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Discovering music through listening
Discovering music through listening

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1 What makes a melody?

You have already explored how the character of music can be influenced by rhythm; organised patterns of varying different lengths of sound. In addition to varying lengths of sound, musicians make use of different notes. When combined or heard in succession, these notes can sound high or low in relation to each other. Each musical note is distinct and is musically defined as a pitch. Pitch can be measured scientifically as frequencies. For example, the note ‘A’ is 440 hertz.

When a number of different pitches appear in succession, and are organised following certain broad principles, we recognise these as melodies or tunes. Melodies are organised to form shapes and patterns. Their character is determined by the choice of notes which form the melody, the relation between these notes (its movement), its contours (or shape) and the overall balance of these features.

One of the functions of a melody is that it is recognisable. However, melodies can be represented in different ways and some may be easier to hear than others. For example, it may be relatively easy to pick out a melody performed by a singer, where the accompaniment simply acts as a backdrop. However, it may be more difficult to identify the melody in orchestral, instrumental or choral music, where the melody is played or passed between different instruments or voices.