Historical Approach to Music’s Elements

Although there are many ways to describe the basic building blocks of music, we tend to break it down into five elements: melody, texture, rhythm, form and Harmony. Although not all music has all these elements, the music you have heard recently likely contains them.

There are only two elements that come out of these five: rhythm and melody. These two elements are the most important and the first to be experienced by humans. Although it’s not clear whether music was composed of a melody being sung and a rhythm being played, it is possible to see that these were the first musical creations by humans.


Let’s start our short study of these elements. Melody is not because rhythm is more important than melody, but because Gregorian chant will be the first music we study in the Middle Ages. Gregorian chant, also known as plainsong, or plainchant, is a musical style that emphasizes melody and often excludes other elements.


By moving on, we will continue to follow the lead of history in our exploration of musical elements. Texture next. The medieval experiment to add a new melody to an already existing Gregorian chant melody was one of the most important musical developments. This practice, called organum, was introduced to sacred music in the Middle Ages. Previously, plainchant’s monophonic melody dominated.


According to the limited historical records, Gregorian chant did not have a consistent beat. Plainchant is free-flowing and can be described as lacking a rhythm. This is the most common way that we hear chant today. The arrival of the organum meant that the melodic lines had to be performed by the same singers to remain together. This created a regular beat or pulse. Rhythm) necessary.

A particular style of organum was developed in Paris’ Cathedral of Notre Dame around the end of the twelfth century. This style consisted of holding notes from a Gregorian chant while a new melody was sung over it. Regular rhythmic patterns of both short and long notes were used to create the activity in the upper section and keep them together. This is the beginning of a crucial component of rhythm: meter.


The basic principles of music form are repetition, contrast, and variation. Form The way that sections are organized in a musical piece. In later periods of music history, form or structure in music becomes more specific and standardized. We will be starting with music from the Middle Ages or Renaissance. It is important to remember that composers tended to emphasize form in later periods. Therefore, we will not explore specific structures until the end of this class.


Talking about elements that will not be covered in class later, Harmony It is the most common way to teach it today. This musical element was developed during the Baroque period (1600-1750) and has evolved into more complex structures in the Classical, Romantic and Classical eras. The Renaissance and Middle Ages composers did not view their music in harmonic terms (major, minor keys, chord progressions, etc.). We will not introduce this important musical element until later.

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