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Melody vs. Harmony: Similarities and Differences in Music

One of the most important musical elements out there is the melody. Virtually every song ever recorded has a melody, and almost all of those songs contain harmony in one way or another. There are pretty much infinite ways to create new melodies and harmonies, and they are often the main distinguishing factor of a song. 

A harmony adds depth and meaning to the melody, while retaining the original qualities and purposes of the original melody. These elements come together to create songs that are meaningful and unique. Understanding how to use both of these elements is critical to creating songs that are fresh, exciting, and sound new. Read on to learn how producers and musicians can use these tools in a practical way in song creation. 

What Is a Melody?

A melody is a collection of notes that work together to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts—basically, the part of the song that you sing along to. Think of your favorite song; what is the first characteristic that you remember? If you’re thinking of a primary vocal, a lead instrument, or any other similar musical element, you’re likely thinking of the melody. 

The melody is made to stick out to the listener and give a specific, unique musical point of reference for the listener to focus on. All the other elements of the song generally work together to make the melody sound as good as possible because it’s one of the most important parts of the song. 

A melody can be as simple or as complicated as the producer of the song wants it to be. Some melodies are just three or four note drones, while others are waterfalls of notes pouring out of a piano, guitar, or another instrument. The point of the melody is to be unique and to stand out to the listener. 

While many people tend to think that the best melodies are the ones with the most notes, the reality is that almost all of the best melodies are the ones that practice restraint. When notes are chosen much more selectively, they tend to stick out to the listener much more. This is not always the case, but it is a good thing to generally think about when producing music. 

Melody is also often the main emotional driver of music as a whole. Songwriters trying to write the most expressive songs possible usually put a lot of effort into creating the best possible melody, because that is what impacts a listener the most. The foundation of a good song is a good melody, and everything else (lyrics, rhythm, harmony, chords, production) needs to come up around it and build it up

What Is a Harmony?

Harmony is critical to the melody because it builds up the melody to take it to new levels. Essentially, a harmony is an alternate melody that accentuates and modifies the original melody. It will generally play at different intervals away from the original melody and work to add both tension and consonance to the original melody lines. Harmony works alongside the melody to create a song that feels more beautiful and full, even if there are just one or two extra lines alongside the melody. 

A harmony is usually built through careful consideration of chords. Almost every modern song is based around chords, which are composed of multiple voices that are harmonizing. For example, a C Major chord is composed of the notes C, E, and G, which all harmonize together perfectly. Harmonies work by stacking on notes above or below the original root note to add more texture and depth to the sound of the music. These are critically important to making a song sound more rich and textured than before

How Are Melody and Harmony Different?

Melody and harmony have unique purposes. A melody is made to stick out to the listener and drive the emotional and mental parts of the song. A melody is made to be the focus of a song and can often stand on its own. It doesn’t need to have other elements around it, but will often benefit from being surrounded by various other elements that will increase its potency and value. 

That’s where harmony comes in. A good harmony is not made to stand on its own. In fact, many harmonies sound strange and confusing if listened to without the context of the melody that it’s based on. That’s because harmonies are solely used to accentuate the beauty and depth of the melody. When used as chords, harmonies create a musical world for the rest of the song to live in, which can make the song much more exciting to listen to. The harmony is the primary support element for almost all songs. 

How Do Melody and Harmony Work Together?

Just like how a chord has a root note with other notes intertwining around it, the harmony intertwines with all the notes in the melody to add texture. The harmony can come above and below the melody, and that will make the melody sound a lot richer. These alterations that are made to the context of the melody give the song a lot more depth. 

Often, a lead singer will sing the melody, and then the background singers will sing around them in harmony to accentuate the beauty of the melody. The harmony itself will usually not be as consistent as the melody. Rather, it will drop out often and come in at specific points to accentuate certain parts of the melody or the lyrics. The sudden appearance and disappearance of these elements can make a song feel much more impactful to the listener

In fact, one of the most underutilized but most effective elements in music is silence. When a harmony disappears, it makes the melody sound much more important. This means that harmonies can even be hugely impactful when they aren’t showing up in the song. Melody and harmony can work together brilliantly in these circumstances to create songs that are memorable and meaningful to all listeners

How Unison Can Help

When it comes to melody and harmony, our team here at Unison knows how much they can impact your music. That’s why our packs are geared towards producers of all skill levels so that they can create the best music and songs possible. 

Our Vocal Packs can add the missing “human” element to a song and make it much more relatable and catchy, while our MIDI Packs inspire producers to create better melodies and harmonies and boost their workflows. Unison Artist Packs contain a variety of elements that have been used by industry professionals to create hit songs, and now they’re available to you. The next hit song is right around the corner, and you can find it in the tools that Unison provides. 

 

Sources: 

Music 101: What Is Melody? | Masterclass

Music 101: What Is Harmony and How Is It Used in Music? | Master Class

What Is Melody? How Is It Different From Harmony? | Prep Scholar

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