All Subjects

ย >ย 


AP Music Theory

ย >ย 


Unit 2

2.9 Melodic Features

2 min readโ€ขnovember 2, 2020

Caroline Koffke

Mickey Hansen

2.9: Melodic Features

Melody is the intersection of pitch and rhythm. A melody is created when a succession of pitches are played over a certain amount of time, expressing a musical statement. Often they are derived from scales and modes, and are organized into patterns that create musical phrasing and motives.


Melodies often have certain technical features, including contour, conjunct and disjunct, register, and range.

Contour is the shape of a melody which is created through the rise and fall of notes.

Conjunct motion is the step-wise movement of pitches, meaning they have either a half or whole-step between them.

Disjunct motion is the opposite; it is when a note leaps more than a step to the next note.

Register is the relative pitch area in which a melody is played (high, medium or low).

Range is the total span of notes played from the highest to low pitch.

Melodies have motives, or small musical themes, that are often recurring and develop throughout the composition. Their development can be created by a change in pitch, rhythm, or both!


Now when we are referring to melodies that are set to words, there are two types: syllabic and melismatic. Syllabic melodies use no more than one pitch per syllable, whereas melismatic melodies may have two or pitches per syllable. Each time there are multiple pitches per syllable it is a melisma.

๐Ÿฆœ Polly wants a progress tracker: Think about the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Which part of the song is melismatic and which part is syllabic?

Was this guide helpful?

Join us on Discord

Thousands of students are studying with us for the AP Music Theory exam.

join now

Browse Study Guides By Unit

Exam Skills

Unit 1: Music Fundamentals I: Pitch, Major Scales and Key Signatures, Rhythm, Meter, and Expressive Elements

Unit 3: Music Fundamentals III: Triads and Seventh Chords

Unit 4: Harmony and Voice Leading I: Chord Function, Cadence, and Phrase

Unit 5: Harmony and Voice Leading II: Chord Progressions and Predominant Function