You don’t have to be a musician in order to understand the building blocks of music. Anyone who shows enough interest and appreciates music surely benefits from learning how to identify music’s building blocks.
Music can be analyzed by taking into consideration a variety of its elements or parts, individually or together.
The design of a musical composition can be described on several levels as music is a multi-dimensional, multimedia phenomenon. Music can be loud or soft, regular or irregular, fast or slow all of which are evidence of a performer interpreting a composition’s elements or parameters.
Through this blog, we will familiarize you in detail with the different elements of music.
Different Elements of Music
We will now list down the different elements of music and provide a detailed overview of each element.
- Rhythm: Rhythm represents the time element of music and refers to the pattern or placement of sounds in time and beats in music. For achieving the rhythm element, notes of different durations are organized into patterns and a specific rhythm denotes a specific pattern in time. We generally hear a rhythm in relation to a steady pulse and follow the structural rhythmic pulse of the music when you tap your foot to the music. Rhythm can also be defined as the specific arrangement of note lengths in a piece of music.
Rhythm is made up of several aspects that include the following:
- Beat: A beat gives music its rhythmic pattern and can be regular or irregular. Beats are grouped together in a measure while the notes and rests refer to a certain number of beats.
- Meter: Meter is the term given to rhythmic patterns generated by grouping together strong and weak beats. A meter can be generated through an organization of beats into recurring accent patterns. A meter can be duple, triple, quadruple and so on.
- Tempo: It refers to the speed of the beat or the speed at which a piece of music is played. It is described by the number of beats/second. Tempo is of three types namely ‘Largo’ that stands for a slow, languid pace, ‘Moderato’ that indicates a moderate pace and ‘Presto’ that stands for a very fast pace.
- Syncopation: This is the term given to putting accents ‘off-the-beat’
- Polyrhythm: This is the term supplied to more than one independent rhythm or meter happening simultaneously
2. Melody: It refers to the overarching tune generated by playing a succession or series of notes and denotes the ‘most prominent line or voice’ in a composition that the listener follows most closely. Melody refers to a combination of pitch and rhythm. A composition may incorporate a single melody that runs through once or may contain multiple melodies arranged in a verse-chorus form. Melody represents an element that focuses on the horizontal representation of pitch.
The following elements constitute a melody:
- Pitch: The term that describes the ‘highness’ or ‘lowness’ of a musical sound. The pitch of a sound relies on the frequency of vibration and the size of the vibrating object. Scales are created through the organization of pitches with patterns of intervals between them.
- Theme: At times, a melody is regarded as the ‘Theme’ of a composition.
- Conjunct and Disjunct Melody: A ‘Conjunct’ melody is the one that uses mostly small intervals and is smooth while a ‘Disjunct’ melody is the one that uses large intervals and is disjointedly ragged or jumpy.
3. Dynamics: It denotes the volume of a performance and represents the relative loudness or softness of music. Dynamics is represented by symbols or abbreviations that symbolize the intensity at which a note or passage should be played or sung. A composition possessing extremely loud, as well as extremely soft passages, is said to possess a large or wide dynamic range.
The following elements constitute dynamics:
- Crescendo and Decrescendo: Dynamics can very suddenly or gradually where ‘crescendo’ stands for ‘getting louder’ and ‘decrescendo’ denotes ‘getting softer’
- Piano: Stands for ‘quiet’
- Forte: Stands for ‘loud’
4. Harmony: It is the element that focuses on the verticalization of pitch and represents the art of combining pitches into chords that are subsequently arranged into sentence-like patterns called progressions. Harmony is what you hear when two or more notes or chords are played simultaneously. This element supports the melody and provides texture to it. Harmony refers to the succession of chords and is usually described in terms of its relative harshness.
The elements making up the harmony include the following:
- Consonance: It refers to a smooth-sounding harmonic combination
- Dissonance: It is the term given to a harsh-sounding harmonic combination
- Chords: Chords refers to two or more notes played together simultaneously. Chords can be ‘major’, ‘minor’, ‘augmented’ or ‘diminished’ that depends on the notes being played together
5. Texture: It is a term given to the number of individual musical lines and how these are related to each other or it can be said to denote the number and type of layers that constitute a composition and how these layers are associated with each other. Texture specifies the relationship of lines called ‘voices’ within a piece.
The elements that constitute ‘Texture’ include the following:
- Monophonic: It refers to a single melodic line or one voice or melody with no harmony.
- Homophonic: It refers to the main melody accompanied by chords or stands for two or more notes sounding at the same time usually featuring a prominent melody in the upper part supported by a less intricate harmonic accompaniment underneath or refers to chords moving in the same rhythm
- Polyphonic: A term that stands for music with two or more independent melodies sounding simultaneously
- Heterophony: This is the term given to mixed or multiple similar versions of a melody performed at the same time
6. Tone Color: Also known as timbre, it represents the quality of sound or characteristic that helps us distinguish one voice or instrument from another and to differentiate between vowel sounds. Tone color may range from dull to lush and from dark to bright depending on the technique. Each musical instrument generates its own characteristic sound patterns and resultant ‘overtones’ that impart it a unique ‘tone color’ or ‘timbre’. Composers utilize timbre much like painters utilize colors to evoke certain atmospheres on a canvas. Timbre is usually determined by the harmonic content of a sound.
Spectrum and envelope represent the physical characteristics of sound that determine the perception of timbre. Timbre usually refers to the sounds produced by different instruments and covers all the different sounds that one instrument can generate.
7. Form: This represents the manner in which the song is structured and represents the music architecture in space and time. The term describes the order of events in a piece of music. Most music can be broken down into sections wherein some sections are repeated and there are different orders. The term ‘form’ stands for the number of sections and their relationship to each other and to the whole. Modern music sections usually have an evenness and symmetrical like quality to them. Pieces generally have a balance of repetition and contrast.
Form represents the organizing structure of a piece of music and clues to the form of a composition can be found in several ways such as ‘through the phrases of a melody’ or ‘through the text’, ‘through the harmonic structure’, ‘through the repetition of melodic material’ or ‘through the introduction of new, contrasting material’.
A Form is of the following types:
We utilize the letters A, B, C to designate musical divisions of a piece.
- Binary: This refers to a two-part form that includes two sections of music (A and B) with each section repeated (AA BB). This form focuses on the idea of contrast
- Ternary Form: This refers to a three-part form featuring a return of the initial music post a contrasting section. This form is of the type ‘ABA’ and seeks to achieve balance and symmetry. The return of the initial phrase may be an exact repeat or may vary in some way
- Strophic Form: A design in vocal music consists of several phrases and this form involves the use of same music for several verses of a text as in a hymn or a folk song. The pattern in this form is like ‘AAA..’ or ‘BBB..’.
Conclusion: We hope that this blog will familiarize you in detail about the different elements of music.