and "recurrence of durations and patterns of durations" are also important in 20th century music.
While in the 20th century pitch includes "those aspects of sound that are classed as having highness or lowness" earlier music included almost exclusively sounds having "fixed and easily discernible frequency patterns" and composers have "utilized a greater variety of pitch resources than has been the custom in any other historical period of Western music." While materials from the diatonic scale are still used, the twelve-tone scale became "widely employed."
However, quality is not an essential element of melody, as the same melody is recognizable when played with a wide variety of timbres, textures, and loudness.
Melodies in the 20th century where increasingly reliant "upon the qualitative dimensions" with those dimensions "in pre-twentieth century music were almost exclusively reserved for pitch and rhythm" such as being an "element of linear ordering" rather than a highlight to "the more predominant pitch and rhythmic aspects." See Klangfarbenmelodie and Musique concrète.
Different musical styles
use melody in different ways. For example:
- Rock music, melodic music, and other forms of popular music and folk music tend to pick one or two melodies (verse and chorus) and stick with them; much variety may occur in the phrasing and lyrics. "Gino Stefani makes appropriation the chief criterion for his 'popular' definition of melody (Stefani 1987a). Melody, he argues, is music 'at hand'; it is that dimension which the common musical competence extracts (often with little respect for the integrity of the source), appropriates and uses for a variety of purposes: singing, whistling, dancing, and so on."
- In western classical music, composers often introduce an initial melody, or theme, and then create variations. Classical music often has several melodic layers, called polyphony, such as those in a fugue, a type of counterpoint. Often melodies are constructed from motifs or short melodic fragments, such as the opening of Beethoven's Fifth. Richard Wagner popularized the concept of a leitmotif: a motif or melody associated with a certain idea, '''person or place.
- While in both most popular music and classical music of the common practice period pitch and duration are of primary importance in melodies, the contemporary music of the 20th and 21st centuries pitch and duration have lessened in importance and quality has gained importance, often primary. Examples include musique concrete, klangfarbenmelodie, Elliott Carter's Eight Etudes and a Fantasy which contains a movement with only one note, the third movement of Ruth Crawford-Seeger's String Quartet 1931 (later reorchestrated as Andante for string orchestra) in which the melody is created from an unchanging set of pitches through "dissonant dynamics" alone, and György Ligeti's Aventures in which recurring phonetics create the linear form.
- Apel, Willi. Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd edition, p.517-19. Includes "a capsule definition of melody." (Delone et al 1975, p.270)
- Edwards, Arthur C. The Art of Melody, p.xix-xxx. Includes "a catalog of sample definitions." (ibid)
- Holst, Imogen. Tune, Faber and Faber, London, 1962.
- Smits van Waesberghe, J. A Textbook of Melody. Includes "an attempt to formulate a theory of melody." (ibid)