Classical Jazz '05

Musical Elements


-an ordered recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence in speech

-the aspect of music comprising all the elements (as accent, meter, and tempo) that relate to forward movement

Most music, dance and oral poetry establishes and maintains an underlying "metric level", a basic unit of time that may be audible or implied, the pulse or tactus of the mensural level, or beat level, sometimes simply called the beat. This consists of a (repeating) series of identical yet distinct periodic short-duration stimuli perceived as points in time.

The "beat" pulse is not necessarily the fastest or the slowest component of the rhythm but the one that is perceived as basic: it has a tempo to which listeners entrain as they tap their foot or dance to a piece of music (Handel, 1989). It is currently most often designated as a crotchet or quarter note in western notation (see time signature). Faster levels are division levels, and slower levels are multiple levels (Wittlich 1975, chapt. 3). "Rhythms of recurrence" arise from the interaction of two levels of motion, the faster providing the pulse and the slower organizing the beats into repetitive groups (Yeston 1976, 50–52). "Once a metric hierarchy has been established, we, as listeners, will maintain that organization as long as minimal evidence is present" (Lester 1986, 77).


Polyrhythm is the simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms, that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another, or as simple manifestations of the same meter. The rhythmic conflict may be the basis of an entire piece of music (cross-rhythm), or a momentary disruption. Polyrhythms can be distinguished from irrational rhythms, which can occur within the context of a single part; polyrhythms require at least two rhythms to be played concurrently, one of which is typically an irrational rhythm.


A melody (from Greek μελῳδία - melōidía, "singing, chanting"), also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. It also is an exponential succession of musical tones perceived as two entities. In its most literal sense, a melody is a combination of pitch and rhythm, while more figuratively, the term can include successions of other musical elements such as tone color. It may be considered the foreground to the background accompaniment. A line or part need not be a foreground melody.
Melodies often consist of one or more musical phrases or motifs, and are usually repeated throughout a song or piece in various forms. Melodies may also be described by their melodic motion or the pitches or the intervals between pitches (predominantly conjunct or disjunct or with further restrictions), pitch range, tension and release, continuity and coherence, cadence, and shape.


In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches (tones, notes), or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic line, or the "horizontal" aspect. Counterpoint, which refers to the interweaving of melodic lines, and polyphony, which refers to the relationship of separate independent voices, are thus sometimes distinguished from harmony.
In popular and jazz harmony, chords are named by their root plus various terms and characters indicating their qualities. In many types of music, notably baroque, romantic, modern and jazz, chords are often augmented with "tensions". A tension is an additional chord member that creates a relatively dissonant interval in relation to the bass. Typically, in the classical Common practice period a dissonant chord (chord with tension) "resolves" to a consonant chord. Harmonization usually sounds pleasant to the ear when there is a balance between the consonant and dissonant sounds. In simple words, that occurs when there is a balance between "tense" and "relaxed" moments.


In music, texture is the way the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic materials are combined in a composition (Benward & Saker 2003, 131), thus determining the overall quality of the sound in a piece. Texture is often described in regards to the density, or thickness, and range, or width between lowest and highest pitches, in relative terms as well as more specifically distinguished according to the number of voices, or parts, and the relationship between these voices (see types of texture below) (Benward & Saker 2003, 131). For example, a thick texture contains several different "layers" of instruments. One layer could be a string section, another a brass. This would be a reasonably light texture, with not too many layers. The thickness also is affected by the amount and the richness of the instruments playing the piece. The thickness varies from light to thick. A piece's texture may be affected by the number and character of parts playing at once, the timbre of the instruments or voices playing these parts and the harmony, tempo, and rhythms used.
The types categorized by number and relationship of parts are analyzed and determined through the labeling of primary textural elements: primary melody (PM), secondary melody (SM), parallel supporting melody (PSM), static support (SS), harmonic support (HS), rhythmic support (RS), and harmonic and rhythmic support (HRS) (Benward & Saker 2003, p. 136).


Pitch is a perceptual property that allows the ordering of sounds on a frequency-related scale. Pitches are compared as "higher" and "lower" in the sense associated with musical melodies, which require sound whose frequency is clear and stable enough to distinguish from noise. Pitch is a major auditory attribute of musical tones, along with duration, loudness, and timbre.
Pitch may be quantified as a frequency, but pitch is not a purely objective physical property; it is a subjective psychoacoustical attribute of sound. Historically, the study of pitch and pitch perception has been a central problem in psychoacoustics, and has been instrumental in forming and testing theories of sound representation, processing, and perception in the auditory system.


The term musical form (or musical architecture) refers to the overall structure or plan of a piece of music, and it describes the layout of a composition as divided into sections. In the tenth edition of The Oxford Companion to Music, Percy Scholes defines musical form as "a series of strategies designed to find a successful mean between the opposite extremes of unrelieved repetition and unrelieved alteration."
Musicologist Richard Middleton describes form through repetition and difference: difference is the distance moved from a repeat; a repeat being the smallest difference. Difference is quantitative and qualitative; how far different and what type of difference. According to Middleton, musical form is "the shape or structure of the work." In many cases, form depends on statement and restatement, unity and variety, contrast and connection.


In musical terminology, tempo (Italian for time, plural: tempi) is the speed or pace of a given piece. Tempo is a crucial element of most musical compositions, as it can affect the mood and difficulty of a piece.

The tempo of a piece will typically be written at the start of a piece of music, and in modern Western music is usually indicated in beats per minute (BPM). This means that a particular note value (for example, a quarter note or crotchet) is specified as the beat, and the marking indicates that a certain number of these beats must be played per minute. The greater the tempo, the larger the number of beats that must be played in a minute is, and, therefore, the faster a piece must be played. Mathematical tempo markings of this kind became increasingly popular during the first half of the 19th century, after the metronome had been invented by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, although early metronomes were somewhat inconsistent. Beethoven was the first composer to use the metronome, and in 1817 he published metronomic indications for his (then) eight symphonies. Some of these markings are today contentious, such as those on his "Hammerklavier" Sonata and Ninth Symphony, seeming to many to be almost impossibly fast, as is also the case for many of the works of Schumann.

Tone Color

In music, timbre , also known as tone color or tone quality from psychoacoustics, is the quality of a musical note or sound or tone that distinguishes different types of sound production, such as voices and musical instruments, string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. The physical characteristics of sound that determine the perception of timbre include spectrum and envelope.
In simple terms, timbre is what makes a particular musical sound different from another, even when they have the same pitch and loudness. For instance, it is the difference between a guitar and a piano playing the same note at the same loudness. Experienced musicians are able to distinguish between different instruments based on their varied timbres, even if those instruments are playing notes at the same pitch and loudness.


In music, dynamics normally refers to the volume of a sound or note, but can also refer to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic (staccato, legato etc.) or functional (velocity). The term is also applied to the written or printed musical notation used to indicate dynamics. Dynamics are relative and do not indicate specific volume levels.

The two basic dynamic indications in music are:

  • p or piano, meaning "soft", and
  • f or forte, meaning "loud."

More subtle degrees of loudness or softness are indicated by:

  • mp, standing for mezzo-piano, meaning "moderately soft", and
  • mf, standing for mezzo-forte, meaning "moderately loud".

Beyond f and p, there are also

  • pp, standing for "pianissimo" and meaning "very soft", and
  • ff, standing for "fortissimo" and meaning "very loud".

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