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A melody (from Greek μελῳδία - melōidía, "singing, chanting"), also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity. In its most literal sense, a melody is a sequence of pitch and durations, while, more figuratively, the term has occasionally been extended to include successions of other musical elements such as tone color.

Melodies often consist of one or more musical phrase or motifs, and are usually repeated throughout a song or piece in various forms. Melodies may also be described by their melodic motion or the pitches or the intervals between pitches (predominantly conjuct or disjunct or with further restrictions), pitch range, tension and release, continuity and coherence, cadence, and shape.


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 have "utilized a greater variety of pitch resources than has been the custom in any other historical period of Western music." While the diatonic scale is still used, the twelve-tone 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". DeLone 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"


Different musical styles use melody in different ways. For example:

See also

Further reading

  • Apel, Willi. Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed., p.517-19.
  • Edwards, Arthur C. The Art of Melody, p.xix-xxx. Includes "a catalog of sample definitions."
  • Holst, Imogen (1962/2008). Tune, Faber and Faber, London. ISBN 0571241980.
  • Smits van Waesberghe, J. (1955). A Textbook of Melody: A course in functional melodic analysis, American Institute of Musicology. Includes "an attempt to formulate a theory of melody."
  • Szabolcsi, Bence (1965). A History Of Melody, Barrie and Rockliff, London.


  1. Narveson, Paul (1984). Theory of Melody. ISBN 0819138347.
  2. DeLone et al. (Eds.) (1975). Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music, chap. 4, p.270-301. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.

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