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What is a Melody?

OnMusic Dictionary defines a melody as:

“A tune; a succession of tones comprised of mode, rhythm, and pitches so arranged as to achieve musical shape, being perceived as a unity by the mind. In a piece of music where there is more than one voice, or where harmony is present, the melody is the dominant tune of the composition.”https://dictionary.onmusic.org/terms/2138-melody

Ok, that’s a great definition and all, but what does any of it actually mean?

In its simplest form, a melody is what happens when multiple notes happen in succession. To get a better idea of this let’s consider what is arguably the most recognizable melody in the world.

Fun fact: This melody entered into the public domain in the summer of 2016.

Happy Birthday was composed by Patty and Mildred Hill.

The melody consists of 25 notes that are contained in the range of 1 octave. On the surface level there doesn’t seem to be much going on, however, let’s look a little deeper to see if we can understand how this melody has spread so far throughout the world.

Typically a good melody contains:

  • Repetition of notes
  • Repetition of intervals (the distance between notes)
  • Repetition of groups of notes (phrases)

Let’s see if we can find these characteristics in Happy Birthday.