Building Blocks Of Music

Building Blocks Of Music

We always say that building blocks of music consists of three things:
1. Harmony,
2. Melody and
3. Rhythm.

Harmony and melody both describe the relationship between pitches (although differently) without respect to their duration, whereas rhythm describes the relationship between sounds and their durations without respect to their pitches. Harmony is what happens when we combine notes in music. If you add one or more notes to another note, and you play them at the same time or in a sequence, then you’ve added harmony to the original note. This is one way to think about the harmony.

Harmony is the vertical relationship between pitches. It is a structure, like a lattice; a network. When you understand the relationship between two or more notes harmonically, you are treating them as though they were happening at the same time (even if they are happening one after another). It is possible in this way to think about the way the overall harmonic structure of a piece moves and changes. Harmony is the thing that most people mean when they talk about theory.

Melody is like harmony in that it describes the relationship between pitches, but it is a horizontal rather than vertical understanding. While still a matter of relative structure, melody is all about the way that notes act in sequence, so that the same 4 notes played in different orders have different melodic values, even if those 4 notes taken together might have the same harmonic structure. Melody could be considered simply as part of the harmony which focuses on how notes sound together in a sequence. Usually we add harmony to a melody line (which puts the melody in a certain context and makes it sound richer), or we may add melody to the existing harmony.

Rhythm is the relationship, in time, between notes (or sounds in general) regardless of pitch relationships. Rhythm describes the way sounds pulse (or don’t pulse), their speed and regularity. Rhythmic structures describe the way a piece moves according to a particular kind of time-based division. While not generally the focus of as much theoretical attention, rhythm is equally as important. An understanding of the role of time and duration in music is essential since music is, after all, a time-based art form. That’s why there is a whole section dedicated to rhythm in this book.


A strong melody is essential to good music. It is the difference between bringing someone’s ear on a ride and driving right past it. Good melody is all about telling a story. It moves and unfolds, builds and releases. It plays against and with the chord structure of a song (the harmony) in a way that makes people want to hear it.

Good melody is hard to understand, and even harder to prescribe rules for (read: impossible), but in general we say that a melody consists of tension and release. That means that a good melody moves away from the harmonic center of the music, building tension, and then moves back in some interesting way, releasing that tension. To tell a story is to create an arc. To rise and to fall. And that’s what a good melody does: it begins somewhere, and while it usually follows the structure of the chords, it does so in a way that creates movement and drama, that makes a little friction between the single notes in the melody and the structure of the chords (its harmonic structure). In most music, this is followed by some kind of release, in which the relationship between the single notes and the chords is again easy, consonant and stable.


This concept is quite important in music theory and we’re going to use it a lot in the following pages, so it is worth explaining now. The root note of a scale or a chord is the note — usually the lowest note in the scale or chord, or the “bass” note (but it doesn’t have to be) — that is used to define the intervallic relationships in the rest of the scale or chord. In other words, all of the other notes are defined as intervals relating back to that one root note.

The root note is the first thing that the name of a chord or a scale lists, so that if someone is talking about a D minor 6th chord, then you know that the D is the root of that chord and the rest of the chord is defined relative to that D note. If someone is talking about a G# major scale, then you know that the G# is the root note of that scale and then the rest of scale notes are defined relative to that starting G# note.


No Comments

Add your comment