Explore Melody

  • WHAT MAKES UP A MELODY?

    Click the terms below to find out more!
  • Phrase

    A phrase is a section of a melody. Think of it as a sentence such as “I went to the concert and I had a good time.” This can be broken into two phrases “I went to the concert” “and I had a good time.” Melodies can be divided in a similar way.

  • Motive

    This is the smallest idea within a melody. It is usually just a few notes, but is recognizable to the listener.

  • Cadence

    Often phrases end with either the dominant or tonic chord and give a sense of pause or completion. This feeling of rest is the point of cadence.

  • One of the great things about melodies is that they can be so different from each other in style, complexity, and shape.  
    They do tend to share some common characteristics, however.  Some of these are:
    • Question/Answer phrasing:  The opening phrase sounds incomplete by itself. The second phrase “answers” the first and makes the melody feel complete.
    • Repetition of a phrase:  Many melodies repeat a phrase, especially as the closing of the melody. This repetition makes the melody feel complete as well.
    • Balance of phrase length:  Often melodies are comprised of 2 or 4 phrases of the same length. The symmetry of this arrangement of phrases is pleasing to the listener.  
    See if you can find these patterns in the following famous melodies!
  • "Ode to Joy" by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • In this melody notice how the 2nd phrase is repeated at the end.  The phrases can be labeled A B C B
    Often, a phrase or a portion of a phrase will repeat within a melody.

  • Farandole “March of the Kings” by Georges Bizet
  • This melody clearly feels like a march.  It’s dotted rhythms and stately tempo give it a regal feel of the “March of the Kings.”  It is built of two phrases which form a question and answer.

  • Hymn from "Jupiter" by Gustav Holst
  • In this lyrical melody the opening two phrases repeat to close the melody in an ABCDAB pattern.  The phrase length in the melody is balanced as well which makes it work well with the patriotic text added later.

  • Symphony No. 5, mvt. 2 by Tchaikovsky
  • In this beautiful melody the first two measures repeat in both the first and second phrases.  The melody is more asymmetrical than others and occurs with different phrase lengths and conclusions throughout the movement.