The specific order of the long and short notes in a melody is important. A well-known melody can be almost unrecognizable if it is not sung in proper rhythm. Note durations, as well as pitches, contribute to the distinctive character of a melody. For example, the smooth, even rhythm of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star is calm, but the snappy, dotted (long-short) rhythm of The Battle Hymn of the Republic is exciting. Try reversing these rhythms: the first melody will lose its calmness, and the second will lack excitement.

How the tones of a melody are performed can vary its effect, too. Sometimes they are sung or played in a smooth, connected style called legato. Or they may be performed in a short, detached manner called staccato.

Many melodies are made up of shorter parts called phrases. These short units may have similar pitch and rhythm patterns that help unify the melody. On the other hand, contrasting phrases can furnish variety. Phrases often appear in balanced pairs; a first phrase of rising pitches may be followed by a second phrase of falling pitches. The second phrase may partly repeat the first but have a more conclusive ending, a point of arrival. Such a resting place at the end of a phrase is called a cadence.

As you get further into the music explored in this book, you’ll find a wealth of melodies: vocal and instrumental, long and short, simple and complex. To help sort them out, let’s see how some basic melodic principles apply to four familiar tunes. These are short melodies, easy to sing and easy to remember.