Melodic Analysis: horizontal techniques

This weeks musicology lecture examined  ways in which it is possible to analyse popular music melody – specifically from a horizontal perspective. As will be seen in the PowerPoint and the audio stream of the lecture – I get some of these ideas from traditional music theory – while some are considerations of my own that I have developed over the years. To begin with – I have found the following techniques/descriptors to be useful for analysing melody.

  • Motif
  • Question Phrase plus  Answer Phrase = Sentence
  • Sentence plus Sentence =  Section
  • Sections (For example verse plus chorus) build up to form Structural Form (for example AABA) and eventually Compositional Forms

Firstly – here is a Spotify playlist of the music used in the lecture.

A large part of the lecture was given over to considering how Question Phrases relate to Answer Phrases, and/or how Sentences relate to each other. For this – I devised the following vocabulary – please see the PowerPoint and audio stream for more detail – in particular for indicative musical examples.

  • Rhythmic Sequence: Where the rhythm stays the same but the melody changes
  • Tonal Sequence: Where the melody is repeated up or down a pre determined pitch.
  • Direct Repetition: Where the Question Phrase is simply repeated
  • Contextual Placement: Where the melody stays the same but the harmony changes.
  • Rhythmic Displacement: where the melody is repeated, but commencing on a different beat.
  • New Material: Where the Question Phrase is different to the Answer Phrase.

For me, much of the discussion centres on how many  songs mix repetition with new material – something which is arguably an intuitive process for established songwriters/composers. If there is too much ‘sameness’ the work it would be boring – or if there is too much variation it could sound disjointed. These are generalizations of course – not hard and fast rules.

Once these techniques are more fully developed – I am going to spend some time considering (via a journal article) how they resonate with particular artists, styles, genres, etc, but in the meantime, I am interested in any comments, in addition to any interesting musical examples anyone may have. Also  – are there any techniques that I have not covered in terms of the relation of Question Phrase to Answer Phrase?

More on this next week

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
This entry was posted in Musicology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Melodic Analysis: horizontal techniques

  1. Pete Hibbit says:

    Hey mate, loving the online lectures, like being back at the college. Happy days, cheers. Pete Hibbit


  2. Paul Carr says:

    Cheers Pete. Happy days.


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