The Elements of Melody
Aim: What fundamental elements do composers use to create great melodies?
Summary: Students investigate rhythm patterns, melodic contour, and form within melodies, and create their own melodies using these elements.
Standards: National 1, 2, 4, 7; NYC 1, 2, 3, 5
Vocabulary: contour, form, pattern, phrase, rhythm
In language, letters, words, and phrases provide the building blocks for communication. In music, composers create melodies using rhythmic patterns, melodic contour, and phrasing as building blocks. The balance of repetition and melodic surprises takes musicians and the audience on an exciting journey through the music.
Jump to section:
Discover Rhythmic Patterns
- Sing and review the melody for “Ode to Joy” or using the audio track “Ode to Joy” (vocal part).
- Establish a steady beat in your feet, speaking the lyrics in rhythm, without pitch.
- Next, clap the rhythm of the lyrics as you keep the steady beat in your feet.
- When a series of notes and rests repeats, it forms a rhythmic pattern.
- Do you see any repeating patterns?
- How many times do these patterns repeat?
- Why do you think Beethoven chose to include repetition and patterns in his melody?
- Try this activity with “Come to Play,” “New World” Symphony, and “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
- Name that pattern: Show several rhythmic patterns from the Link Up repertoire or make up your own. As a class, speak, clap, or play each pattern. Then, play one of the patterns and have students identify which pattern is being performed. Students may also take turns leading this activity.
- Compose your own rhythmic patterns: Using the “Ode to Joy” and “Come to Play” rhythms in Melodies Are Made of Patterns (PDF), have students arrange and perform their own rhythmic patterns.
Explore Melodic Contour
Every melody has a contour: the line or shape that is created by the series of pitches as they go up and down.
- Look at the melodic contour of “New World” Symphony.
- Sing the melody using a neutral syllable, solfège, or note names. As you sing, trace the shape of the melody with your finger in the air, or draw the shape on a tablet or paper.
- Notice when the melody moves up or down or stays the same.
- Notice when the melody moves by step or by leap.
- Add movement to illustrate the steps and leaps.
- Try this activity with additional pieces of Link Up repertoire, including “Ram Tori Maya,” “Ode to Joy,” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
- Working in pairs, ask one student to “act out” a melody silently with body movement. The movement can include up and down motion, steps and leaps, and varying speeds. Ask the other student to follow the “conductor’s” melodic contour by singing or playing the melody on pitched percussion or recorder. Ask students to switch roles and repeat the activity.
Decode Melodies in “Ode to Joy”
When musicians are learning a piece of music, they may use different musical lenses to decode the melodies. Explore these different lenses in “Ode to Joy.”