Introduction to Melody

 
 
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What Is A Melody?

When most of us think of music, we probably think of a song we've heard on the radio.  A song is the easiest part of music to remember.  Can you recognize this famous song?  You might call this a tune or a melody, too.  You'd be right.

What exactly is a song?  How is it different from a melody?  What is a melody?  Let's find out.  

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Song

A song is music with words.  It's never too high or too low to sing.  It's easy to remember.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It's not too long.  Yankee Doodle and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star are famous songs.  Can you name other famous songs? 

Melody can be a song.  But melody is more than just a song.   It can also be other things, like a theme or a motive or counterpoint or countermelody.  

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Theme

A theme is a melody fragment.  It's a piece of a melody that is waiting to grow up into something big. 

The American composer John Philip Sousa wrote a famous march called The Stars and Stripes Forever.  He uses three themes to build his march:

Theme One This theme begins the march. 
Theme Two This theme appears next.
Theme Three This is the most famous of the three themes.  

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 Motive

Motives are even shorter than themes.  A motive can be just two notes long!  These little scraps of melody also grow up to become great melodies.  Symphonic music uses motives all the time.  Think of a seed that grows into a tree.  That's a motive

With just four little notes Beethoven created one of the most famous motives ever written.  That piece is called Symphony No. 5.  He repeats these four little notes and makes them grow to into a big symphony. 

 

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 Counterpoint

That's a big word, but easy to understand.  It means two melodies at once.  You have to practice listening to hear all the melodies blending together.  This also creates harmony.

Home on the Range and My Home's In Montana create great counterpoint when sung together.  Try this:

Home on the Range + My Home's In Montana = Counterpoint

Bach was a master of counterpoint.  That means he could write many melodies and combine them in the same piece.  Listen to his fugue.  Can you hear the different melodies?

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Countermelody

A countermelody is an extra melody in a piece of music.  It is usually heard on top of the main melody.  It's like the frosting on top of a cake. 

Do you remember that Sousa march we listened to earlier?  Toward the end of the march there is a countermelody that Sousa puts on top of the third theme.  The piccolo plays this famous countermelody.  

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