Analysis of Melodic Contour, Continuity, and Skeleton


Several factors contribute to form a contour pattern. One can distinguish between one melody and another according to how contour factors are balanced and changed, and how these changes are timed as each melody unfolds in time. The uniqueness of a given melody may be caused by a one-of-a-kind contour pattern.

Contour Variables include

Continuity is the general flow of effects caused by melodic intervals, rhythm values, articulation, and the duration and connection of ideas (figures). Differences between melodies depend upon how these factors are coordinated with contour features and how they are balanced, sequenced, and varied as the melodies unfold in time.

Continuity Variables include:
Skeleton (Melodic Framework)

Melodies have identifiable frameworks called melodic skeleton, outline, or structural melody. This framework carries basic information about the harmonic and rhythmic flow of a melody. Knowledge of this flow is essential to the analysis and harmonization of the melody. Notes are heard as part of a melodic framework because they have qualities that attract the listener's attention, impress themselves on the listener's memory, and thus become important reference notes as the music unfolds in time.

Awareness of a melodic skeleton and its make-up can be used to good advantage in on-the-spot reading accuracy and quick, sure memorization. The primary factors that cause a note to be a member of a melodic skeleton are given below. Practice in isolating the structural notes in a melody will lead to fast, intuitive analysis techniques. Armed with these skills, a musician can quickly scan a line before performing it as a preparation for an accurate and successful first reading.

Reference Notes (focal pitches)
  1. Accented notes (relative length, position in meter or pattern)
  2. Repeated notes
  3. Part of a background "good" pattern
  4. Pattern extreme (first, last, highest, lowest)
  5. Root of an interval, chord, or short-term pitch collection
Finding a Melody's Skeleton
  1. Identify key and scale
  2. For tonal music, sound the tonic triad mentally, impress its image on your memory. Refer to its sound as you complete the following steps.
  3. The process of isolating a melodic skeleton is similar for music based on modes or non-diatonic scales, chromatic or tonaly transitory passages, dissonant passages and music based on non-traditional ways of creating tonal centers.
  4. Examination of melodic skeletons is an important technique of composition. If one's work seems to "stall" or does not progress as expected, the problem can be traced to a lack of fundamental movement in the skeletal structure of the music.

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