The Elements of Music: A Good Start To Basic Analysis

When considering the analysis of a piece of music for the first time, it is sometimes useful to start with the ‘elements of music’. As a first step – try placing the following elements in order of priority – in other words how important isthe element to the analysis of the track? For example – if a piece of music only has one chord throughout – it may be argued that the element ‘harmony’ will receive a low grading? In Dylan’s music – it could be argued that lyrical content would get a high grade. The elements are as follows

  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Lyrics
  • Form
  • Texture
  • Tempo
  • Metre
  • Timbre
  • Dynamics
  • Mix


Listen to one of the following pieces – (‘Car Wash’ by Rolls Royce; ‘The Times They Are A changin’ by Dylan, or ‘Sir Duke’ by Stevie Wonder, and give them a grade (1 to 9) followed by a reason for your choice.


This is a good starting point for analysis.



About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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22 Responses to The Elements of Music: A Good Start To Basic Analysis

  1. Polly Moore says:

    Bob Dylan – Times are a changing

    1) Melody- A very recognisable melody- which is perhaps fundamental due to the simplistic nature instrumentation and rhythm.

    2) Lyrics- The melody and lyrics are predominant due to the lack/simplicity of instrumentation

    3) Harmony- Guitar has a clear harmony with vocals to almost compliment.

    4) Timbre- The timbre adds to the folk feel- without these the song would sound dramatically different.

    5) Texture- Raw texture, not relevant but it helps establish the simplistic feel to the song.

    6) Metre- Waltz timing, perhaps could be used interchangeably as dancing music. Not too fundemental.

    7) Form- Not really much structure to the piece, although the choruses are evident from the use of timbre.

    8) Tempo- Steady Tempo, not overly relevant.

    9) Dynamics- Dynamics are rather limited… Perhaps to add to the rawness and simplicity associated with folk?

    10) Mix- The mix should be as limited as possible to ensure an authentic folk sound.


  2. Matt Spencer says:

    Matt Spencer:

    Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke

    1) Melody – melody of the vocal line repeated in chorus, stands out, memorable. Brass melodies also important, really stand out in the mix.

    2) Harmony – Major feel to the piece with chromatic movement between chords in places. Underlying harmonic progression drops out at instrumental parts, where the instruments plays melodies.

    3) Timbre – Short note values in bass and brass melody lines give a punchy feel to the music which gives the funk/groove feel for this style of music.

    4) Metre – Common time, 4/4 pulse created by drums and drums. Vocal and brass melodies have different rhythms, filling in gaps to and providing polyrhythms.

    5) Tempo – Moderate, suitable for this style of music, provides groove. No changes.

    6) Lyrics – stand out in the chorus, repeated memorable lyrics.

    7) Mix – Quite an even mix, however the bass and drums are particularly high, as well as vocals and brass. Guitar is lower. Well produced and suitable mix for this type of music.

    8) Texture – Doesn’t change drastically throughout the song. Thin at the beginning of the song, thickens during the choruses and towards the end.

    9) Form – Fairly standard pop song structure: Intro, Verse, Pre

    10) Dynamics – These do not change very much during the song, possibly in the instrumentals but that may be more due to the thinner texture in these parts.


  3. Benjamin Franks says:

    Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder

    1. Timbre The brass, saxaphones make the song what it is, also they don’t play all the time so there is contrasting timbre

    2. Melody A catchy main riff and the bass player is busy

    3. Texture A thick texture

    4. Form – Has a few different contrasting sections

    5. Harmony – lots of chords used, although the same chord pattern is repeated a lot

    6. Metre – standard 4/4 timing but there is a lot of syncopation, especially in the drums and bass

    7. Good lyrics

    8. Dynamics – some change in the sections

    9. Mix – good balance of instruments, brass very prominent

    10. Tempo – steady tempo throughout


  4. Simon Parton says:

    The Times They Are a Changing – Bob Dylan.

    1) Lyrics – Personally i think this is the most important aspect of the song, highlighting key issues of the time it was written, and were probably written before as a poem/lyrics without music.

    2) Melody – The vocals and harmonica parts are key to the song, recognisable and catchy in a folk style.

    3) Texture – Sparse and bare (probably intended, as the rest of the album is also) simple & effective.

    4) Form – Simple short verses (lyrically important) leading to a recognisable chorus.

    5) Timbre – Typically “folky” contributing hugely to the sound.

    6) Harmony – Not overly complicated, simple and effective with only 5 chords used and not much variation, similar to traditional folk (i.e. Scottish)

    7) Metre – 3/4 or 6/8, again perhaps influenced by traditional folk, not overly relevant.

    8) Tempo – Again not overly relevant to the tune, steady beat throughout.

    9) Dynamics – Limited, perhaps shown in the vocals, but not overly relevant.

    10) Mix – Simple, not intended for a “good” mix – contributed to the “authentic” folk sound.


  5. Harry Tadayon says:

    1) Melody: I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually know the name of this song until I listened to it for this task; I just knew that it was a Stevie Wonder song. I recognised the brass line at the beginning immediately so I’d say that melody seems to be the key part of this track. As Matt mentioned above, the vocal line is very catchy and memorable.
    2) Timbre: I think Stevie’s voice is what really makes this song brilliant. The vocals to me are what separate soul music from a lot of other genres. Stevie’s voice is unique and has an easily identifiable tone.
    3) Texture: The texture is very interesting in this song as it varies quite a bit, going from a thin mellow verse and building up to a powerful chorus where brass interjections embellish the song.
    4) Dynamics: Quite similar to the texture. I feel that it’s mainly the brass that adds any sense of dynamic changes, as they lift the song up and then drop it back down through short flourishes of notes.
    5) Mix: The mix on this track is great. The brass isn’t too loud and overpowering, same with the vocals and each instrument can be picked out easily and clearly.
    6) Form: Simple pop song structure which makes for a relaxed listen, which is what you would expect from this type of soul music, rather than having an out of the ordinary section jump out at you.
    7) Tempo: Steady speed keeps the song relaxed and adds to the groovy feel.
    8) Metre: 4/4 time, with some interesting syncopation throughout.
    9) Harmony: Seems to keep to the same major chord sequence for the majority of the song with some chromatic notes during the verse, as well as playing in unison after the chorus.
    10) Lyrics: Personally I’m not really listening to the lyrics, just the quality of Stevie’s voice.


  6. Harry Tadayon says:

    Woops, forgot the song name! Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke


  7. Hood says:

    Jonathan Hood

    Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder

    1) Melody – Both brass section and vocal provide a clear level of repetition throughout the piece to create memorable phrases.

    2) Harmony – Provided from all instruments bar percussion, the harmony is
    clear throughout.

    3) Texture – The Rich brass section compliments the ‘busy’ bass guitarist to create an element of groove and ‘funk’.

    4) Timbre – Unison lines played provide different listening experience

    5) Lyrics – ‘You can feel it all over’ being the key phrase throughout, implying that the music can be felt by all.

    6) Form – Repitition throughout the piece in the form of standard pop structure provides familiarity by the end of the song.

    7) Tempo – Soul/Funk

    8) Dynamics – Rise and fall between chorus and verse play heavily on dynamics, a common characteristic in the genre is to introduce and reintroduce instruments.

    9) Mix – Brass prominent with vocals, percussive elements sit back in groove


  8. Evija Dreimane says:

    Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke
    1.Melody – memorable, major blues scale and chromatic scale, changes in melodic direction for example in the pre-chorus and interlude. The brass section and the ‘funky’ bass line draw attention and highlight the genre.
    2.Metre – 4/4, drums play the same pattern over and over again. Other instruments are playing up – beat, syncopated (ostinato), ghost notes etc. The genre of music is funk, which needs the ‘funky’ feel- and the groove.
    3.Lyrics – as the intro is quite long a listener starts to pay attention to lyrics only in the pre-chorus/ chorus. It is the most memorable part of the song. Lyrics are like a mirror, which reflects the time or things that have been going on at particular time/place.
    4.Harmony – widely used chord extensions and triton substitution. Wonder has tried not to repeat the same chord progression.
    5.Timbre – adds the ‘funky’ feel-. The brass section is playing in upper register, adds bright accents, because it is not playing all the time. The bass line is a contrast and it is really busy. Both are the main characteristics for the funk.
    6.Tempo – moderate, adds the groove.
    7.Texture – is thin in the beginning, gets thicker during the intro/1st verse and stays the same till the end of the song.
    8.Dynamics – there is not lot of changes in dynamics. Changes I noticed – a crescendo in the intro, a build up towards the end and maybe in the parts where the brass section is playing other instruments drop out and create a kind of dynamic change (a brass section in the foreground).
    9.Mix – everything is balanced (clear), the brass section stands out in few sections.
    10.Form – sticks to the standard popular music form (intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus etc.) Noticeable is the interlude in the middle of the song and the repeated choruses at the end. There is no outro the song simply fades out.


  9. Sean Kelly says:

    Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke

    Harmony – 1 – Primary to the whole piece as the melody is heavily reliant on the chord progressions. I would also argue that elements such as tempo and metre were decided on the basis of these progressions as they would have to accommodate smooth transitions between the chords playing.

    Melody – 2 – The melody is simplistic but at the same time very memorable. It seems that the melody was written in order to stay in someones head even when the track has finished playing.

    Dynamics – 3 – Prominent throughout with some question and answer section between brass and vocal laughs. The brass stabs really help augment the pieces dynamics.

    Lyrics – 4 – Lyrics in this piece are tied to the melody in that they are repeated during sections like the chorus

    Mix – 5 – The production is somewhat standard although well achieved as the range of musical instruments used could cause issues in the production process when trying to get an even balance of sound within a stereo field.

    Texture – 6 – Varied between thin and thick in verse and chorus sections respectively. Although a quieter verse and louder chorus is fairly common.

    Timbre – 7 – The brass arrangement helps vary the timbre from the smooth verses with Stevie Wonders vocals to a harsh and reedy feel during instrumental sections.

    Form – 8 – A straight forward structure, seemingly quite common in pop songs. Including Intro, Verse, Chorus, Middle 8, etc.

    Metre – 9 – Much like the tempo, the metre does not change at any time.

    Tempo – 10 – A suitable pace but with no changes it only seems to have one purpose in keeping a steady pace.


  10. Michael Wright says:

    Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke

    1. Melody – With an arrangement that focuses much of the time around Wonder’s highly memorable hook in the chorus, counter-melodies provided by the brass section are also present towards the end of the song.

    2. Harmony – Incredibly rich in harmony throughout, with each instrument assigned distinctive sections. The chord progression (provided primarily from keys and guitar) grounds the song and provides a solid backbone to the melody and harmonic contributions from the bass line and brass section.

    3. Texture – This itself add to the dynamic interest to the song. Although a typical trait amongst pop music, the introduction of the brass section during the bridge and chorus lifts the song. The tone of the keys – Fender Rhodes-esque (if that’s a plausible term), and the guitar (sharp but thick clean tone) again helps to ground the chord progressions.

    4. Lyrics – Perhaps not of particular importance in terms of topic or meaning, however are very important in terms of phrasing. They tie in very effectively as they lead the brass section during the stabs in the bridge and the counter-melodies during the chorus.

    5. Timbre – As a funk driven arrangement all the instrument work extremely well together in providing the groove – they all play their part in the timbre. The drums and bass emphasize the beat “on the one”, which helps the song to flow seamlessly.

    6. Mix – A very well balanced mix allows all the instruments to be equally heard when focused in on. The harmonic voicings blend in effectively with Wonder’s melody. As mentioned previously, the tonal contributions also add to the mix.

    7. Dynamics – As mentioned in “texture”, the dynamics raise in the bridge and even further in the chorus, which help lift the song, and naturally help the listener become more interested as the arrangement develops. Wonder’s melody certainly guides this, however all instruments play their part. Arguably important, however aspects mentioned previously take precedence.

    8. Form – A typical structure in pop music (i.e. verse, bridge, chorus, middle 8, chorus) with further interest added in a second bridge after the chorus.

    9. Metre – A constant 4/4 beat, with phrasings from the drums and bass line adding rhythmic interest, suited to its funk groove.

    10. Tempo – Consistent tempo throughout, again suitable as a funk driven arrangement, however that’s as far as its importance goes.


  11. Peter Mills says:

    Rose Royce – Car Wash

    1) Texture – The texture builds throughout the piece, starting with just claps, guitars then drums later. The longer the song goes the more textures are involved (counter melodies, stabbing guitar chords, question and answer phrases between instruments that don’t hold the main melody).

    2) Melody – The main melody is simple but effective. The Woah ho’s give a good place for crowd or ‘dance-floor’ participation. The more important factors of melody are the interweaving little melodies that build up throughout the song (in the chorus there are 4 different melodies and counter melodies in Bass, Brass, Voice and Strings).

    3) Harmony – The harmonies that are between the different instruments are small, but put together they create a mass of harmony, all sticking to the major tonality in the piece.

    4) Timbre – The ‘funky’ feel is given by the back line of instruments (Descending bass line, guitar stabs, and syncopated drum rhythms)

    5)Metre – The 4/4 timing means that the song is very easy to dance to (important in funk music as this is what it was used for).

    6) Tempo – The tempo is fairly important in this piece. The steady pace keeps to the ‘funk’ style of the song, making it easy to dance to.

    7) Mix – The production on this song is very good but not vitally important to the overall effect of the song.

    8) Form – A fairly easy structure, again probably to make the song easily listenable to fans of popular music.

    9) Dynamics – There are only small dynamic changes in this song (the standard gradual build to the last chorus).

    10) Lyrics – I personally feel the lyrics could be about anything and the song would still stay the same. It may just be because it’s being looked at out of it’s ‘time, I’m not sure how many people worked in car washes in 1976.


  12. Emily Evans says:

    Rose Royce – Car Wash

    1. Melody – The melody is quite simple, especially in the chorus with its repetition throughout. The use of ‘Woah’s’ with the lead vocalist and backing vocalist is also important and effective in the song.

    2. Harmony – There are lots of different harmonies being played between the instruments and also vocalists, which adds to the feel of the song and contributes to creating an effect.

    3. Texture – This is built gradually throughout the piece. A lot is going on during the song which makes the piece sound ‘busy’, perhaps trying to create the feeling of a ‘car wash’.

    4. Tempo – The tempo is constant throughout this piece which is important as it keeps an upbeat feel which also is quite ‘dancy or bouncy’ in a way.

    5. Metre – the 4/4 timing is important as it is used throughout the song, there are no time changes. It is easy to play along to with instruments, sing along to with vocals or even dance to physically.

    6. Timbre – The use of the descending bass line, melodical sequences and drum rhythms creates a ‘funk’ vibe to the song.

    7. Lyrics – The lyrics of this song are relatively simple and broad. This is expecially in the chorus, with the use of simple, repetitive words ‘car wash’. The lyrics are’nt particularly specific therefore not entirely the main imporant aspect of the overall piece.

    8. Dynamics – There are little dynamic changes, which are mostly towards the end of the song, towards the final chorus.

    9. Form – There is an easy structure throughout the piece, mostly a simple verse/chorus form which is memorable and easily playable.

    10. Mix – Although there is a clear mixing in production used on this piece, I dont think this is very important as the song is effective enough without the use of the mixing process.


  13. Katy Lewis says:

    Katy Lewis
    Bob Dylan, The times they are a changing.

    1. Lyrics – These are the most important part of this song, due to the message that he trying to portray of political things happening during the 60’s.
    2. Melody – Simple repeating melody with short verse lines, and a chorus that is easy to sing along to.
    3. Form – A simple structure, with verses that carry easily into the chorus.
    4. Harmony – The Vocals harmonize with the guitar in a simple folk like style.
    5. Mix – The song has a ‘live recording’ sound to it, plain and not overdone, making the lyrics stand out more.
    6. Texture – Again something simple that emulates the lyrics
    7. Timbre – The sound of the acoustic guitar and the harmonica keep it grounded within the folk sound.
    8. Metre – 6/8 with a swing like structure but still folky.
    9. Dynamics – The only thing apparent is possibly in the vocals, where it sounds like he is pushing his voice and singing more passionately at certain lyrics.
    10. Tempo – Basic folk tempo that remains steady throughout.


  14. Nia Thomas says:

    Bob Dylan ‘Times They are a Changing’

    1. Lyrics-The lyrics are the most integral part of the song. Which Dylan has always been renowned for conveying a message.

    2. Melody- Even though the melody is rather simple, yet it is effective in its simplicity.

    3. Texture- The overall texture of the piece seems typical of the 60’s folk style. The combination of vocal, guitar and harmonica add to this.

    4. Timbre- Rough and raw sound creating a feeling of a live recording.

    5. Form- The form is rather simple, consisting of simple verse and chorus.

    6. Tempo-The pace at which this song is not highly significant in my point of view, but still adds to the feel of the song.

    7. Dynamics-The song does not have significant changes in dynamics.
    However Dylan utilizes his voice to create dynamic in certain parts of the song.

    8. Harmony- There is not much harmonic variation throughout the song.

    9. Mix-The mix of the song reflects the era, it has a simple and authentic feel.


  15. Rhianwen Allcock says:

    Rose Royce – Car Wash

    Melody – The melody is repetitive and very simple throughout which makes it very easy to remember, a key element to a successful popular music song.

    Harmony – There are harmonies throughout the song, in both instruments and vocals. Although the harmonies may be close together, they are indeed noticeable especially in the backing vocals.

    Form – The song has a basic structure of choruses and verses, which is very common within popular music songs as it is what the audience are used to.

    Texture- There is an increase in texture throughout the song, but mainly in the introduction where it begins with only clapping, then one by one an instrument gets introduced until all instruments and vocals are finally brought together.

    Tempo – Tempo is constant throughout the piece with the offbeats and melodic sequences keeping the rhythm going, This makes the song appealing to dance to.

    Timbre – The song has a funk feel to it. This is achieved through offbeats, walking basslines and guitar stabs.

    Dynamics – There are no major dynamic changes throughout the song although the increase in texture does create a natural crescendo.


  16. Georgina Dunn says:

    Georgina Dunn

    Rose Royce – Car Wash

    Texture – Builds up throughout the song, climax is reached when the vocals and backing vocals enter. starts off with claps, guitar/bass, drums, synth strings, brass followed finally by lead vocals and backing vocals.

    Melody – Female lead vocalist accompanied with Male backing vocalist. Simple basic melody especially in the chorus with the repeated phrase ‘car wash’ helps make the song catchy and memorable to the audience.

    Harmony – are very rich in this song. Harmonies are used in many ways with the instruments harmonising with each other as well as the lead vocals and backing vocals harmonising with one another. Makes the overall sound of the piece very full and rich.

    Form – form of the song is: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus fade. basic pop song structure, again used for simplicity and to make memorable.

    Timbre – Funky vibe definitely shown throughout this piece. edgy quirky rhythms help create this vibe and these are received mainly from the syncopated drums, descending bass line and the accented guitar chords.

    Metre – regular time signature which is 4/4. this keeps a steady beat throughout the song. at times i feel the the beats are emphasized more on the second and fourth beat which allows the song to sound very syncopated

    Tempo – remains the same throughout the song. this tempo is fast enough to the attention of the audience.

    Dynamics – very little happens in terms of dynamics. the gradual build of instruments entering in the introduction makes the song sound louder where in fact its just the texture of the piece getting thicker.

    Lyrics -SImple basic phrases. especially in the chorus with repetition ‘Car Wash’ these snappy short phrases make the song memorable to the listener. I dont think lyrically the song had a specific meaning or try to convey a particular message therefore doesn’t make it very important in this song.

    Mix – there is clear signs that show this piece has been mix. But i don’t think that the song would sound much different if no mixing had been done. therefore i think it has the least important role in this piece.


  17. Mike Despres says:

    Rose Royce – Car Wash

    Timbre – The guitar effects of this song sound like they are trying to emulate a sort of ‘bubbly’ sound which is questionably linked to an actual car wash. The effects or techniques it uses are; a wah-wah pedal, compressor (to ring out each individual note clearly), a slide, hammer-ons/pull-offs and possible use of an equalizer. The bass fills after the chorus into the verses are slapped for extra ‘funk’. In tandem with the guitar these techniques and effects come into great effect to set the mood in this piece.

    Metre – A steady pulse of 4/4 is given by claps and then the drum kit, along with accents from the hi-hat on the syncopated notes (2 & 4) throughout the song. The metre is significant in this song because it’s very simple and easy to sing/play along and it gives a good up-beat feel.

    Lyrics – Even with the first sight of the title ‘Car Wash’ I didn’t know the song but as soon as the chorus came in I remembered it instantly. The repetition of these lyrics in the chorus are very catchy. Perhaps a bit too repetitive however.

    Melody – The melody moves mostly in step with a few leaps, overall however, there is very minimal movement in the vocal line. However it is important because it’s catchy.

    Form – Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Middle 8, Chorus, Chorus. This form is a typical structure of the music made in the time which would have made it very popular and remember able.

    Harmony – There is harmony in the bridge and chorus with male vocals singing in 3rds – ‘car wash yeah’. Along with texture these little harmonies fill up the song with more colour for a better effect.

    Texture – A very thick texture with multiple guitars, vocals and strings. This fills up the piece nicely for a big texture, however the texture doesn’t seem to vary that greatly even in the verses.

    Mix – The overall mix is good with the introduction of the strings filling in the gaps in the song nicely. Although it doesn’t feel like the main part of the song. The mix should always come after the composing in my opinion.

    Tempo – The tempo for this sort of genre has to be kept slow, especially for the slap bass to be as effective as possible. However the tempo is not as important as other aspects such as the timbre of the instruments.

    Dynamics – The texture and dynamics of this piece doesn’t seem to vary that greatly. There is mostly always a drum kit, bass, guitars, strings and vocals with the exception of the bass fills after the chorus.


  18. Mike Despres says:

    Sonic Anaphone:

    There are many ones here, but I think the Pacman one is the best.


  19. Pingback: Music Analysis and the Elements of Music | Paul Carr Musings

  20. can someone help analyze One Moment in Time by Whitney Houston?


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