Music Theory
Acoustic Composition
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How is melodic development handled by various cultures?

Often, melodic development, as it’s studied in traditional music theory textbooks, doesn’t happen the same way in the music of other cultures. While it would take multiple books to fully explore this question, some generalizations can be made:

  • Ornamentation – melodic development in the form of ornamentation, such as the trill and mordent in Baroque music, can be found in the music of most cultures across the globe. Sometimes these ornaments are improvised by an individual or group, like in the music of India, China, and the Americas; and sometimes they are planned ahead like in European classical music. Here are some common melodic ornaments:
    1. Shake (trill) – rapid alteration between two adjacent notes
    2. Slide (glissando) – gliding between two notes while also playing the “in between” notes
    3. Grace notes – two notes played very closely together rhythmically
  • Repetition – repetition is repetitive, but it’s something that listeners crave.
  • Improvisation – At one point it was common for European musicians to improvise some while performing, but this tradition slowly dissipated as the baroque era came to an end and the classical era began. Elsewhere in the world, it’s very common for music to be partially or wholly improvised.
  • Call and response – This is usually a formal structure, however it’s not uncommon for call and response techniques to be used in combination with improvised ornamentation,