melody, succession of single tones of varying pitch. Melody is the linear aspect of music, in contrast to harmony, the chordal aspect, which results from the simultaneous sounding of tones. Melody must be considered with rhythm; they are the two necessary elements to music. Melody by itself, i.e., monophonic music, was the principal form of composition in Western cultures before the year 1000. It remains in folk song and in many non-Western cultures. From 1000 melody was combined with one or more different melodies. The polyphonic music thus created dominated composition until about 1600 when homophonic music, melody supported by harmonies, was developed in Italy and slowly spread throughout Europe in the following century. See polyphony and harmony.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.