• Category:GCSE Music Revision Notes

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Techniques of Melodic Composition

Plainsong: Singing is unaccompanied

Sung by monks in Latin

Performed in Roman Catholic services

Melody is modal

Resonant acoustics in big churches, cathedrals

Leaps in melody are usually 4ths or 5ths.

Melody moves mostly by step

Monophonic texture (1 line of melody sung at a time)


Tone row (Prime order) includes all 12 chromatic pitches

20th century technique, made by Schoenberg

Detailed dynamics and articulation give serial melodies structure

Notes must always be heard in the correct order

Variations on tone row include: inversion, retrograde, inversion retrograde

Atonal: no sense of tonic home note.


Based on whole tone scale

20th Century technique made by Debussy

Whole tone scale is made up entirely of whole tone intervals

Linked with impressionism in art

Whole tone scale sounds ‘dreamy’

The Blues

Fusion of American and African music growing out of the slave trade

Call and response

Swung rhythms


Blue notes and the blues scale

12 bar blues based on chords I, IV and V

Syncopated rhythms anticipate the beat

Indian Classical music

Much is based around improvisation

Rag: a group of notes like a scale that the melody is based on

Tabla plays rhythmic improvisations

Tal: a cycle of beats that rhythm of based on

Sitar plays the melody


Music from Indonesia

Based on cycles of melodies played at different speeds

Uses metallic instruments

Drums keep a steady beat

Choir: Vocal Ranges

Soprano: Highest female voice

Alto: Lowest female voice

Tenor: Highest male voice

Baritone: between tenor and bass

Bass: lowest male voice


Binary: AB

Ternary: ABA (or ABA1 where 1 is a variation to A)

Rondo: ABACADA (A: refrain; B,C,D: episodes)

Baroque 1600-1750

Melody: Simple, decorated with many ornaments, trills, mordents

Harmony: Simple, no harsh dissonant chords, based mostly on primary chords (I, IV, V)

Phrasing: Balanced phrases, dialogue and imitation between instruments, NOT call and response.

Orchestra: Small ensembles, mostly strings with harpsichords, organ or recorders.

Composers: Bach, Handel, Purcell, Vivaldi, Monteverdi

Classical 1750-1830

Melody: Simple, sometimes decorated with ornaments

Harmony: Simple, no harsh dissonant chords, based mostly on primary chords

Phrasing: Balanced, regular 4 bar phrases, question and answer, not call and response.

Orchestra: Small orchestra, mostly strings with a few woodwind and brass, percussion is mostly timpani playing tonic and dominant, also could include piano.

Composer: Mozart, Haydn

Romantic 1830-1900

Composer: Brahms

Dance Music


Part of a suite of dances from the Renaissance period

The Pavane is the first dance. It is slow and stately

In 4/4 time


Often has a drone accompaniment

Balanced phrases

Danced at court in pairs. Formal dance, big heavy costumes


Followed the Pavane, often based on the same melody

¾ time, fast and lively


Dotted rhythms allow for a jump.

Dance in pairs but not as formal as a Pavane

Strings, lute, tabor are common instruments.

Viennese Waltz

Romantic period first became popular in Vienna with Johann Strauss.

¾ time

Um cha cha feel, bass note of a chord accents the first beat of every bar.

Harmonies are simple and change slowly (slow harmonic pace)

Melody is in balanced phrases, flowing and lyrical. Played by higher instruments (stings, flutes) in orchestra.

Played by a large symphony orchestra

Rubato (slowing down and speeding up) is sometimes used although a steady beat is generally needed to dance to the waltz.

Partner in a ballroom, formal, social occasion. Upper class dance to set steps.

Piano waltzes are common, but tend to be freer and therefore not suitable for dancing.

1970s Disco

Began in the USA

120 beats per minute, fast tempo, usually 4/4 time

Uses much technology:


Multi tracking



Drum machines

Use of hook lines and memorable melody

Short guitar riffs

Simple verse and chord structures

Informal, relaxed dance in clubs or discos

No set dance steps – people can dance how they like

Dancers can dance alone or in big groups

Amplified sound – loud.

Traditions and innovations


Cuban Son:

Son is a dance song from Cuba

Structured around the son clave rhythm

Uses lots of percussion to form complex cross rhythms

Call and response between pregon (lead singer) and choro (chorus) during montuno section. Sung is Spanish or Portuguese

Melodies move in 3rd or 5ths.

Simple harmonies based on chords I, IV and V.

Ostinato patterns are based on syncopated rhythms.

American Jazz:

Big band instruments are used

Brass instruments have stab chords

Dialogue between different instruments

Use of riffs

Piano and uitar use the compong style

Syncopated rhythms.


Punjabi Folk Dance

Folk music to celebrate the end of the harvest

Music led by the dhol drum playing the chaal rhythm

Bols are used to help the dhol player know which strokes to use (dha and na)

Folk melodies are used

Singing is in Punjabi

Western popular styles

Styles such as rap, reggae, hip hop, drum n bass have all influenced Bhangra.

Bhangra tracks can sound very different to each other as a result of what style is has been fused with.

Technology plays a big part in Bhangra:

Sampling of other tracks

Remixing old tracks

Effects such as echo

Sequencing and looping

Technology is also found in the instruments used:

Drum machine

Bass guitar



Developed as a ‘Classical’ style of music in the 1960s

Influences from Africa, India and Indonesia

Composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass

Cells are staring points for ideas. Repetitions or patterns allow cells and patterns to develop and change over time.

Hypnotic quality

Technology can be used to loop cells or build them up using multi tracking.

Phase shifting

Usually diatonic

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