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Any recommendations on how to distinguish melodies from the harmony of a song? When listening to certain songs it seems as if the chord progression is acting as the melody of the song.

Can a chord progressions in fact be the melody of a song?

  • You mean a chord progression? – Old Brixtonian Aug 15 at 1:20
  • Yes! Thanks for comment, I’ve made the necessary edit. – BLG Aug 15 at 1:21
  • Some heavy metal I've listened to sounds like a series of power chords, with the melody note matching the root of each chord. With leading tones and tritone leaps, this sometimes sounds strange to ears unacquainted with metal. – Dekkadeci Aug 15 at 15:20
  • This reminds me right now on a problem I have recognized this week when sing singing Beethoven’s fifth I realize that I have the harmonies in the ear and not exactly the melody (especially during the transition after the measure 20 - 30 to the chords Cm and G7.) Also the beginning: mi do fa mi do la and the 2nd phrase: mi ti fa mi re ti. I would have bet that it goes: re ti ... – Albrecht Hügli Aug 16 at 7:54
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Absolutely. There are plenty of examples of music wherein the harmonies are defined solely by monophonic melodies and countermelodies. Think motets, canons, organum, fugues, Bach 2- and 3-part Inventions, and on and on. A solo melodic line can even trace chord elements to imply harmonies, while still presenting a melody.

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  • +1 for resurrecting the elegant 'wherein'. – Old Brixtonian Sep 18 at 13:20
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Whilst it's true that the harmony itself can evoke a certain melody, that certain melody is rarely the only one which would fit over that sequence. If it was, jazzers would be out of business!!

There are several sequences which have very different melodies over them. Take a listen to 'Axis of Awesome', and you'll hear how they fit many different songs to exactly the same sequences.

It's a fact that most melodies will reflect, to a greater or lesser extent, the notes from the accompanying chords - if they didn't, then either the chords or the melodies would sound wrong!

But even taking a melody - a well-known one, if you like - it's quite possible to re-harmonise it with different chords, and it's been done, and being done all the time.

And on a different note (sic), listen to a good blues player, playing 12 bar blues. Even if it was solo, you'd still hear the changes in his playing.

So, no, and yes...

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You can play any exercise of figured bass and you’ll have already a nice melody, (especially cadences and sequences)

Examples:

  • The fifth fall sequence I V vi iii vi I IV V ( 3rd in sopran)

  • The Pachelbel Canon

  • This old House

  • Many folksongs our canons are built just by the triads of the underlying harmony

How to distinguish the melody from the harmony:

The melody is more embellished and rhythmically more moved.

Example: Air by Bach

In canons the lowest voice of course is the bass line, it contains the harmonic root tones and longer notes.

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When a song HAS a distinctive melody, you'll have no problem discerning it. But a lot of songs are written 'chords first' and sound like it - the melody has not been given a lot of attention other than ensuring it doesn't clash too badly with the chords and beat! Then there's rap...

I'm not saying these styles aren't valid. We might as well criticise 'Nessun Dorma' for lacking a danceable beat. But melody isn't what they're about.

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If we define melody as any sort of leading musical element which you might find yourself humming, then even a rhythm can be considered a melody. Like the stomp-stomp-clap rhythm of "We will rock you".

I suppose that for some musicians, even a chord progression can be somewhat of a leading element, but since most non-musicians cannot reproduce chords by ear, harmony progressions remain a more mysterious aspect behind music for the general public. It's a language non-musicians don't speak! They understand it on some level, but don't speak. But even for musicians, adding a single-note line over a chord progression will dominate the musical experience and grab the listener's focus much more easily. A single distinguishable moving pitch is easier to follow than the relations between a group of pitches.

When there's something you can easily relate to on a personal level, something you could intuitively try to reproduce, grabs your attention and focus, and is memorable and distinguishable, then the music is more ... melodic!

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