What I understand is that, we take a set of notes and put them in a sequence. This gives us melody which is the music. But just notes playing monotonically is not an expression of anything, it is mechanical. So we add concept of time in them which is full-note, half-note, quarter-note and so on. Now melody with the content of time becomes a Rhythm. Therefore, to get melody we need notes, any notes will do and to get Rhythm we need the melody with a concept of time that is introduced by means of a beat. Beat is a periodic signal more like a ticking clock.

Is my understand correct on these topics?

  • So from the tags I guess you are interested in the piano context meaning of melody and rhythm, is that right? – user1306 Aug 6 '13 at 15:44
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    Rhythm is what you were hoping the drummer would provide, and melody is what you wish the lead singer would learn :-) – Carl Witthoft Aug 6 '13 at 15:46

I'm going to aim for simple and scientific here, though I will say melody is far more than I can write here or in any book.

There's a minor misunderstanding here, because Melody is the combination of line and rhythm. (and arguably harmony also)

The 3 concepts to concern yourself with in a Melody are Line, Rhythm and Harmony

Let's remove/ignore harmony to make it slightly simpler for now Harmony is the underlying harmonic context of what is being played. In a simple C major chord, the Harmony is C major, but if you were to play C then E then G, you would also have an underlying C major harmony, even though the notes weren't played at the same time.

Line line is the pitch that each note is played at in relation to other notes.

It's important to consider where notes lie in relation to those around it because your ear picks up on the relative distance between notes. If you play a C and then a G, your ear picks up the perfect 5th and G sounds Consonant. If however you play a C# then a G then your ear picks up a diminished 5th, and the G sounds Dissonant. The second note never changed, but it's relation to the notes around it did.

How would you describe Rhythm

Rhythm is the time that a note is played in relation to the notes around it.

Discounting Accents, tempo and all the other stuff that is involved, rhythm at is simplest is the time that notes are played. Your ear is extremely sophisticated at picking up patterns, and for that reason we can recognise when a certain beat pattern is being played

How would you describe Melody

Melody is the combination of Rhythm and line to create a pattern of notes.

Please note that you are asking for a simple answer to a grossly wide scoped question that has reems of books written on the subject. For me to go beyond the technical definition would be committing to an answer I don't know myself yet!

Some other sites that might be of use:

Wiki on the Psychology of music

A few books on the psychology pf Music

Melody defined by Google

Leonard Bernstein on Melody


You're on the right track, but there are some slight modifications I'd make to what you said.

Rhythm is a component of a melody.

A melody is a sequence of pitches with certain durations. The duration aspect is the rhythm.

But rhythm need not refer to a melody. Because not every musical sound is a melody. (Also, what exactly constitutes a melody vs. a non-melody is sort of a gray area.) You might accompany a melody with chords. In that case, the chords may still have rhythm, but they are not considered the melody.

Also, rhythms can be pitchless. Rhythm can refer both to a specific pattern of durations in a piece of music, but also to the way that an entire piece of music feels, or a style of durations. For example, a blues rhythm is a sort of blueprint for how a piece of music might be written. Swing is in this sense a type of "rhythm". In general, though formal definitions of rhythm and melody may be given in a textbook, their exact semantics or boundaries are not explicitly defined.

The Wikipedia article on rhythm is actually very good in this respect. It talks about all the different "meanings" of the word. I'd use Wikipedia to give yourself an idea of the "meaning" of many musical terms, though obviously playing music for yourself is the best way to get a feel for what they mean.


Melody is a linear change of pitch over time, rhythm is derived from the points when these changes occur. This does not necessarily make music, for music contains an expression that defies words, reaches into your body, your mind, your soul, and your heart.

  • Best, most concise definitions I've ever seen. – Stinkfoot Jul 26 '17 at 6:20

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