The Elements of Music

The elements of music can be seen as being the building blocks of music. Without them, music (of any style/age) would not exist because sound itself would not exist!

Think of the elements of music like the crucial elements of a car. A car needs wheels, an engine, brakes, doors, a chassis, a steering wheel, etc.. Without these key elements it will no longer be a car. Without the key musical elements a piece of music will no longer be music.

What are the elements of music?

Here is a quick run through of the main musical elements (you will come across variations of this, but these are the crucial ones):

Pitch – how high or low a note sounds
Rhythm – the pattern of regular or irregular pulses caused in music by the occurrence of strong and weak beats. (In everyday language this is the “groove”).
Duration – the length of a musical note
Structure – the way in which an overall piece of music is arranged into similar and contrasting sections.
Dynamics – how loud/quiet the music is (either the overall sound or of individual notes/instruments within it)
Pulse – the beat of the music
Texture – the way in which melody, rhythm and harmony are combined in a piece of music. What each part/instrument is doing at any given point.
Tempo – the speed of the pulse
Timbre – the tone of a musical note
Tonality – the key in which a piece is written (can change as piece progresses)
Harmony – the relationship between 2 or more simultaneously sounding notes

elements of music diagram

Why are the elements of music important?

They are important for 2 reasons:
1. Performing/analysing Music – An understanding of the musical elements will enable you to understand any piece of music, whether you are trying to perform the piece or analyse it. If we know the key elements that make up a car then we can use them to compare any car around the world from a Ferrari to a pickup truck by asking some simple questions – “What size engine does it have? What colour is it? How many wheels does it have? etc..” In the same way, we can understand any piece of music by asking questions – “What is the tempo? How loud is it? What key is it in? What instruments are playing? Etc…”

2. Composing Music – The musical elements are your “composer’s toolbox” – without a clear understanding of the elements of a car you will never be able to build a car. Without a clear grasp of the elements of music your ability to write music will be seriously compromised and you will not be able to reach your potential as a composer (whatever style you are wanting to write in).

The different elements of music are covered in different music theory videos and lessons around the site. I hope they help you on your musical journey.