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
- shape: the overall pattern of the contour, any breakdown of this
pattern into shorter, interrelated units.
- direction change: changes in general upward or downward movement,
frequency of direction changes and the timing of these changes.
- range: distance between the highest and lowest points, rate of
pitch change, any variation in this rate of change, distribution
of low, middle, and high notes.
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)
- intervals: relative size
- activity: relative slowness or quickness of rhythms
- articulation: the mixture of sounds and silences, or the degree to
which sounds and figures are separated by silences.
- duration: the relative length of ideas, how these lengths are sequenced.
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
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)
Finding a Melody's Skeleton
- Accented notes (relative length, position in meter or pattern)
- Repeated notes
- Part of a background "good" pattern
- part of tonic triad
- part of tonic fifth
- part of background scale
- other "good" patterns (chords, scales, any architypical pattern)
- Pattern extreme (first, last, highest, lowest)
- Root of an interval, chord, or short-term pitch collection
- Identify key and scale
- For tonal music, sound the tonic triad mentally, impress its image on your memory.
Refer to its sound as you complete the following steps.
- Isolate reference notes
- Observe how other notes relate to reference notes (satellites,
- Identify any clear background patterns (in tonal melodies, notes in
the tonic triad produce closure are important structural members.)
- 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.
- 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
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