by Brian Fish 

How is it that there are so many great songs from musicians and composer when there are only have twelve notes to work with in western music? The answer is that music is made up of more than just notes. There are seven elements that a musician can use to compose a song. They are the building blocks of music. The various combinations of these seven elements is what will give a composition its own unique sound. The ability to understand and use these elements will give you endless possibilities. These seven elements are:

Rhythm is the element of time in music. Rhythm is made up of multiple pieces. Duration is how long each sound or silence lasts. Tempo is how fast the beats are moving. Meter is how many beats are in the measure. (Ex 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, 12/8, etc). Other things to listen for when you focus on rhythm are syncopation (off beat accents), ritardando ( the slowing of the tempo), accelerando ( the speeding up of the tempo) and rubato ( free time that moves up or down subtly throughout the piece)

Texture is how many melodies or parts are being playing at one time in a piece of music. Monophonic music has only one note sounding at a time. There is no harmony or accompaniment. Homophonic music contains two or more elements playing at the same time. This is usually one strong melody and an underlying harmony. Polyphonic music has two or more melodies that are being played at the same time

Timbre (pronounced tam – ber) is the sound quality or tone color of the note being played. On a guitar in standard tuning the middle C note can be played on 5 stings. The pitch is the same, but the “color” of the note is different because of the different thickness of each string. The same note being played on another instrument has an even more distinguishable difference in sound quality and tone. 

Melody refers to the horizontal movement of music. Melody is a collection of musical tones that are grouped together as a single entity that lead the listener from one point of the music to the next. Most famous compositions have a memorable melody or theme. Melody consists of pitch, the highness or lowness of a note, and the duration of time the note sounds.

Dynamics refers to the relative loudness or quietness in music. In other words, dynamics refers to the volume of the notes being played.

Harmony is a collection of individual notes that are played and heard together. This can be done on one instrument like a guitar or piano or can be produced by having various instruments playing different notes at the same time. Harmony can be consonant (smooth sounding) or dissonant (harsh / with tension) Harmony is used to create chord progressions.

Form is the arrangement or flow of a piece of music. Simple songs have just one section (strophic). Some pieces have no sections that repeat (through composed) while most popular music today includes repeated sections such as a verse and chorus (binary from) The possibilities of how a piece of music can be put together is endless. These are just some of the most popular forms music can take.

So how do these elements apply to you? As a listener, pick one element at a time and listen to see how it is being used in the music you like. As a performer, being aware of these elements will help you give a piece of music life when you play it or just help you analyze a piece with more precision. For composers this your toolbox. These elements will help make your music sound the way you imagine it.

 About the author: Brian Fish is a professional guitarist living in North East Ohio and is guitar instructor, trainer, and coach at Guitar Lessons Geauga.