This unit will provide analytical strategies for describing aspects of melody including melodic motion, melodic contour, and non-chord tones. We will also investigate the notion of musical phrases.
Melody is a succession of pitches. Each pitch can move to another pitch in one of three ways: it can repeat the previous pitch; it can move by step to the next pitch; or it could skip to the next pitch.
REPEATED notes are identical pitches that occur in succession. They may have either the same or different rhythmic values. Conjunct (Stepwise) When notes move by diatonic steps, we call this CONJUNCT MOTION or STEPWISE MOTION. In Western tonal music, this means movement by the interval of a major or minor second. We can further describe the direction of this motion as ascending or descending. Thus, we can describe the succession of Fs3 to G3 as ascending stepwise motion. Similarly, we can describe the succession of A3 to G3 as descending stepwise motion. Repeated notes are considered part of conjunct motion. When notes move by an interval larger than a second, we call this DISJUNCT MOTION. We often describe this interval as a skip or a leap. As with conjunct motion, we can also further describe the direction of the skip as ascending or descending.
One special type of disjunct motion is arpeggiation, which (as we say in Unit 13) is the process of horizontally unfolding the pitches of a chord. In the following example ( W. A. Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, mm. 1-4), note how the instruments arpeggiate one chord in the first two measures then another chord in the next two.
One special type of disjunct motion is arpeggiation, which (as we say in Unit 13) is the process of horizontally unfolding the pitches of a chord. In the following example ( the 1st violin part to W. A. Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, mm. 1-4), note how the melody arpeggiates one chord in the first two measures then another chord in the next two.
MELODIC CONTOUR is the relative up-and-down motion of a melody. The contour of any melody is determined by the shape of its repeated, conjunct, disjunct, ascending, or descending motion. Most melodies are made up of a combination of most of all of these types of motion. Composers often bring back pieces of a melody, preserving their contour but changing other features. For example, here are two passages from Claude Debussy’s “Feux d’artifice (Préludes, Book II):
Notice how the rhythms, pitches, and even the intervals between the notes have been changed, but the melodic contour remains the same.
NON-CHORD TONES are pitches that do not belong to a triad. Non-chord tones create DISSONANCE because they do not belong with the prevailing chord. This book will address four different kinds of non-chord tones: passing tones, neighbor tones, suspensions, and anticipations.
Types of Non-Chord Tones
A PASSING TONE connects two pitches a third apart. A passing tone could connect the root of a triad to the third, or the third to the fifth, or a pitch from one chord to a pitch (a third away) in another chord. Here is a short excerpt that begins with two passing notes (circled) in the melody. Note how the passing tones are not part of the G–B–D harmony:
A NEIGHBOR TONE is a note that is one step above or below a chord tone. We can further describe the neighbor tone as either an upper neighbor or a lower neighbor in relation to the note it embellishes. The following excerpt contains six upper neighbor tones (circled in the score):
Whereas passing tones and neighbor tones arise from melodic motion during a single harmony, there are non-chord tones that arise from temporally shifting a note before or after a harmony. (One such non-chord tone is the SUSPENSION, a pitch held over from a previous chord. While we won’t be dealing with this type of dissonance much in this class, you can see an example in the following excerpt. Here, the pitch A is suspended over from m. 11 into m. 12 (where it’s circled) as a suspension against the G–B–D harmony at the beginning of that measure. It resolves to G, which is in turn suspended (also circled) into the D–F-sharp–[A]–C chord on the last beat of that measure. This G then resolves down to F sharp.
Most suspensions resolve down by step, like the two in the excerpt above. One of the most common types of suspension forms an interval of a 4th with the bass (like the G above the D in m. 12, above). Because this 4th will resolve down to a 3rd, some musicians call this a “4–3 suspension.” Other musicians focus solely on the 4th and refer to the entire chord as a “sus4 chord.”
Similarly, a note may be sounded early — anticipating a pitch in the following chord. Such non-harmonic tones are called ANTICIPATIONS. For example, look at the C at the end of m. 7 in the following excerpt. It sounds during the G– B–D chord prevailing during the last two beats of that measure, anticipating the C in the following chord.