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Rhythm, Melody or Harmony?

Rhythm, Melody or Harmony?

A very common question from students and one we will ask ourselves from time to time as musicians and teachers: which is more important when learning a piece of music, rhythm, melody or harmony?

The answer is in fact very simple, bu to answer this we have to think about music as a whole, what makes a piece of music something we can call 'music'? Is it it's lovely melodic singing line? or is it the changing harmonic accompaniment from bar to bar?

Music varies from genre to genre of course, but the one thing that holds all music together is the 'pulse' or 'beat'. Without a steady pulse there is no unity of rhythm, therefore without rhythm/pulse we don't have 'music'.

It is possible to create music based almost entirely on rhythmic material only, for example some of the world's finest drumming groups performances are practically all rhythm based, with only slight variations of timbre producing slightly different pitches.

Here is an example including only clapping:

Melody and Harmony are by no means less important to Rhythm however, but they do rely on it heavily. Once rhythmic security is there, the melody is allowed to flourish around it's firm foundation and the harmony is allowed to progress as intended.

So, to any young students out there, when your teacher asks you to "clap and count out" your rhythms before approaching the notes, remember that this is actually the most important initial step towards learning your piece properly. Without this solid rhythmic basis, you don't have a piece of music, but only a series of varying pitches being played one after another.

Good luck!

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