Elements of Music 1

The elements of music are building blocks of music. These items are so important, that I would argue that any music that lacks one or more of these elements is unpleasant to listening, or at the very least ignored by the concert-going public. Thus, every composer and performer must choose how to use these elements in their musical works.

It is worth pointing out that the leading musical theorists have not agree on how many elements of music we have. However, I will state four elements of music, the three basic elements and the expressive element, making it four in all.


There are three basic elements of music and these are: Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, and one expressive element of music called Dynamics. The “Elements of Music” described below offer you specific terms and concepts that will help you better understand and describe any kind or style of music from Classical to Jazz:

RHYTHM (beat, meter, tempo, syncopation)

This is the element of time in music and may be defined as the pattern or placement of sounds in time and beats in music. The timing of rhythm in music include both sound and silence, which is notes and rests. Notes and rests (musical silences) can obviously be of different lengths, and are written according to the following chart. Rhythm is the essential ingredient in all music. You can mix together any sounds you want, but if there is no underlying rhythm to the sounds, there is no music. Rhythm is the key element of music.

When you tap your foot to the music, you are "keeping the beat" or following the structural rhythmic pulse of the music.  Rhythm is shaped by meter; it has certain elements such as beat and tempo.

Note that the tempo and rhythm are not exactly the same. While the tempo refers to the "time" or "speed" of a piece of music, the rhythm defines its heartbeat. For example, the rate of beat of the heart can fast or slow but the pulsing will be constant and that is the rhythm. Tempo is imply the speed or pace of any piece of music, this is usually defined as a measure of the number of beats per minute in most sequencing packages. However, there are also common Italian terms used for this purpose in classical music. These are terms that tend to associate a mood with a certain speed, so they do a bit more than just tell you the speed at which to play.

ALSO READ > Cadence in Music

Rhythms vary when impacted by cultural influences, which is why many forms of cultural music have identifiable beats and patterns. For example, the differences in Western music when compared to African music are notably distinct. Complex patterns that represent cultural translations, such as "drum talk" in African music, continue to permeate the essence of the music and sometimes can carry-over into other music forms to add a new element to the music's rhythm.

Grave - Very Slow
Largo, Lento - Slow
Larghetto - A little faster than Largo
Adagio - Moderately Slow
Andante - "Walking" Tempo
Andantino - A little faster than Andante
Allegretto - A little slower than Allegro
Allegro - Fast
Vivace - Lively
Presto - Very Fast
Prestissimo - Very Very Fast
Moderato - Moderate(ly)
Molto - Very


MELODY (pitch, theme, conjunct, disjunt)

The word 'melody' is derived from the Greek melodia and consists of the two Greek words for tune and singing or song. The literal translation is something like 'singing tune' (Blume 1989).



Melody is what results from playing notes of different pitches, sometimes pitches can be repeated too, one after the other in an 'organised' way. Melodies are very distinguishable and are often sing able. It represents the linear or horizontal presentation of pitch and can be defined as a memorable series of pitches. In a non-formal setting, we can just say it's the tune of the music, the main most prominent line or voice in a piece of music, the line that the listener follows most closely the part of the song you can’t get out of your head.

The melody as described is the lead line of a song; the part that the harmony is built around, and the part that gives as much glimpse into the emotion of a piece as the rhythm does.

Much of melody’s expressive power comes from the upward or downward flow of pitch. The pitch of a song goes up, and it can make the song sound like it’s getting either more tense or more lively; the pitch of a song goes down, and it can give that part of the song an increased melancholic or dark feel. The shape of the pitch’s travels is called its contour. Emotions are often implied through melodic contour.

ALSO READ > Singing Posture 

A composition may have a single melody that runs through once, or there may be multiple melodies arranged in a verse-chorus form, as you would find in some african folk songs. In classical music, the melody is usually repeated as a recurring musical theme that varies as the composition progresses. Many famous musical compositions have a memorable melody or theme [a melody that is the basis for an extended musical work].

Melodic Motion is another set of useful terms describe how quickly a melody goes up and down. A melody that rises and falls slowly, with only small pitch changes between one note and the next, is conjunct. One may also speak of such a melody in terms of step-wise or scalar motion, since most of the intervals in the melody are half or whole steps or are part of a scale.


A melody that rises and falls quickly, with large intervals between one note and the next, is a disjunct melody. One may also speak of “leaps” in the melody. Many melodies are a mixture of conjunct and disjunct motion. A melody may show conjunct motion, with small changes in pitch from one note to the next, or disjunct motion, with large leaps. Many melodies are an interesting, fairly balanced mixture of conjunct and disjunct motion.

ALSO READ > Types of Cadence

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