Music has distinct elements that audience members should learn to identify and recognize in music. This knowledge will help improve the listeners experience and improve communication between patrons. The basic building blocks of music composition will help the listener develop a greater appreciation for and interest in new music. Music is an abstract art that defies complete explanations, but learning to communicate with the appropriate terminology allows you to more accurately express your opinions on music. Learn to appreciate the richness of music and bring more fulfillment to your life by starting with a basic knowledge of the elements of music.
Melody and Countermelody
Melodies and countermelodies consist of three basic characteristics -- phrases, periods, and motives. The melody is the part of the composition that can be sung back. Most melodies, or tunes, follow a stepwise motion and can be sung by the average person. Most melodies avoid large skips or leaps in the music, as skips and leaps are both difficult to sing and create a disjunct feeling in the music. As the music becomes more advanced, melodies commonly become more abstract and skips and leaps become more common. The melodies of Webern, Schoenberg, and Berg consists of wide leaps, while the melodies of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven tends to be more stepwise. When confronted with a new piece, try listening to it at least three times before passing judgment on the composition. This will allow you to gain familiarity with the work before making a decision. The antithesis of a melody is the countermelody. As the name suggests, a countermelody plays against, or counter to the melody. Most countermelodies are played in the higher registers. For instance, the piccolo countermelody in the John Philip Sousa march, "Stars and Stripes Forever" provides a contrasting and separate secondary melody. In Western Art Music, the countermelody is commonly found in the bass.
Starting with the smallest element, motives are short fragments of a larger melody. They can consist of as few as two notes. Beethoven's 5th Symphony provides an excellent example of a motive that is later pieced together into a larger work. The simple four-note motive in the beginning provides the basis for the first movement of the work. Composers combine motives to build, expand, and develop melodies in a composition.
Periods are the largest part of the melody and consist of a combination of antecedent and consequent phrases. The antecedent phrase is the first half of the phrase, and similar to a compound sentence, it addresses a complete thought, but sounds incomplete on its own. The consequent phrase completes the antecedent phrase and provides a sense of conclusion. Some phrases may have more than one antecedent phrase, but there is typically only one consequent phrase as the consequent phrase successfully ends the melody. The ending of an antecedent phrase usually sounds weak and incomplete, in...