Most people think of melody as the memorable part of a piece of music. It is the tune, the theme, often the part that identifies the piece.
In basic terms, a melody is a succession of pitches that may rise or fall and has a certain rhythm. In many types of music, the melody is repetitive and becomes lodged in the listener’s mind. It is often sung or played on a melodic instrument. Pianists often think of it as the part of the music played by the right hand.
Throughout the ages humans have had a special affinity with melody. There is a natural drive within us to sing, hum or whistle tunes, and catchy melodies (like those found in pop songs, folk songs and nursery rhymes) are constructed in such a way that they are easy to remember and repeat.
Our love for melody is probably the reason why instruments associated with melody – like violin, flute or trumpet – are more popular with young people than middle range or bass instruments – like viola, bassoon or trombone. By far the most commonly learned instrument in the UK is the piano, and of course part of the appeal of this instrument is its ability to play melodies and accompaniments at the same time.
In this module we will be looking at what makes a melody. We will examine its most common features – those which transcend musical genres – and find out how composers and songwriters arrange pitches to make memorable tunes. Then we will learn how to deconstruct and analyse them.