Southbank Sinfonia | Melody


“Melody is the essence of music.” – Mozart

When we talk about Melody, we often say, “Hey, it’s easy! ‘Melody’ is the ‘tune’ in a piece of music! It is the bit we can hum or whistle after we’ve heard it, the bit that gets stuck in our memories.”

Is there a more technical description? Well, the famous composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein described melody as “the main course of the musical meal”, calling it “the meat and potatoes”. But he also said it’s “a series of notes that move along in time, one after another.”

Bernstein then goes on to point out that if that’s all a melody is – a series of notes one after another – then surely all music is melodic, or, to put it another way, all music has a tune.

Try listening to the beginning of this:

You probably recognise the tune being played by the violins in Mozart’s 40th Symphony, and you can probably sing it out loud. Give it a go, sing it out loud if no-one is listing (and even louder if they are listening!)

Here is how that melody looks written down:

Southbank Sinfonia | Mozart 40





So that’s easy, melody is just a series of notes which…

  • Move along one after the other
  • Have a beginning, a middle and an end
  • And create something which is easy to sing, sticks in our minds and sounds satisfying.

That’s everything, right? Well, almost… but there’s a little bit more we still need to explore.

Not all melody is completely and perfectly formed. If we just had a perfect tune repeated many times, it might get a little boring no matter how good the tune was in the first place. Composers take their melodic material known as the ‘theme’ and they develop it. They make it faster or slower, higher or lower, happy or sad or even turn it upside down or change it almost completely.

To continue our exploration into the world of themes, let’s move to the next page by clicking here.

Next: Themes >