Elements of music can be thought of as the building blocks of music. Have you ever heard of chemical elements? Have you ever heard water being described as H-2-O? Well that term (H-2-O) refers to the different elements, or building blocks, that make water. Water is created when two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom are bonded together. Although music doesn’t require the bonding of chemical elements, music does have it’s own building blocks that join together in order to create the songs that we love hearing. Let’s explore some of the most important elements of music!
Elements of Music: Melody
Melody is perhaps the most important of all the musical elements. Why? Because the melody is the part of the song that is sung, the part of the song which uses lyrics. If someone played you a song and asked you to sing it back, the melody is the part of the song you would sing. For most people, the melody is the most recognizable part of any song.
Let’s check out an example. Below is a simple song that you’ve probably heard before. Can you identify it?
In the sound clip above (which features “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) you are only hearing the melody. You are not yet hearing the next element we will discuss, which is called hamony.
Elements of Music: Harmony
Harmony is an element of music that compliments and accompanies the melody. What does that mean exactly? Imagine that you are alone on stage in a huge auditorium, singing “Twinkle Twinkle” entirely by yourself. There are no other voices or instruments accompanying you. As we discussed, you would be singing the melody. Now imagine that there is a pianist playing the song with you, as well as a guitarist, and a bass player, and maybe even an entire horn section. These instruments will be accompanying you as you sing the melody of “Twinkle Twinkle.” The supporting notes that these instruments will play is called the harmony. The harmony is sometimes thought of as the background music, and it helps to enhance the sound of the melody, making it sound rich, dense, and full. Listen to the harmony example below:
Now listen to what happens when we combine both of these elements, melody and harmony:
Elements of Music: Rhythm
The last element of music we will discuss is called rhythm. Rhythm refers to the timing in which certain notes will be played. Will the note be played for a short duration, or will it be held out for many beats? These questions affect the rhythm of the music. Rhythm is used to create syncopations in the melody and harmony, giving the music a different kind of feel. Listen to your heart beating when at rest. It is pumping in a steady rhythm, every pump evenly spaced between the next. This is one example of rhythm.
Listen again to the example of “Twinkle Twinkle” above. In the example below, we will change the rhythm of the melody and harmony to create a different sound for this song: