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definition of melody


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#1 zwhe

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Posted 30 May 2019 - 11:19

Here's a question I was asked by a pupil this morning:

Is there a definition of melody that does not rely on an individual's perception of what they are hearing? What makes one group of notes a melody while another isn't?

 

Any thoughts? I couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer!


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#2 BadStrad

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Posted 30 May 2019 - 15:11

Two simple-ish definitions:-

 

It's the principal's part in harmonised music.

 

A series of pitched sounds in succession with or without a rhythmic element.

 

For a bit more discussion, you might find the transcription of this lecture by Bernstein interesting.

 

https://leonardberns.../what-is-melody


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#3 elemimele

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Posted 30 May 2019 - 15:34

Ans. 1: As a human, if I can remember it, and whistle it a day later, it's probably a tune rather than random notes.

 

Ans. 2: Can I rephrase your question: "write an algorithm that doesn't rely on machine-learning of a pattern (because otherwise we still have to identify what the pattern is that the machine has learnt) that can distinguish between famous tunes derived from the musical literature, and random sequences of notes made up by a computer." My algorithm would look at:

(i) do the notes follow some rhythmical pattern (for example, if it ends after 64 crotchets, was there something long around crotchet numbers 31 and 32? Most real tunes break down into shorter fragments that are often fractions of the whole; tunes feel odd if they stop short, or go on a bar too long)

(ii) if I take a reasonable run of adjacent notes, do they belong to a known scale?

(iii) do the notes follow repeated patterns, either in rhythm or pitch (or both), possibly with the repeats transposed to a different pitch, or inverted?

(iv) are the notes generally either progressing step-wise or jumping by sensible intervals?

 

This list of features isn't original; it's really just the list of things that are recommended in theory books when you're expected to compose a tune on a given bass part, or related tasks. I think the people who write those theory books show good common sense.

 

Really, melody is often the presence of structure. As such, you could almost take a series of notes, and see how much shorter a good compression algorithm can make them! But that's getting too philosophical...


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#4 zwhe

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Posted 30 May 2019 - 16:45

Two simple-ish definitions:-

 

It's the principal's part in harmonised music.

 

A series of pitched sounds in succession with or without a rhythmic element.

 

For a bit more discussion, you might find the transcription of this lecture by Bernstein interesting.

 

https://leonardberns.../what-is-melody

Thank you - I'll send her that link. Moral of the story - be wary of teaching psychology professors! I've already had to explain why there are 12 notes in an octave and why triads sound more harmonious than just a bunch of random notes! 


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#5 elemimele

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Posted 30 May 2019 - 22:26

yes, very true! If you're a sensible, straightforward classical musician, you may have a whole world of confusion ahead of you on the 12-notes per octave thing. There are a lot of very scary people out there who happily talk about wildly different scales with other numbers of notes. Here's a flavour.

It gives me a headache thinking about such things (so I rarely do).


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#6 Kai-Lei

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 23:11

Goodness. It's like trying to define music! Is it just "organised sound"?


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#7 kenm

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Posted 05 June 2019 - 12:40

Goodness. It's like trying to define music! Is it just "organised sound"?

Spoken language is organised sound too.  A rough distinction would be that prose has one meaning (usually), poetry has two or more (with exceptions), the meaning of music (if any) is not usually agreed by all listeners.


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#8 Invidia

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 12:54

Music and language developed from the exact same source (our vocal capabilities + our gestural capabilities + our inherent social nature). If you want to get into a real minefield you can also ask the difference between music notation and written script. Chinese traditionally used the same characters to write both wink.png
 
Leonard Bernstein was actually big on the music-language relationship and believed that there must be some kind of "grammar" function in the brain that governs how we create music (influenced by Noam Chomsky in the linguistics field). This inspired the research for the book  "A Generative Theory of Tonal Music" which your student may be interested in if she's a psychology professor (it was core reading for my music psychology class many years ago). 

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#9 elemimele

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 16:01

This may be going off topic, but Diana Deutsch, of auditory illusions fame, found that if a spoken phrase is played over again, multiple times, listeners begin to hear it as sung rather than spoken. A quick google search will reveal some sites with examples that you can try for yourself.

 

In fact Diana Deutsch has pursued this further:

If people listen to a phrase once, they think it's spoken

If they listen to it ten times, they think it's sung

If sopranos listen to it ten times and repeat it, they sing it back

If sopranos listen to it once, and repeat it, they say it back

If sopranos listen to the sung version only once, that the other sopranos produced after hearing the (spoken) version ten times, they are able to reproduce the version as sung, exactly.

 

Deutsch concludes that (1) there is actually not necessarily any physical difference between speech and song - the same sound-waves can be interpreted both ways depending only on the state of the observer; (2) if the brain has separate bits looking at speech and song, it's striking how the two can analyse the same input and come to wildly different conclusions; and (3) it's amazing how plastic we are, and how quickly we can reorganise the way we process something, so that we interpret it quite differently.

 

So, tongue-slightly-in-cheek, it might be that when classifying prose and song, the only difference is how many times you've heard it...


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