Building Blocks Of Music - Melody, Harmony, Bass, Rhythm
What are the basic building blocks of music? There are broadly three components of music, namely melody, harmony and rhythm. Bass is used to glue these three components together as it supports the melody and harmony while also providing a rhythmic element to the music. In this post we will briefly look at these four aspects of music and look at how to use them to create music.
Some principles of good melodies are universal irrespective of the culture or genre. The earliest music from different cultures around the world was based on the pentatonic scale and gradually with time, more scales were discovered and developed. Having more notes may not make the melody ‘better’, it just makes it different. It depends largely on how the notes are used.
Ingredients in any melody:
a) NOTES – 12 distinct notes and articulation used to reach them.
b) PITCH – How High/Low the note is
Ex : A3, A4, A5, etc. – different pitches.
c) INTERVALS – Difference between the pitches of the notes used. Initially, the Semitone and the Whole tone Scale were used. Later more Scales and modes were developed.
d) SCALES : Note Groups/Note families, Root Note = Key of the song.
e) MODES : Different modes were used for expressing different feelings
* It’s possible to have different notes going up the scale and different notes going down. Sharpening the leading tone while going up gives a nice flavour.
f) BLUE NOTES – Bending some of the notes while singing or playing an instrument creates micro tonal pitches in between the scale notes.
The Europeans used a mixture of all the theory that existed about modes and scales and derived the ‘Minor’ Scale. This was a breakthrough since the intervallic pattern remained the same, so it was possible to start the scale from any note. This was instrumental for the different sets of instruments to be able to play together since they all had different note ranges. The ‘Major’ Scale was discovered soon after. Changing between Minor and Major scales is another interesting musical possibility.
For example: Emin to Gmaj
Harmony suggests simultaneously playing the melody along with another instrument which can play a drone to make the music sound more lush and full, can also emphasise on the mood more than what it was. Early harmony involved simultaneously playing many plucked instruments. Later, it evolved into a more continuous pattern layered underneath the main melody.
The drone was first fixed, Later it was discovered that a moveable drone sounds good. The first form of moveable drones was parallel motion so if the melody moved up, so would the drone and vice versa. This kind of overshadowed the melody.
For every melody note there are 6 Chord possibilities:
D – Bbmaj, Dmaj, Gmaj, Bmin, Dmin, Gmin
F – Dbmin, Fmaj, Bmaj, Dmin, Fmin, Bmin
C – Abmaj, Cmaj, Fmaj, Amin, Cmin, Fmin
G– Ebmaj, Gmaj, Cmaj, Emin, Gmin, Cmin
B – Gbmaj, Bmaj, Emaj, Gmin, Bmin, Emin
A – Emaj, Amaj, Dmaj, Fmin, Amin, Dmin
E – Bmaj, Emaj, Amaj, Cmin, Emin, Amin
To support a melody note with a chord, choose the chord which covers the maximum number of notes in the melodic progression. (For most melodies this will work well. However, if the melody is very complicated, it is sometimes best to leave the harmony as a drone with the first and fourth or first and fifth or just the root note of the scale.)
Major and minor chords are used together to for a chord progression which is basically a sequence of chords.
If you'd like to check out some amazing piano loops with beautiful figurations and chord progressions to use in your productions which are made keeping in mind different sections of a song, click here.
In every major scale the first, fourth and fifth chords are major chords while the second, third and sixth are minor chords. The seventh is a diminished chord.
In every minor scale the first, fourth and fifth chords are minor chords while the third, sixth and seventh chords are major chords. The second is a diminished chord.
I-Tonic (Home) V-Dominant (Away)
The I-V movement is excessively used wherein only 2 Chords are used and repeated over and over again. The Dominant (Away) always wants to resolve and go home (Tonic). However, to add more variety, we can cover more places before going home. This led to the I-IV-V progression.
PASSING NOTES : Notes that are note part of the Chord/Scale are not allowed as they are dissonances. However, these were used as passing notes/naughty notes. Analogues to passengers in transit.
SUSPENDED NOTES : Analogues to passengers that missed their flight involves letting a note be held and lingered for as long as possible minute. This means the note lingers even though the Chord changes, so the note is dissonant W.R.T the new chord.
- Suspended notes => Unresolved tension.
SEVENTH CHORDS : Seventh chords make the chord want to lean towards another chord. It makes it less stable and more needy. It turns it from a confident chord to something more vulnerable. Rock and Roll practically lives on 7th chords. 7th chords offered ambiguity so the harmony could be taken anywhere from there on.
DIMINISHED AND AUGUMENTED CHORDS :
They are more volatile and are used in a lot of Jazz Music.
The bass line is the foundation/root of modern music as it emphasises the tonic tonality of the chords. The first form of bass lines was playing the root/tonic of every chord. The bass has to be at least an Octave lower than the vocals. Classical used double-bass while a lot of Jazz used the tuba.
Bass lines started using ‘Contrary Motion’ instead of playing the roots of the chord (Parallel Motion). Bass line and melody are often heading from one strong chord to another. The best way to meet there is from opposite directions. At this point the walking bass line was discovered. Used a lot in Jazz. It walks up and down the Scale and moves in contrary motion to the melody. Walking Bass started walking down the major scale first and then later started walking down the chromatic scale which when coupled with the chords, sounds saucy and ambiguous.
Ground Bass implies the bass line loop keeps repeating. To avoid it from getting boring, the chords above it keep changing and so does the melody. This is a good technique to keep everything coherent. Bass started to be used as a transitional element from one stanza to the text, in the form of a one-two bar riff and was sometimes used even to change from any key to another. This Mini-Bass-Solo was later named a bass run/bass filter.
PULSE – The heart beat which lays the foundation of the rhythm could be called the pulse of the music.
TEMPO – The speed of the pulse is called the tempo. Rhythms are associated with human movement like walking, running, jogging.
The active walking has a regular Left-Right-Left-Right pattern. After this, the idea of taking 2 beats and sub-dividing into 3 became popular. All these divisions are called 'sub-divisions'.
The basis for the Rhythm can be also be basis for the vocal melody and vocal melody can be based more on speech as in rap. Many triplet patterns have an underlying 4-4 pattern as in the Blue Danube. Orchestral music is based on the sub-divisions Minim, Crotchet, Quaver, Semiquaver. Different Instruments play together to give the effect.
ACCENT – Accent is about which beats are more important than the others. Therefore, we stress on the important beats creating accented beats.
- Virtual Accents can be created where they don’t really exist. The brain may perceive the superimposed beats to be accented.
SYNCOPATION – Shifting a beat slightly ahead/behind the beat. Very common in Pop and Folk. Jazz and Ragtime are examples of music that have a lot of syncopation.
SWING – It’s like a lag between the lead melody line and the beat. The Melody falls behind the beat as if it is lazy and mischievous.
CROSS-RHYTHM – It’s a technique wherein a Rhythmic pattern is taken and superimposed on another Rhythmic pattern.
Example: Superimposing is a 2-Beat pattern on a 3-Beat pattern.
CUBAN SWING – Melody falls slightly before the beat as it anticipates the beat. The ‘Melody and Bass’ are pushed before the beat (Opposite of regular swing used in jazz). Salsa, bossanova, rumba, etc. are based on cuban swing.