Basic Musical Elements – Melody, Rhythm and Harmony [Short Tutorial]

music elements

music elements

At a certain point you’ve probably asked yourself what is music made of. I though that it would be a good thing to show you these elements.

I’m sure that you know each one of them, but I would like to insist a bit.

There aren’t that many elements in music, even though the music is complex, it’s elements can be classified in 3 categories.

Even further I will also show you a few tips and tricks so that you can master each element. Let’s move to the practical explanations.

Please pay attention because your progress might depend on how you understand these elements.

We will begin our lesson regarding music elements with the melody

The melody is a combination of notes with various lengths and frequencies.

In other words, the relationship between notes that are not played simultaneously is called melody.

Sincerely, the first element that I’ve learnt about when I was a beginner was the melody.

I’ve had so many attempts of creating melodies that I’ve gathered a lot.

The thing is that quality is much more important than quantity.

My first melodic lines were very simple and short. I don’t know if you share my opinion but I believe that the melody is the most profound element in a musical project.

After you create the melody you start adding all the other elements around it.

A vocalist will only play the melodic line.

You can’t force him to also do the beat (unless he does beat-boxing).

All the successful songs have a good melodic line, thus being the reason why a lot of well-known producers start with it, and so do I.

You create a melodic line then you keep adding elements making it more complex.

The secret is to use various note lengths. Also don’t forget to use rests.

Now, I would like to present you 2 examples of melodic line.

The first one is a bad example, and the other one is a good one. I’ve presented you both of them to show you how they might sound.

Exemplu 1 – greșit
Exemplu 2 – corect

There is a difference between these 2 examples. A false melodic line does never become a song. I remember some wise words that I got from a friend a while ago: ‘Not all the melodic lines become songs’.

I’m sure that you don’t want to hear any of my first attempts. I was simply throwing note after note, and the whole project sounded awful, like in the first example.

You need to keep a balance in the structure of the melodic line.

This is the elixir of the inspiration. You need rests that alternate with notes of various lengths.

This might seem hard at the beginning but with a lot of practice you can create interesting melodic lines.

There are just a few tips that will help you in organising your ideas. Here is the greatest weapon that you can use: the experiment!!!

99% of everything I’ve learned comes from experimenting.

As a simple suggestion you could try different things when you don’t manage to create a good melodic line, like varying the durations of the notes, or by using various techniques of combining the tonalite.

One of my teachers told me that as long as you have the instrument in your hand you are “the God”, meaning that as long as you have FL Studio or any other DAW that you might be using you can do anything you want and modify any sound.

I would like to tell you another simple trick that will help you a lot if you use it. A melodic line has a certain measure, which is a multiple of 4.

The melodic lines has a certain regularity, and by respecting this rule it will be much easier to create outstanding musical structures.

Why is this rule used?

This rule is used because if your melodic lines has more or less beats the listener will be a bit confused.

Why?

Because he will be expecting the project to have the same number of beats. It’s like adding an off-beat element. It will sound confusing.

Remember that not all surprises are well received.

Actually in this case it would be very unpleasant. If your melodic line starts with a multiple of 4 and it changes to a multiple of 3 the listeners will not enjoy it.

I’m not implying this, because music is not mathematics.

There are situations in which you can add such elements, but you have to make sure that they blend well.

When you create something it’s very important to make it pleasant for the listener.

I’d even suggest making a small exercise: listen to one of your projects and tell me what you think about it in a comment.

How do you think that a listener might perceive it?

This is a very good trick that I’ve learned from a tutorial.

I’ve tried it and it really works.

The third tip that I want to give you is purely subjective, so if you choose to follow it or not is up to you, but I’ve decided to add it because it helped me a lot.

To create an interesting melodic line I usually use minor tonalite. In dance music the most used tonalite are the minor ones like Re minor or La minor.

I know that you might prefer happier songs, but by studying more examples I got to the conclusion that minor tonalite are much more used.

In case you didn’t know minor tonalite are used for sad songs and major tonalite are used for happy songs. How can you know if a song had a minor or a major tonality?

You can find if a tonality is minor or major by listening carefully and understanding how the song makes you feel.

Another suggestion is to vary between using the minor and the major tonalite.

This is another trick that will help you in creating special melodic lines. Here is an example to help you understand this technique better:

(Linie melodică major/minor)

I want you to pay attention now because I will make a small recap. Here are the most important things that you need to learn from this lesson:

1. Use different lengths (half, quarter, eighth,etc.) in your musical structures, and also don’t forget to use rests!

2. Respect a certain regularity. Most songs are made by using a structure made of measures of multiples of 4.

3. Try to use as much variation as possible when creating melodies. Try combining minor and major tonalities.

If you use these guidelines most likely you will definitely make something good. The truth is that it’s kinda hard to create original melodic lines, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t try.

At a certain point I remember that a sound-engineer told me that I kept using the same combination of notes in my projects.

The mistake I kept making is that I was no longer thinking the melodic lines, they were a reflex.

My mind and my ears god used to the same combination of notes, making me repeat the same idea over and over, so the fourth advice that I would like to give you is to try to use new combination of notes, never stick to the same template.

If you don’t do this your songs will sound similar.

It’s pretty boring to listen to a few songs and after you’re done to live with the impression that you’ve listened to just one.

I’ve noticed some artists which have a lot of similar tracks. Maybe it’s not simple to come up with something new every time, but you have to do it, you have to work harder and create new melodic lines.

In my opinion this is one of the most efficient ways of being original.

When your melodic segments sound different.

I’m still at this level though.

This is a level that only the most advanced artists surpass.

I can say that a lot of my melodic lines sound similar, but every day I’m trying to create new combinations and alternatives.

The golden rule: always try to create something new, don’t stay on autopilot.

You need to pay attention to each musical segment.

Pay attention to your melodic lines and avoid using the same one in other projects.

This is pretty much all that I had to say regarding melodic lines.

I’ve told you a few of it’s secrets, but clearly to finish a project you need another 2 musical elements.

The melody was just the first one.

The harmony

Now I will present you the harmony.

With no doubt the harmony is the most complex musical element.

Harmony is obtained by overlapping multiple sounds.

With other words, the harmony consists by having multiple sounds played at the same time, while the melody refers to multiple sounds played in a certain order.

This is a big difference isn’t it?

Before going to more advanced things I would like to explain how is this harmony made.

Let’s say that you want to make a harmony in the A minor tonality.

What sounds could you overlap? All the sounds in the A minor tonality.

The simplest element of harmony is the interval. The combination of notes with their specific intervals creates harmony.

The triad is frequently used in all genres of music because it’s an element that can be used to create a lot of harmonies.

The triad is made of three overlapping sounds.

There are two types of intervals. Minor intervals and major intervals.

An example of a minor interval is E G, and a major one is C E. How do you distinguish them?

The first one has a tone and a semi-tone(the minor third), while the second one has two tones (major third).

A lot of producers like to start the creation of their songs by making the harmony, around which they wrap the whole song.

In fact, I’ve seen a lot of tutorials on YouTube which did teach the viewers to do this.

I believe they might do so because the well-known artists use this method.

I remember that a friend told me once that commercial songs are made from the harmony.

I prefer starting with the melodic line.

It’s not a rule, everyone has his own technique. Most songs are made of 4 harmonies.

Even though I’ve never been able of testing if what he told me was true, I still believe that he is right.

You can search on the internet if you want to study this matter further.

Now a question comes to my mind.

Which is the relation between melody and harmony? Does harmony depend on the melody or is the other way around?

With which one do you start?

As I was saying I prefer starting with the melody, and depending on the melody I create the harmony.

I don’t believe that one is more important than the other.

The only thing that matters is how you like to make them. I believe that they are both as important, but in my opinion the harmony is much more complex.

I don’t know if I have the patience to write about all the characteristics of the harmony, because it’s very complex, so I tried to write only the essential.

We will further discus about this topic in a future article, so stay tuned!

The Rhythm is an essential component of music.

Probably you ask yourself why I didn’t talk about the rhythm till the end.

Not because it doesn’t matter, on the contrary. I left it among the lasts because it matters a lot in the creation of music.

The rhythm has been an important part of music ever since its beginnings.

For example let’s look at the african tribal songs, their rhythm is used to mesmerize the listener into a trance of joy, leading to the well-known dancing around the fire.

Of course the rhythm matters in today’s music as well.

Today’s songs usually have drums or other percussion instruments in their background meant to induce the listener into a dancing state.

The drums used for the rhythm in electronic music are categorized in:

kick – Low frequencies

snare – Low to middle frequencies

clap – middle to high frequencies

hat – high frequencies

For more information about drums used in electronic music click here.

In another order of business, we know drums are used in creating a nice rhythm but there are things you got to consider.

Your rhythm needs some variety, you can’t have one consisting only of low or high frequencies, but also don’t try to add too much to the mix or you will get something chaotic.

Some traits of a good rhythm are:

1. Synchronization: The rhythm has to be in sync and fit the song

2. Power: The rhythm has to be strong enough.

3. Width: The rhythm has to be heard as a part of the song not just some background music

4. Balanced: The rhythm has to have the same speed as the song, not faster or slower.

In my vision, there are two beat types:

-a classic one, a regulated 4/4 where are usually used a kick, a clap and some hats or cymbals (for example :…)

-a non-regulated one that contains contretemps. Those are more complex and need more time to fully master. For example the latino rhythm or tribal songs (for example :..)

As I stated before, every song needs a rhythm but which rhythm is fit for your song can only be decided be you, of course having an ear for music does help a lot but in the end it all matters on what you like.

But if you want to exercise your ear and have an easier time finding quality rhythm then the only thing you can do is to listen to a lot of different beats and try to identify which one is better, this way you will have an easier time finding that one or two beats that really stand out between the sea of beats.

I’m sure you made an idea about what a rhythm is and how to identify it by now, but reality is different.

The Rhythm is a complex component of music and has a lot of forms, you can find rhythm is everything around you.

The clock, the old door that needs oil to stop cracking, the birds outside the windows, everything can be music if you listen well enough.

How the music components bound together

Just like the title says, let look what the elements are and how they bond:

1. Musicality – The essence

2. Harmony – The support

3. Rhythm – The Power

As you probably observed, it’s the same list as the one at the start of the article but is it the same after you’ve read and understood (hopefully) them.

You will be able to create a wonderful piece of art when you will fully understand them and combine the knowledge of the three components of music.

Some things you got to know:

1. The accords has to be in harmony with the melody otherwise the harmony is zero.

2. The rhythm has to be in synch with the musical texture and the song’s characterization

You might still have things that you don’t understand, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to respond right away!