Poll: Melody, harmony or rhythm
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View poll results: Melody, harmony or rhythm
Melody
8 29%
Harmony
3 11%
Rhythm
13 46%
None are more important
4 14%
Voters: 28.
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#1
Everyone always goes on about the importance of melody and treats it like the single most important part of music, saying stuff like "It's cool to be technical but melody is the most important thing". Especially when it comes to solos, people often say the best solos are great because of their melodies.

However lately I've been enlightened to the significance of harmony. I was listening to Aquatic Ambiance from the Donkey Kong Country OST and was wondering how 2 repeating arpeggios could be so enchanting, and when the melody does come in it's relatively simple, yet sounds so grand. I then started listening to some of my favourite solos and realised that they were great not just because of their melody, but because of each note interacted with what chords they were under, creating tension and release. It kind of dawned on me that without harmony, melody is meaningless, and recently my outlook on writing has shifted to reflect this.

However, I know a lot of people who believe writing memorable melodies is still the most important thing, and there are also a lot of people who testify the significance of rhythm, and the placement and timing of notes (Paul Gilbert makes a big point about this).

What do you think? Do you think melody is the most important, harmony and how notes interact is, or do you think rhythm and the placement and timing of notes is more important. And before anyone says it, yes of course it's most important to have all 3, and that you shouldn't neglect any aspect, but if you were to pick the one you feel has the strongest impact, which one would you pick?
#2
In music performance, I would say rhythm

In a live show, for example, if something is wrong with your timing, the audience can tell almost immediately.
Non-musicians don't listen analytically and closely to tension/release, note choices, etc and usually cannot tell the difference between a good guitarist vs a professional, but they can feel that something is wrong when the timing is off when a musician is sloppy or the band isn't tight
#3
Music is the whole package, but if I had to pick two, I would say rhythm and timbre.
#4
I'm torn between saying rhythm (phrasing) or melody.

As SuperKid says, accurate timing is critical (doesn't necessarily mean exactly on the beat, for different feel), but rhythm also includes the domain of phrasing, which many guitarists can neglect (part to do with the fact that we can breathe and play at the same time ... sax players and so on don't have that luxury).

Phrasing is also a great organiser of music ... start listening out for repeated patterns (where sounds start in the flow of time, and duration ... not necessarily same notes involved) ... both in vocals and in soloing.

Knowledge of note choice against harmony can be improved with study / experimentation. But phrasing can be developed from day one (even if just clapping hands).

cheers, Jerry
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at May 15, 2015,
#5
Quote by SuperKid
In music performance, I would say rhythm

In a live show, for example, if something is wrong with your timing, the audience can tell almost immediately.
Non-musicians don't listen analytically and closely to tension/release, note choices, etc and usually cannot tell the difference between a good guitarist vs a professional, but they can feel that something is wrong when the timing is off when a musician is sloppy or the band isn't tight


Absolutely, stuffing up a note is one thing, stuffing up your timing is murder. Thankfully when playing live you don't need to think too much about melody or harmony (assuming you've learnt the song), unless you're improvising.
#6
Rhythm all the way because without rhythm there would be no music. Everything would just be scattered sound with no meaning.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BrLEuzVCVQ
(Parody of horrible playing)

^ Guitar center on a Saturday afternoon. All the notes are there, but it lacks rhythm to the point where I wouldn't even consider it music.


Timing is what makes the music magical I've heard a simple bend placed in the right spot at the right time, and it's literally sent chills down my spine man. I'd consider the best guitarist in the world are the ones that have amazing rhythm skills. Rhythm is what really sets you from sounding amateur to sounding like a pro.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8-WHslFhbU

^ VIDEO The worst bands are the ones that lack rhythm.. Skip to 1:07 for a chuckle lol.

Last edited by Black_devils at May 15, 2015,
#7
I think rhythm may be the most important thing. How many great songs just start with drums, a single repeated bass note with a chugging single guitar chord and nothing else for 8 measures. Examples: "Running with the Devil"-Van Halen, "Some Kind of Wonderful"-Grand Funk, "You've Got Another Thing Coming"-Judas Priest, and many others.) These songs start with no melody yet they grab you immediately because the rhythm is so strong. What makes a Santana song like "Oye Como Va" so good and so immediately identifiable. The words are just one simple line repeated over and over but the rhythm is powerful and perfect like a metronome it can't be ignored.

This is not to say melody is not very important. In most cases it's the melody people remember most and a bad melody can kill an otherwise well played song and a song devoid of melody just sounds like someone practicing to a backing track. So even a great melody needs a sympathetic rhythm to support it properly. When the melody, lyrics and the rhythm are in sync you probably have a powerful song. They feed off each other. This is an interesting question.
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at May 15, 2015,
#8
It's really pointless to compartmentalize those three concepts and to try and rate them in order of importance.
#9
Most of my song ideas are groove based. I usually come up with the basic groove first.

But yeah, it's kind of pointless to rate them. There are some songs that don't have interesting rhythms (for example ambient music) but still sound good.

Some genres are more rhythm based, others are based on melodies and harmonies. Funk music can be really simple melodically and harmonically (there may be just one or two chords in the whole song, and the singing melody may be very repetitive), but the groove is what makes the song interesting.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#11
Quote by reverb66
It's really pointless to compartmentalize those three concepts and to try and rate them in order of importance.

It's fun to pretend.
#12
Well, we as listeners ascribe meaning, so you can’t really say that a melody without harmony is meaningless. And at this point in musical history, it would be difficult to hear a lone melody without “hearing” an accompanying harmony in our head. Basically melodic material can also quite effectively delineate harmony (i.e. Bach’s cello suites, etc).

However, having said that, you bring up a good point that harmony gives melody context. Listen to Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 in E Minor (Op. 28) – the melody is so simple it’s almost just one note, but the harmony underneath gives it a complexity that renders it sublime. Although, not as an extreme example as the Chopin, Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata has a similar effect.

This whole idea of the hierarchal importance of these elements of music reminds me of a sight-singing exam I had in college. The example I had to sing was very leap-y and chromatic, better suited for an instrumental reading test than a singing test. The professor must have seen the worried look on my face as I scanned over it. He said, “I will grade you on pitch and rhythm, but mainly rhythm because music occurs in time.” (I managed to screw up both, but I squeaked by with a C on that one ).
#13
Here's something fun. Think of a tune. Giant Steps? Free Bird? Ode to Joy? Blackberry Blossom? Cold, Cold Heart? Daytripper? Like a Prayer? Beat It? I don't care what it is. Just think of it. What part came to mind first? Probably the melody. That's what you remember whether it is a pop song, fiddle tune, sonata, or jazz odyssey. So then that's the most important part.

Another fun thing. Try tapping the rhythm (of either the melody or guitar riff) to a well known song and ask a friend (that would be familiar with it) to identify the song. Chances are... they probably won't be able to recognize it because it's just a rhythm with no change in pitch. Unless it's like a shave and a haircut or something. They might recognize that.

Now here's yet another thing. You can change the completely rhythm of a song but keep the melody roughly the same for the most part, the way that a jazz, bluegrass, electronic, etc artist would. Even with a swing feel or time signature change or changing from straight forward whatever to crazy syncopation, if the melody is mostly the same it is still recognizable. But if you change the melody to something completely different, it's not the same piece of music.

The melody is usually the most recognizable and memorable part of the song, and so therefore I would say that it is the most important.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#14
^ Well, I don't know. I do agree that if you changed the style you are playing the song in, it would still sound like the same song if it had the same melody. But if everything else stayed the same and the only thing you did was change the melody, it would still sound very similar.

Also, what is considered to be a melody? Is it just the main (singing) melody or is a guitar riff a melody? What about a bassline?

I don't think people mean that the rhythm on its own sounds good (or is memorable or anything) when they say rhythm is the most important thing. They are just saying that without a rhythm music would be boring. There is a rhythm in a melody.

But yeah, it depends a lot on the style we are talking about.

For example this song doesn't even have a melody (well, you could consider the guitar riff a melody). It's just pure groove.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJ-JsKQF81o

Another good example is rap music. Not really melodic.

I think it's the same with extreme metal. It's really not melodic and the overall "feeling" of the song is more important (heavy, aggressive, fast, whatever - and that has a lot to do with the rhythm).

But yeah, it really depends on the style. Ambient music has no rhythm.


I don't think rhythm is something that you consciously listen to like you listen to a melody. It's something that you just feel. You can feel it when the song has a groove. That's what makes people dance.

But as I said, what the most important thing is has a lot to do with the style we are talking about.


Edit: I don't think it's about what the most memorable part is. As I said, you don't usually listen to rhythm, you just feel it. The melody itself may not even be that special. When you hear the melody, you also remember the other parts and kind of hear them at the same time. Harmosis mentioned Chopin's Prelude no. 4, and it's a good example of something where the melody is definitely not the most important part. But if somebody asked you to sing the piece, you would still sing the melody, not tap the rhythm or try to sing the chords behind the melody. The melody is still the most memorable part, but it's definitely not the most important part of the piece - I mean, it's heavily dependent on the harmony behind it.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at May 15, 2015,
#15
+1 to GG.

Duration and timbre. Everything else is unnecessary.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#16
Rhythm is the strongest, without a doubt.

If someone plays a really recognizable melody with the pitches totally wrong, you can still recognize the melody from the rhythms alone.
"No one is a sorcerer every hour of the day. How could you live?" — Pablo Picasso
#17
Quote by Tonto Goldstien
Rhythm is the strongest, without a doubt.

If someone plays a really recognizable melody with the pitches totally wrong, you can still recognize the melody from the rhythms alone.


This isn't really about memorability though, this is about what elevates a composition's interest. Not that I'm disagreeing with you, bands like Meshuggah are proof that there is A LOT that can be done with rhythm alone.
#18
Quote by Jimjambanx
This isn't really about memorability though, this is about what elevates a composition's interest.


Same difference, IMO.
"No one is a sorcerer every hour of the day. How could you live?" — Pablo Picasso
#19
Rhythm: I remember watching a youtube clip with Scott Henderson? Paul Gilbert? playing a well known tune with all the wrong notes, highlighting the importance of rhythm? And Victor Wooden playing every note outside of the key VS playing all correct notes played badly?

Harmony: Anyone remember the scene from the movie Amadeus where the guy jealous of Mozart, recalls the first time he heard one of his pieces, where he recalls that it started out fairly ordinary until Mozart added the high flute note, and everything changed (ie rearranging the harmonic structure beneath?).

Melody: Judy Garland's Somewhere Over The Rainbow versus Eva Cassidy's version?

Nope, I cannot decide...
#20
Quote by Tonto Goldstien
Same difference, IMO.


Not really, actually. A memorable song isn't necessarily a good one, and I'd rather a song makes great use of chord voicings, harmony and structure than a song that I can hum. When I think of memorable songs, Mozart certainly isn't the first thing that comes to mind, yet his compositions are masterpieces.
#21
Quote by Tonto Goldstien
Rhythm is the strongest, without a doubt.

If someone plays a really recognizable melody with the pitches totally wrong, you can still recognize the melody from the rhythms alone.


I took a really recognizable melody and changed the pitches so that they are totally wrong, so much to the point that they now match the pitches of the bassline from Smells Like Teen Spirit (though one step lower), but kept the rhythm of the melody exactly the same. Try and recognize it.
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There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#22
Quote by Jimjambanx
Not really, actually. A memorable song isn't necessarily a good one, and I'd rather a song makes great use of chord voicings, harmony and structure than a song that I can hum. When I think of memorable songs, Mozart certainly isn't the first thing that comes to mind, yet his compositions are masterpieces.


Your OP didn't ask the question "what makes a song most memorable?"

Here's the paragraph I was responding to:

What do you think? Do you think melody is the most important, harmony and how notes interact is, or do you think rhythm and the placement and timing of notes is more important. And before anyone says it, yes of course it's most important to have all 3, and that you shouldn't neglect any aspect, but if you were to pick the one you feel has the strongest impact, which one would you pick?
"No one is a sorcerer every hour of the day. How could you live?" — Pablo Picasso
#23
Quote by tonibet72
>>Rhythm: I remember watching a youtube clip with Scott Henderson? Paul Gilbert? playing a well known tune with all the wrong notes, highlighting the importance of rhythm...<<


Bingo.

You, sir, are what I like to call "a musically intelligent life form."

Edit: Found the clip you mentioned...

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4ewnf_scott-henderson-melodic-phrasing_music
"No one is a sorcerer every hour of the day. How could you live?" — Pablo Picasso
Last edited by Tonto Goldstien at May 18, 2015,
#24
Quote by theogonia777
I took a really recognizable melody and changed the pitches so that they are totally wrong, so much to the point that they now match the pitches of the bassline from Smells Like Teen Spirit (though one step lower), but kept the rhythm of the melody exactly the same. Try and recognize it.


I think the people arguing you can tell recognize something from rhythm are forgetting that the shape of the melody has to be the same as well. If the intervals aren't right but the ups and downs AND the rhythm are the same, then it should be recognizable.
#25
Rhythm is the most important aspect of music. But melody is the most important of any song. The thing is, these two things are not really comparable. A melody gets it's strength from how rhythm and pitch functions together, and also how the harmony works in behind it, but that's usually a bit less important.

The alternative to rhythm is pitch, or notes. So, the question really should be, "what is the most important aspect of a melody?" -rhythm, or -pitch.

For me, the answer is rhythm. Pitch change without rhythm is noise. Rhythm without pitch change, is still music.

Music is pitches moving rhythmically, and how they move, and on which rhythm, and how they are layered, is the sum of the parts. The melody is the most important part of those.

The beat is usually the least important, then the harmonies. But rhythm is the most important aspect of music, imo for sure.
#26
Quote by Tonto Goldstien
Your OP didn't ask the question "what makes a song most memorable?"


I know that, that's what you're saying, your first post was about what makes a song recognisable, which wasn't what I was asking. I honestly can't tell if you're agreeing or disagreeing with me.
#27
^That's what Tonto does lol.

And again, duration and timbre. Everything else is unnecessary.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#28
Quote by Jimjambanx
I know that, that's what you're saying, your first post was about what makes a song recognisable, which wasn't what I was asking. I honestly can't tell if you're agreeing or disagreeing with me.


I quoted the paragraph from your OP that I was responding to.

Not sure how to make it clearer than that.
"No one is a sorcerer every hour of the day. How could you live?" — Pablo Picasso
#29
Quote by Jet Penguin
^That's what Tonto does lol.


At this stage of the game, I honestly think I could say "2+2=4" and encounter opposition. LOL.
"No one is a sorcerer every hour of the day. How could you live?" — Pablo Picasso
#30
Well, if it makes you feel better, none of this matters anyways; it's all a bad dream.

#Oddlycomfortinghagakure
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#31
Quote by Tonto Goldstien
I quoted the paragraph from your OP that I was responding to.

Not sure how to make it clearer than that.


I'm getting a headache, let's just pretend this never happened.
#32
Quote by Jet Penguin
Well, if it makes you feel better, none of this matters anyways; it's all a bad dream.

#Oddlycomfortinghagakure


Heh!

Actually, I was starting to think I'd stumbled into some weird Scientology-like cult, but I'll buy the bad dream hypothesis.

"No one is a sorcerer every hour of the day. How could you live?" — Pablo Picasso
#33
Quote by fingrpikingood
Rhythm without pitch change, is still music.
that's a really good way to put it, perhaps the best statement this thread so far... apart from your post TG (#23) Haha!!
#37
Yes, definitely melody. You can have a fairly good melody that only moves in quarters/eighths or whatever, but it's tough to make something interesting by only using one note, even if the rhythm is good. Or a drum solo.

Of course it all depends on the piece, but if the case was that you could only have one of these components ALONE, melody would be a clear winner to me.

EDIT: Rhythm. You cannot have a melody AT ALL without implying some kind of a rhythm.
Last edited by Elintasokas at May 19, 2015,
#38
I don't buy the whole "melody is useless without harmonic context" thing either. A great melody sounds great on its own without any accompaniment.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#39
Quote by theogonia777
I don't buy the whole "melody is useless without harmonic context" thing either. A great melody sounds great on its own without any accompaniment.

Indeed, provided the instrument choice is good and the melody is in a good register for said instrument.
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