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Building on Melody: Melodic Layers

Aim: How does a melody change when layered with another melody?
Summary: Students explore the difference between melodies in unison and melodies with harmony or accompanied by a countermelody.
Standards: National 1, 4, 7, 8; NYC 1, 2, 3, 5
Vocabulary: countermelody, harmony, unison

In cultures around the world, melodies are often passed down from one generation to the next, bringing people together in song. There is a special power in singing a melody together in one “voice,” or in unison. By layering melodies together, composers can foster musical conversations, create unique textures, or produce rich harmonies. Your students will have an opportunity to experience unison singing and then build musical layers through harmony and countermelody

Explore Layers through Unison and Harmony



  • Divide the class into two groups or work with two students at a time.
  • Begin by assigning each group a pitch from the major scale. Have the groups practice singing their pitches with a simple rhythmic pattern. You may use solfège, note names, or scale degrees.
  • Example: Group 1 sings Do, Do, Do (unison). Group 2 sings Mi, Mi, Mi (unison).
  • Next, lead the groups in singing their assigned pitch patterns simultaneously.
  • Have the groups trade pitches so that they each get a turn singing the root of the interval.
    • When two or more people sing multiple pitches together at the same time, it is called singing in harmony.
    • How does it feel to sing in harmony? How is it different than singing in unison?
  • Experiment with different combinations from the major scale and note how each interval feels. For example:

Group 1 Sings:


Group 2 Sings:

High Do

Harmonic Interval:

Major second
Major third
Minor third

Sing in Unison and Harmony in “Oye”

  • Listen to the audio track “Oye” (complete), which includes two-part harmony.
    • Raise your hand when you think you hear the singers singing in harmony. Lower your hand when you hear them singing in unison.
  • Look at the parts for “Oye” (PDF). You may wish to have students highlight the melody in one color and the harmony in another color to make it easier to follow.
    • Note when the melody is sung in unison (one note at a time) and when there is harmony (two notes at a time).
    • We have already explored some harmonic intervals. This song uses thirds, fourths, and fifths to create the harmony.
  • Play the audio track “Oye” (harmony). Follow along with the sheet music.
    • Notice how each line moves (by steps or staying on the same note).
    • When does the harmonic line move in the same direction as the melodic line? When does it do something different than the melodic line?
  • As a group, practice singing the harmonic line along with the audio track “Oye” (harmony).
  • Once the group is confident singing the harmonic line, split the class into two groups and sing the melody and harmony together with the audio track “Oye” (sing-along).

Discover Countermelodies in “Come to Play”

  • Sing and review the audio track “Come to Play” (complete).
    • How many melodies are there?
    • Which melody did you sing?
  • Explore how countermelodies are used in “Come to Play.”
    • A countermelody is a secondary melody that is sung or played with the main melody. Composers use countermelodies to add an interesting element to the piece and provide texture and support for the main melody.
    • Which part do you think is the main melody? Which parts are the countermelodies? (Cabaniss describes Part Two as the “heart melody,” and the other two melodies that grow around it are the countermelodies.)
    • Why do you think the composer included three melodies in his composition?

Downloadable PDFs

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