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Melodic motion of the voice

Melodic motion is the quality of movement of a melody, including nearness or farness of successive pitches or notes in a melody. This may be described as conjunct or disjunct, stepwise, skipwise or no movement, respectively. See also contrapuntal motion. In a conjunct melodic motion, the melodic phrase moves in a stepwise fashion; that is the subsequent notes move up or down a semitone or tone, but no greater. In a disjunct melodic motion, the melodic phrase leaps upwards or downwards; this movement is greater than a whole tone. In popular Western music, a melodic leap of disjunct motion is often present in the chorus of a song, to distinguish it from the verses and captivate the audience.

Bruno Nettl describes various types of melodic movement or contour (Nettl 1956, 51–53):

  • Ascending: Upwards melodic movement
  • Descending: Downwards melodic movement (prevalent in the New World and Australian music)
  • Undulating: Equal movement in both directions, using approximately the same intervals for ascent and descent (prevalent in Old World culture music)
  • Pendulum: Extreme undulation that covers a large range and uses large intervals is called pendulum-type melodic movement
  • Tile, terrace, or cascading: a number of descending phrases in which each phrase begins on a higher pitch than the last ended (prevalent in the North American Plain Indians music)
  • Arc: The melody rises and falls in roughly equal amounts, the curve ascending gradually to a climax and then dropping off (prevalent among Navaho Indians and North American Indian music)
  • Rise: may be considered a musical form, a contrasting section of higher pitch, a "musical plateau".

Other examples include:

  • Double tonic: smaller pendular motion in one direction

These all may be modal frames or parts of modal frames.

A modal frame in music is "a number of types permeating and unifying African, European, and American song" and melody. It may also be called a melodic mode. "Mode" and "frame" are used interchangeably in this context without reference to scalar or rhythmic modes. Melodic modes define and generate melodies that are not determined by harmony, but purely by melody. A note frame, is a melodic mode that is atonic (without a tonic), or has an unstable tonic.

Modal frames may be defined by their:

  • floor note: the bottom of the frame, felt to be the lowest note, though isolated notes may go lower,
  • ceiling note: the top of the frame,
  • central note: the center around which other notes cluster or gravitate,
  • upper or lower focus: portion of the mode on which the melody temporarily dwells, and can also defined by melody types, such as:
    • chant tunes: (Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues")
    • axial tunes: ("A Hard Day's Night", "Peggy Sue", Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get A Witness", and Roy Milton's "Do the Hucklebuck")
    • oscillating: (Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash")
    • open/closed: (Bo Diddley's "Hey Bo Diddley")
    • terrace
    • shout-and-fall
    • ladder of thirds

Further defined features include:

  • melodic dissonance: the quality of a note that is modally unstable and attracted to other more important tones in a non-harmonic way
  • melodic triad: arpeggiated triads in a melody. A non-harmonic arpeggio is most commonly a melodic triad, it is an arpeggio the notes of which do not appear in the harmony of the accompaniment.
  • level: a temporary modal frame contrasted with another built on a different foundation note. A change in levels is called a shift.
  • co-tonic: a melodic tonic different from and as important as the harmonic tonic
  • secondary tonic: a melodic tonic different from but subordinate to the harmonic tonic
  • pendular third: alternating notes a third apart, most often a neutral, see double tonic


Shout-and-fall or tumbling strain is a modal frame, "very common in Afro-American-derived styles" and featured in songs such as "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "My Generation".

"Gesturally, it suggests 'affective outpouring', 'self-offering of the body', 'emptying and relaxation'." The frame may be thought of as a deep structure common to the varied surface structures of songs in which it occurs.

Ladder of thirds

A ladder of thirds (coined by van der Merwe 1989, adapted from Curt Sachs) is similar to the circle of fifths, though a ladder of thirds differs in being composed of thirds, major or minor, and may or may not circle back to its starting note and thus may or may not be an interval cycle.

Triadic chords may be considered as part of a ladder of thirds.

It is a modal frame found in Blues and British folk music. Though a pentatonic scale is often analyzed as a portion of the circle of fifths, the blues scale and melodies in that scale come, "into being through piling up thirds below and/or above a tonic or central note."

They are "commonplace in post-rock 'n' roll popular music – and also appear in earlier tunes". Examples include The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night", Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and The Who's "My Generation", Ben Harney's "You've Been A Good Old Wagon" (1895) and Ben Bernie et al.'s "Sweet Georgia Brown" (1925).

Melodic expectation

In music cognition and musical analysis, the study of melodic expectation considers the engagement of the brain's predictive mechanisms in response to music. For example, if the ascending musical partial octave "do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-..." is heard, listeners familiar with Western music will have a strong expectation to hear or provide one more note, "do", to complete the octave.

The notion of melodic expectation has prompted the existence of a corpus of studies in which authors often choose to provide their own terminology in place of using the literature's. This results in an important number of different terms that all point towards the phenomenon of musical expectation:

  • Anticipation
  • Arousal
  • Deduction
  • Directionality
  • Expectancy, expectation, expectedness, and in French attente
  • Facilitation
  • Implication / realization
  • Implication (independent from realization)
  • Induction
  • Inertia
  • Musical force(s)
  • Previsibility, predictability and prediction
  • Resolution
  • Tension / release, tension / relaxation
  • Closure, which may be used as the ending of the expectation process, as a group boundary, or as both simultaneously

Leonard Meyer's Emotion and Meaning in Music is the classic text in music expectation. Meyer's starting point is the belief that the experience of music (as a listener) is derived from one's emotions and feelings about the music, which themselves are a function of relationships within the music itself. Meyer writes that listeners bring with them a vast body of musical experiences that, as one listens to a piece, conditions one's response to that piece as it unfolds. Meyer argued that music's evocative power derives from its capacity to generate, suspend, prolongate, or violate these expectations.