Tutorial: Musical Elements - Melody

In a previous tutorial we had discussed a musical element called rhythm.  We will take a closer look at other important musical elements to consider when composing music - Melody, Harmony, Key and Scales. The concepts studied in this lesson will be enhanced through compositional activities and a project.


As a computer music composer, it is vital to understand how melody works and how to effectively compose a melody in order to achieve the desired mood.

Melody - A series of single notes that add up to a recognizable whole.

Characteristics of Melody  

Begins, moves, ends-Has direction, shape and continuity.

Tension and release-Expectation and Arrival.

Stepwise vs. leap motion:

Melodies move by small intervals called steps or larger ones called leaps.

Climax=The highest tone of melody/emotional focal point.

Legato vs. staccato=Note durations can vary the effect of a melody.

Melodic Phrases

Melodies are organized into phrases

Phrases are melodies made up of shorter parts.

Balanced pairs: Rising pitches followed by falling pitches

Analyze: Lowercase letters to represent sections of a piece:  a,b,etc. 

Different phrases: a,b   Phrase Repeated:  a,a

Varied Repetition: a, a’

Sequence within melodies: A repetition of a melodic pattern at a higher or lower pitch.

Cadence: Complete vs. Incomplete: A point of arrival/resting place at end of phrase-Partial, setting up expectations=incomplete; Sense of finality=Complete

For audio and visual examples of phrases, click the "Exploring Melody and Phrases Below".

In Review of Exploring Melody and Phrases

Be able to identify the following elements of melody:

    Climax (focal point)
    Incomplete and complete sequence

Be able to identify the following elements of Phrases:

    Principal statement  

    Unequal length


Theme: melody used as starting point and evolving throughout an extended piece of music.

Listening Guide

Identify the themes from the following film clip:


Go To Composition Techniques