Does Music Need to Have Melody?

Piano Lessons / music theory / Does Music Need to Have Melody?

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the necessity of melody in music. Does music need to have melody? When you think of almost any music, the first thing you think about is the melody. What is melody? Melody consists of two elements: pitch and rhythm. Some of the most beautiful music that we know and love is based upon melodies. For example, Chopin’s famous Nocturne in E flat. Listen to the beginning of this piece to understand the beauty of melody, and how we think of melody and music as synonymous. Another example of melody that everyone is familiar with is the gorgeous second movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata.

Not all music is based upon melody.

Does music need to have melody? The answer is no! There are whole genres of music that don’t utilize melody. But the vast majority of the music that we all know and love is based upon melody. Why is this? Most music throughout the millennia was never written down or recorded and was not played on any particular musical instrument. It was the human voice! The human voice has been with us as long as we have roamed this planet. The imitation of the human voice in wind instruments and bowed instruments is pretty obvious. Yet, we can also evoke that same quality of a singing line on a keyboard instrument. It’s in our biology. It’s in our DNA.

Some music is based solely on rhythm.

There are other types of music that could have been around in primitive times, rhythmically-based music that utilizes percussion instruments and is devoid of melody. In fact, African rhythms have permeated Western music since the introduction of jazz. This is the combination of Western harmonies along with African rhythms, which is very compelling. But does it have to have melody? Not necessarily. Many offshoots of jazz, particularly hip hop, can be devoid of melody to some extent or entirely and still it has musical context.

Another example in the classical world is minimalism.


Listen to Steve Reich, John Adams and Philip Glass, and you’ll hear music that has textures. It has pitch, but not necessarily melody. When you think of a melody, you think of a line. You think of a rise and a fall, just like the human breath. Yet, there is some great music that does not utilize this aspect.

While the vast majority of music is based upon melody, some music can just be rhythmically-based and still offer rich possibilities. Melody is vitally important in the vast majority of music. We all love the melodies that are dear to our heart. They speak to us in a visceral way because it’s part of our DNA. Throughout history and prehistory, melody has been with us and I hope it stays with us for a long time!

Thanks again for joining me! I’m Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource

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