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Music Lovers - Meet The Four Elements That Make Up Music

Updated on January 9, 2013

Introducing my 4 important friends...

I would like to introduce you to 4 very important friends of mine. Melody, harmony, rythym and timbre. These 4 friends are the basic elements that make up my favorite subject - music. They are also friends to musicians, composers, educators and singers.

Although each of these elements have a specific job and play a different role, each one is necessary in the formation and texture of music.

But only one element can survive all by itself and that is rythym. Allow me to explain my claim.

Melody, harmony and timbre have no beginning and no end without rythym. But rythym can stand alone as "the beat" directs the human heart as well as the human feet, mind and hands.

Therefore, the study and understanding of rythym is crucial to the instrumentalist. I say, it is the "heart beat" of music itself. It is as important to music as the human heart is to life itself.

But after listening to nothing but raw rythym long enough, a little something more is needed to hold our interest.

Melody, Though Art Beautiful...

Allow the word "melody" to melt in your mouth. Soften the "d" sound and do it again. Place your tongue a little further back against the hard palate, behind the teeth. This time, linger on the "m" consonant as though you are humming. Do this several times until the entire word "floats". The very word, melody, is a beautiful word.

Melody, moves up and down, sometimes repeating in pitch variation. I like to think of melody as the dressing on the rythym. Melody's function is to release emotion and support lyrics when necessary. Melody is derived from scales and modes.

The children and off spring of melody are pitch, duration, dynamics and timbre.

Melody will often invite a few friends along to join in the fun of making music.

Hello Harmony...

Harmony is related to a variety of pitches. These pitches usually occur together, at the same time, adding a whole different sound to the melody. When listening to music, we either hear one melody note at a time, or we hear 2 or more notes sounded simultaneously (harmony).

The most significant harmony is a chord. A chord consists of 2 or more musical sounds played together. In choir music, the 4-note chord is used most of the time. The terms bass, tenor, alto and soprano determine which of these 4 notes a person will sing.

The Mormom Tabernacle Choir is one of the most famous Choirs in the world for singing beautiful, resounding chords. I have attended a live concert and I can tell you, it is an experience never to be duplicated.

And who doesn't love a good Barbershop Quartet? The videos below demonstrate 4 part harmony. I have purposefully chosen the following video of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir so that the listener can concentrate on the harmonies of the voices and not be distracted by visual components. Listen and enjoy.

Awe Inspiring

Timbre - Say What?

The quality of musical sound is determined by tone color or timbre, (pronounced tam-bor). Another meaning of timbre is identifying the difference between tones played on a guitar and those same tones played on a piano, or different instrument.

A variety of words are used to describe timbre. To help you get the idea, here is a simple list of words commonly used to describe either timbre or tone quality. There are more words of course, but let's begin with these.

  • Brassy
  • Clear
  • Breathy
  • Rounded
  • Reedy

  • Mellow
  • Warm
  • Flat
  • Bright
  • Dark
  • Rich
  • Resonant
  • Light
  • Heavy
  • Piercing

So, there you have it. I hope this helps.

Amazing Harmony


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