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Music Elements

Core Location: Ground

Most sources, such as Aaron Copland's "What to Listen For in Music" [which is a terrific book], say that there are 5 music elements. Having considered this for a long time, I go with 4. Style seems to be the new 5th (not texture).

The Elements

We will be exploring and experimenting with these 4 elements in their many forms, on the path.

Rhythm = The pattern and flow of sounds through time. We often simplify rhythm as the "beat", but it's more than just the "beat" (though we commonly use the terms rhythm and beat interchangeably).

Melody = Tune; musical line, a succession of single pitches that create a cohesive tune. Melody is the horizontal dimension of music.

melody, a music element

Harmony = Chords = Combination of simultaneous tones. Tones played together whether arpeggiated (broken) or blocked (played at the same time as in a strum). Harmony is the vertical dimension of music.

harmony, a musical element

Timbre = Tone Color. Timbre is pronounced 'tam-ber'. It is the shape & spectral frequencies of tones. Types: the difference between instruments (e.g. a saxophone & a guitar, you can tell the difference), & the way tones are colorized on a particular instrument. On the guitar, timbre could be between the strings (the way the same note sounds different, elsewhere on the fretboard); or, when picking at the bridge (ponticello) or over the fretboard near the 12th fret (tasto).

More Related Terms


Texture is the way the sonic materials are combined. There are simple and complex ways to mix the variables. Texture can also mean the overall sound, such as abrasive or plush. And the term can also mean 'feel' or 'tone' of a given section or instrument. In this usage, it is closely linked with timbre.

  • Monophonic - a single melody, whether one or one million people are singing it in unison.
  • Polyphonic - 2 or more melodies occurring at the same time (counterpoint).
  • Homophonic - a melody with harmony as accompaniment (most of our popular music).
  • Homorhythmic - music moving in the same rhythm.
  • Polyrhythmic - multiple rhythms simultaneously

Texture is also connected with style. Every piece of music has a presentation, a way that it represents itself.

The following 2 things are good to mention here...

  • Dynamics - the relative volume of music or individual parts, whether soft or loud, or in between.
  • Form - Structure in music. The organization of the sections of music. A common rock tune's form is Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Chorus, Outro (or Tag). Of course, there can be transitions, such as Pre-Chorus'. There can also be interludes, etc. There are many versions of this basic form, & there are also many more types of form.