The Components of Music: Part Two

Melody: LadyDpiano


A melody is a succession of pitches that move in time. Each tone in a melody has both pitch and duration. Most modules are built from pitch arrangements called scales. There are many kinds of scales. You are familiar with major scales and minor scales. Here's an earlier post to refresh your studies, Reviewing 4 Scales.

Because melody has both pitch and duration, it cannot be separated from rhythm. Melody, therefore, could be described as motion plus rhythm. Melody is a continuous movement, and is, therefore, the progress of a moving line passing through successive sounds. A composer manipulates this movement in much the same way as a painter draws a line or a sculptor molds a shape. A line of any kind, however, whether visual or tonal, has direction. It moves either upward or downward. The movement of the line is what gives the melody a recognizable profile. Most melodies are built from pitch organizations called scales. There are many kinds of scales.

Modes: LadyDpiano



The scale above is called the Dorian mode. If you want to experiment with different modes, then read Learn Improv with Modes.

"Scarborough Fair" is an old English song that is based on this scale, D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D. This scale is called the Dorian mode. There are many kinds of modes. each mode uses a different pattern of intervals.

Reviewing Scales: LadyDpiano

Reviewing Scales

The meaning of the term "scale" is an ascending or descending arrangement of pitches from which melodies and harmonies are built (generally within the octave). Half step examples: C-C#, E-F, A-Ab, B-C. Whole step examples: C-D, E-F#, A-G, Bb-C). A scale may start on any tone. Play some of these scales, starting in different tones. Choose one of the scales and improvise a melody.

  • Major Scale
          W   W   1/2    W W W 1/2

  • Minor Scale
        W  1/2  W  W  1/2  W  W

  • Dorian mode
         W  1/2  W  W  W  1/2  W

  • Mixolydian mode
         W  W  1/2  W  W  1/2  W
A great resource you may be interested in is Fundamentals of Piano Theory - Level 1.

Pentatonic Scales

You can use pentatonic scales for improvisation and composition. Pentatonic scales are related to the music of some of the Indian cultures. This is an example of a Pentatonic scale: D E F# A B. Not all scales have seven tones. Many songs are built on a five-tone scale. Five-tone scales are called pentatonic scales. Much music from the Far East uses pentatonic scales.

If you want to understand pentatonic scales, visit Altered Pentatonic Scales and Patterns.

Composing with Pentatonic Scales

"Sakura" is a famous Japanese folk song. This song is a delicate musical picture of cherry blossom time in Japan. When arranging notes of the song from low to high, use B C E F A B C. Notice that there are two half steps in this scale, unlike the more familiar, pentatonic scale. (Half steps are between B and C, E and F.)

Tone Row

Tone rows are pitch organizations like scales except that they have no tonal center. Some music has no tonal center. 

Building a Tone Row

The tone row was first developed by an Austrian author-composer, Arnold Schoenberg. Now manycomposers use tone row as a basis for their music. Schoenberg developed the twelve-tone system, in which every composition is based upon an arbitrary arrangement of the twelve chromatic tones, called a tone-row. An example would be C, E, G, C#, A, B, F, Eb, D, F#, G#, A#.

Building a Tone Row: LadyDpiano

Microtonal Music

Some composers make up their own scales. The American composer Harry Partch (1901-1974) used a scale which has forty-three pitches to each octave. His music based on intervals smaller than half steps is called microtonal music. Microtonal music sounds out of tune to people who listen only to music built from half and whole steps.

A great handbook resource I recommend to musicians is Jermaine Griggs, 300 Pg Piano By Ear Home Study Course. I refer to it often with my piano students wanting to compose songs with a few chords.

Have fun building on music theory and using the information to improvise with making songs at your fingertips! 

-- LadyD

 "The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King

The Components of Music: Part One

Morning Musicians: LadyDpiano

Good morning, musicians!

I'm back to giving piano lessons to children and adults this year. I have some amazing students who really enjoy playing songs from Disney movies. Then there are music games to be enjoyed within the half an hour lesson. Lots of theory is covered in a 45-minute lesson as well.

I thought I would cover a great subject today, like music components in three parts. Here we go!

The Components Of Music


What is it that causes you to tap your feet or sway as you listen to some kinds of music? All music has rhythm. The rhythms of music consist of sounds and silences of various lengths. One component of rhythm is a strong pulse or regular accent.

The strong pulse of music helps people move together. For example, the LEFT-right, LEFT-right feeling of a march is created by a regular accent.

Sight Reading & Rhythm Every day
  • Meter in Music
Meter is the pattern of beats by which a piece of music is measured. The meter signature is merely a way of showing this pattern. 2/4 meter signature is an example of a duple meter (2 beats to a measure with the quarter note receiving 1 beat).

Strong pulse in music divides beats into groups of 2's and 3's, and combinations of such groups. This grouping of beats is called meter. In written music, a bar line is placed before normally strong beats. Bar lines group beats into measures. A meter signature shows what the grouping in each measure will be.

2/4 = 2 beats per measure. A quarter note gets 1 count.
3/4 = 3 beats per measure. A quarter note gets 1 count.
4/4 = 4 beats per measure. A quarter note gets 1 count.

2/4 is an example of duple meter. If the meter signature were 3/8 it would be a triple meter (3 beats per measure with the eighth note receiving 1 count). In the case of 5/4, it would be an irregular meter (5 beats to a measure). In order to mark off these metric groupings, bar lines are used.

LadyDpiano: Changing the Meter

  • Changing Meter
A changing meter can make a melody seem to have more freedom. 

  • Irregular Meter
Most of the music you hear has a regular meter throughout the whole piece.
4/4     2/2    3/4
But sometimes music has an irregular meter. Irregular meter adds interest to music.

One of the most familiar meters in music is 3/4, or triple meter. This means that there are three metric beats in each measure. This meter is often referred to as "waltz time," because the waltz step is danced in triple meter.

LadyDpiano: Syncopated Rhythm

  • Syncopated Rhythm
Some music has a syncopated rhythm. This means that accents in the music fall on notes that are not normally accented. Syncopation helps to make music more exciting. Syncopation is usually not identified by accent marks. The music is arranged so that the accents will fall in unusual places.

When the normal pulse of meter and rhythm is deliberately changed, syncopation occurs. Syncopation can be created in a number of ways: by shifting the accent to what are normally weak beats of a measure; by holding on over strong beats; by using rests on strong beats. In normal usage, syncopation occurs in one part only while the other parts stress the normal pulse of the meter. So, ties, short-long note patterns, and rests are ways of creating syncopation.

  • Triplets
The small 3 above a group of notes tells that the three notes are played in the same amount of time that two of the same notes normally receive. These groups of three notes are called triplets.

  • Music without Meter
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is an example of early church music. This was the most important type of music during the early Middle Ages (600 - 1000 A.D.). At that time, the written music contained a little indication of rhythm. It is a thought that the melodies took their rhythm from the rhythm of the words. In this kind of music, there is no metric beat.

Piano teachers and homeschool moms may want to purchase Music for Little Mozarts--Rhythm Speller. It's a fun book for beginners at the piano. For more intermediate to advanced players, you may want to look at Easy Latin Standards.

It feels so good to be back writing and sharing with you. May you be encouraged to share your musical, creative gifts right where you are.


-- LadyD

 "The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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