Melodies Are Growing Trees

Idea: A melody is a tonal seed growing into a tonal tree.

Melodies tend to have a lot of notes in them. So, you might think that a melody is just a series of notes — a group of notes linked together like beads on a string. Ponder that as you listen to one of my favorite melodies.

So, are melodies constructed by putting notes together? Do the notes come first, and then the composer attaches them to each other like Lego blocks? I don’t think so.

Complementary Theories

Last time, I claimed that a melody is a journey — or the story of a journey — through the world of tone. You can break it up into individual episodes. But what you experience is a single thing — a whole — with the notes as its parts. The melody as a whole is primary; the individual notes are secondary.

This time, I want to offer a different — though complementary — theory.

Every melody starts with a single note. But each note has (infinitely) many tones within it. A melody unfolds or stretches the note to bring out its internal tones.

Melodies Are Wholes

A melody is like a tree because it starts from a single note, then expands to reveal what was packed away inside. It begins with a seed — its first note — which then grows. The melody as a whole is primary; it was all there in the first note. The first note is the melody as a whole — it just takes a while for it to develop  — just as the acorn is the oak tree it becomes.

Or perhaps a melody is like the painting of a tree on fan you can unfold.


Is a melody a journey, or the story of a journey? Is it a tree, or a painting of a tree? Is it a thing, or a representation of a thing? Whatever it is, it’s not just a bunch of notes strung together.


Featured image by by robbrownaustralia:

Leave a Reply