(from Gr. ‘Melos’).
A succession of notes, varying in pitch, which have an organized and recognizable shape. Melody is ‘horizontal’, i.e. the notes are heard consecutively, whereas in harmony notes are sounded simultaneously (‘vertical’). The mus. of many primitive races still remains purely melodic, as does European folksong and also plainsong. Many apparently simple folk melodies will be found, on examination, however, to be highly organized, e.g. as regards the use at different pitch levels of some simple, brief motif, the adroit use of a high note as a point of climax, etc.; many such melodies will be found to be cast in some definite form, such as simple ternary form.
Rhythm is an important element in melody, whether it be the prose rhythm of primitive mus., plainsong, and the comps. of some modern composers, or the metrical rhythm of most other mus. Indeed this element is so much a governing factor in the effect of a melody that if, while the notes of a popular melody are left intact, the rhythm is drastically altered, it becomes difficult to recognize the melody. The rhythm of many melodies is extraordinarily subtle and repays close study.
Once harmony had become an element in mus. it began to influence melody in this way—that melodic passages are often found to be based on the notes of a chord (with or without added decorative or intermediate notes).
It is difficult to define ‘originality’ in melody. Apparently it lies mainly in mere detail, since, on critical examination, what we accept as an orig. melody is often found closely to resemble some previous and quite well‐known melody. It is often difficult to see what has led to the popularity of a particular melody, or what it is that gives some melodies durability while others prove to be merely ephemeral: however, it will generally be found that the long‐lived melodies possess the valuable quality of logical organization.
Racial and nat. feeling expresses itself strongly in melody, particular scales, intervals, and rhythms being typical of the mus. of particular races or nations.
The word is also sometimes used as the title for a small, simple piece, e.g. Rubinstein's Melody in F.