EpISODE 117 Melodic ORganization and Thematic Development

HOSTS- Jeremy Burns, Matthew Scott Phillips


TYPE- Theory




BUMPER MUSIC- "Room For Development" (Area 47 Music)

ANNOUNCER- Mike Cunliffe


Once you've written a theme, or a main melody, there are a number of ways you can develop it and organize it into your overall piece. Repetition, transposition, expansion, contraction, augmentation, diminution, fragmentation, variation and melodic sequences are just a few of the many ways this can be achieved. Let's, listen!


MOTIVE- The smallest possible musical idea. A recurring combination of notes and rhythms that are recognizable, in some shape or form, throughout the piece. Motives can be grouped together as sub phrases, which can grouped together as PHRASES.


PHRASE- The smallest possible musical statement that stands on it's own as a complete thought. These can vary in length and typically end in a state of either full or partial repose. This state of repose is also known as a CADENCE. PHRASES are often grouped together to form PERIODS.


PERIOD- When two PHRASES are played back to back and the 2nd of the two has a stronger CADENCE than the prior. This has a question/answer feel to it also known as the ANTECEDENT/CONSEQUENT.


ANTECEDENT- In a PERIOD, this is the first of the two phrases. It conveys a sense of questioning.


CONSEQUENT- In a PERIOD, this is the second of the two phrases. It conveys a sense of answering or response.


CADENCE- The harmonic goal, or resting point, of a chord progression or musical passage.


AUTHENTIC CADENCE- Considered the strongest of all cadences, this is typically a DOMINANT (V) chord resolving to the TONIC (I) chord.


HALF CADENCE- Considered the weakest, this cadence often leaves one desiring a greater resolution and a "cliff hanging" effect of suspense. The HALF CADENCE typically resolves to a DOMINANT (V) chord.


DECEPTIVE CADENCE- This usually occurs when a chord progression ends on a VI chord (or any chord that includes scale degree 1) when you would expect to hear the TONIC (I) chord.


PLAGAL CADENCE- This occurs when a chord progression ends with a IV moving to I.


THEMATIC DEVELOPMENT- The process of deriving musical material from a theme or melody that has already been presented, or the process by which melodies or themes can generate extended sections.


REPETITION- The repeating of a motive or phase at the same tonal level. Literally repeating a melody, note for note.


TRANSPOSITION- The repeating of a motive or phrase at a different tonal level, such as playing the melody in another register or starting the same pattern on a different chord member.


VARIATION- A varied repetition, or variation, involves the same melodic framework with some slight adjustments, such as adding embellishments, simplifications, changing rhythms, etc..


MELODIC SEQUENCE- This involves several immediate restatements of a musical theme or segment, sometimes with the same pattern moving up or down.


TONAL SEQUENCE- Each restatement honors the key or scale involved. The whole step, half step pattern will be altered during the process.


REAL SEQUENCE- Each restatement honors the whole step, half step pattern. Chromaticism will be introduced during this process.


MODIFIED SEQUENCE- The restatements are not exact. Some of the intervals may have been expanded or contracted compared to the original.


CHANGE OF MODE- Playing the main theme in a different mode. For example, playing a major melody in it's parallel minor (A major to A minor).


FRAGMENTATION- Taking smaller bits, or fragments, from an established theme and bringing them back later. These fragments may be simply repeated, in their original form, or they could be reinterpreted by any of these developmental techniques.


INTERVALLIC EXPANSION AND CONTRACTION- Just as it sounds, the contour of a melody is honored but the intervals, from note to note, may not be altered. In expansion, they are larger. In contraction, they are smaller.


INVERSION- This is what would appear as a mirrors image of a melody, from a horizontal perspective. The contour of the melody and the intervals directions all change in the opposite direction.


RETROGRADE- The melody is played backwards.


AUGMENTATION AND DIMINUTION- The note values are either lengthened (augmentation) or shortened (diminution).


PHRASE EXTENSION- We can extend a phrase by adding a melodic passage to it.


INITIAL EXTENSION- A passage of music is added to the beginning of a phrase.


INTERPOLATION- A passage of music is added within the phrase.


CADENTIAL EXTENSION- A passage of music is added to the end of a phrase.



Two of the most basic forms of THEMATIC DEVELOPMENT are REPETITION and TRANSPOSITION. As a simple example, the first 4 notes of Happy Birthday (D-D-E-D) are repeated at the beginning of the second phrase. This is a REPETITION. The 2 notes that land on "to you" are different in each phrase. In the first phrase, they are G and F#. In the following phrase, they are A and G. The pattern, moving down by step, remains. But it happens a step higher up then the original. This is a TRANSPOSITION.


When we vary a melody we use any of these techniques to change it from the original. Below, we see that the first 3 measures (the first 4 of Hayden's Surprise Symphony) are all eighth notes and quarter notes. In measures 5-7, we have added a VARIATION to the pattern that involves more sixteenth notes, thereby making the melody sound faster or "busier".


A MELODIC SEQUENCE involves immediately restating a pattern, one or several times, but moving the pattern up or down with each succession. Below we have established a four note pattern that moves down 4 steps, up a 3rd and down 4 steps, etc... This pattern repeats several times in this MELODIC SEQUENCE.


A TONAL SEQUENCE occurs in measures 2-4. The pattern repeats but the whole step to half step patterns are changing to keep us in the same key.


A REAL SEQUENCE occurs in measures 6-8. The whole step to half step pattern is kept, there by forcing us to add some chromaticism from notes outside of the key. See the flatted notes.


A MODIFIED SEQUENCE does not always fully recognize a pattern. Each iteration may have smaller or larger intervals than a previous one.











Just as is sounds, you can modify a melody by playing it in a different mode or a different key altogether. Try to play "Happy Birthday" in G major. Now try it again in G minor. Not such a happy day after all!














FRAGMENTATION is the act of revisiting previously stated motives, or smaller musical ideas. These may be note for note or they may can undergo other modifications. Below, we see the main phrase of John William's "Imperial March" from Star Wars. This 3 note fragment connecting measure 1 to measure 2 comes back many times through out the Star Wars series whenever danger or evil is near.






By using INTERVALLIC EXPANSION or CONTRACTION, we modify a previously stated idea by expanding (increasing) or contracting (decreasing) the size of the intervals. In "Over The Rainbow" we have the initial musical idea, which involves a leap of an octave (C to C). In measure 3, we have the modified interval, which is the leap of a 6th (C to A). We have witnessed INTERVALLIC CONTRACTION, in this case, because the interval was modified to be a bit smaller.







When we INVERT a melody, we begin with the same note but we move in the opposite direction, literally, for all the intervals that follow.


IMPORTANT: Normally, if we "INVERT" a perfect 5th, we would move a perfect 4th down. But when we INVERT a melody, a perfect 5th up would be complimented by a perfect 5th down.


Below, check out "Happy Birthday" again. In first example, we have the original melody. Below that, we have "Happy Birthday" inverted. Rather than getting caught up in the notes, examine the contour of the melody. See how it is a mirror image, from a horizontal perspective, of the original.


A melody in RETROGRADE is a melody that has been rewritten backwards. It involves the same notes and same rhythms. In the first example below, we have "Happy Birthday" in RETROGRADE. Below that, we have the original "Happy Birthday" with the image flipped. Compare the two!


In THEMATIC DEVELOPMENT, the terms AUGMENTATION and DIMINUTION apply to the note lengths.

Below, in measures 1-2, we have the first four notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony (G-G-G-E). This is our main theme.

In measures 3-6, we have the same theme but all the quarter notes have been AUGMENTED as whole notes.

In measures 7-8, we have the same them but all the quarter notes have been DIMINISHED into eighth notes.





Once you develop a good melody, there are yet more ways to play with it's structure. You can add an extra passage, or PHRASE EXTENSION of music in 3 main ways:


INITIAL EXTENSIONS occur before the phrase. These are not always melodies. It may just be chords.


CADENTIAL EXTENSIONS occur at the end of a phrase. Sometimes the cadential cadence is lengthened by a longer addition known as the CODETTA. The CODETTA can happen at the end of a period. The CODA, however, only occurs at the end of the piece.


-An INTERPOLATION can occur when an established phrase repeats again with an added measure, or measures, of music within this statement. This can add a bit of drama or color to something already visited. It can also break the balance of predictability in the lengths of the periods and phrases.