A melody (from
Greek μελῳδία, melōidía, "singing, chanting"), also tune, voice or line, is a
linear succession of
musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. In its most literal sense, a melody is a combination of
rhythm, while more figuratively, the term can include other musical elements such as
tonal color. It is the foreground to the background
accompaniment. A line or
part need not be a foreground melody.
The true goal of music—its proper enterprise—is melody. All the parts of harmony have as their ultimate purpose only beautiful melody. Therefore, the question of which is the more significant, melody or harmony, is futile. Beyond doubt, the means is subordinate to the end.
Melody is to music what a scent is to the senses: it jogs our memory. It gives face to form, and identity and character to the process and proceedings. It is not only a musical subject, but a manifestation of the musically subjective. It carries and radiates personality with as much clarity and poignancy as harmony and rhythm combined. As such a powerful tool of communication, melody serves not only as protagonist in its own drama, but as messenger from the author to the audience.
Given the many and varied elements and styles of melody "many extant explanations [of melody] confine us to specific stylistic models, and they are too exclusive." Paul Narveson claimed in 1984 that more than three-quarters of melodic topics had not been explored thoroughly.
The melodies existing in most European music written before the 20th century, and popular music throughout the 20th century, featured "fixed and easily discernible frequency
patterns", recurring "events, often periodic, at all structural levels" and "recurrence of durations and patterns of durations".
Melodies in the
20th century "utilized a greater variety of pitch resources than ha[d] been the custom in any other historical period of
Westernmusic." While the
diatonic scale was still used, the
chromatic scale became "widely employed." Composers also allotted a structural role to "the qualitative dimensions" that previously had been "almost exclusively reserved for pitch and rhythm". Kliewer states, "The essential elements of any melody are duration, pitch, and quality (
timbre), texture, and loudness. Though the same melody may be recognizable when played with a wide variety of timbres and dynamics, the latter may still be an "element of linear ordering."
Balinesegamelan music often uses complicated variations and alterations of a single melody played simultaneously, called
composers often introduce an initial melody, or
theme, and then create variations. Classical music often has several melodic layers, called
polyphony, such as those in a
fugue, a type of
counterpoint. Often, melodies are constructed from
motifs or short melodic fragments, such as the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
Richard Wagner popularized the concept of a leitmotif: a motif or melody associated with a certain idea, person or place.
abcdeKliewer, Vernon (1975). "Melody: Linear Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music", Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music, pp. 270–301. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.