Exposed: The Smartest Known Way To Determine The Melody Of A Hymn Song

If you’re interested in learning how to determine the melody of a song, then you’re on the right page.

Before we get started with the determination of melody, let’s take a look at the concept of melody.

A Review On The Concept Of Melody

According to Jermaine Griggs, “melody is a product of the relationship between notes that are played or heard separately.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of the keywords in the definition of the term “melody” before we proceed further.

“Melody Is A Product”

Notes are the raw material while melody is the product. Hence, a melody has to be meaningful, having a level of organization.

Consequently, melody is not just a collection of notes played separately — which may be classified as a scale — melody is a product of notes played meaningful, with a level of organization.

“…The Relationship…”

There’s usually a relationship between the notes of a melody. For a melody to be meaningful, its notes must be related to a given scale, chord, or key.

For example, in the melody “Joy To The World”

Joy:

…to:

…the:

…world:

…the:

…lord:

…has:

…come:

The notes are related by the C major scale:

In a nutshell, the notes of a melody are usually related.

“…Separately”

The most important keyword in the definition of the term melody is separately. The notes of a melody is designed to be played or heard separately.

Stable And Active Tones

The notes of the scale can be categorized into stable and active tones.

Stable tones are the notes of the tonic triad (aka – “chord 1”.) They are said to be stable because when they are played in a key environment, they have a feeling of repose in the key they are played in.

In the key of C major:

…the stable tones are C, E, and G:

…which are the first, third, and fifth tones in the C major scale.

Active tones are the notes of the leading note seventh chord (aka – “chord 7”.) These tones are also known as tendency tones because they have the tendency to resolve to stable tones when they are played in a key environment.

In the key of C major:

…the active tones are B, D, F, and A:

…and these are the seventh, second, fourth, and sixth tones in the key of C.

Let’s go through the C major scale step by step…

The first tone – C:

…a stable tone, followed by D:

…an active tone, followed by E:

…a stable tone, followed by F:

…an active tone, followed by G:

…a stable tone, followed by A:

…an active tone, followed by B:

…an active tone, and back to C:

…a stable tone.

How To Determine The Melody Of A Hymn Song

Stable tones are in direct relationship with the key because they are the constituents of the  most important chord in the key – the tonic chord.

Consequently, there is a sense of resolution and feeling of repose when they are played and this explains why most songs either start or end on these stable tones. If you want to figure out the first note in the melody of a song, the top options to consider are the stable tones

In this segment, I’ll be showing you step-by-step, how you can determine the melody of a song using stable tones. To illustrate this, I’ll be using a worship song and a hymn.

“Check it out!”

Here’s how to determine the first note in the melody of song in three simple steps…

Step 1. Play the tonic chord to establish the key you want to play the song in.

Step 2. Sing or hum the first note in the melody aloud.

Step 3. Find out the stable tone that has the same pitch with the first note of the melody which can either be the first, third, fifth, [or eighth] tone of the scale.

Let’s check out two examples…

Example #1 – “You Deserve The Glory” In The Key Of C

In the song “You Deserve The Glory”, you can determine the first note of the melody following these steps…

Step 1. “Play the tonic chord to establish the key you want to play the song in.”

In this case, we’ll be using the key of C major:

…and the tonic chord is the C major triad:

Playing this tonic chord should put you in the key of C.

Step 2. “Sing or hum the first note in the melody aloud.”

The text that has the first note in the melody is “you.” Sing or hum it against the tonic chord.

Step 3. “Find out the stable tone that has the same pitch with the first note of the melody which can either be the first, third, fifth, [or eighth] tone of the scale.”

There are basically four options to consider, and they are the first, third, fifth, and eighth tone of the scale. At this point, we are trying to determine the stable tone that sounds like ‘you.’

The note of the text ‘you’ does not sound like the first chord tone (C):

…rather it sounds like the third chord tone (which is E):

Therefore the first note in the melody of the song “You Deserve The Glory” in the key of C:

…is E:

Example #2 – “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior” In The Key Of Ab

Our second example is a hymn song “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior”, and we can figure out the first note in its melody following these three simple steps…

Step 1. “Play the tonic chord to establish the key you want to play the song in.”

In this case, we’ll be using the key of Ab major:

…and the tonic chord is the Ab major triad:

Playing this tonic chord should put you in the key of C and also give you an idea of the stable tones.

Step 2. “Sing or hum the first note in the melody aloud.”

The text that has the first note in the melody is “pass.” Sing or hum it against the tonic chord.

Step 3. “Find out the stable tone that has the same pitch with the first note of the melody which can either be the first, third, fifth, [or eighth] tone of the scale.”

At this point, we are trying to determine the stable tone that sounds like ‘pass.’

Which of the stable tones does note of the text ‘pass’ sound like?

Does it sound like Ab?:

…no!

How about C?:

…the answer is yes!

The first note in the melody of the song “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior” in the key of Ab major:

…is C:

Final Words

I trust you’ve learned how the first tone of the melody of a hymn song can be determined. Feel free to determine the first tone of the melody of any of your favorite hymn songs.

See you in the next lesson!

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Chuku Onyemachi

Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. I started teaching musicians in my neighbourhood in April 2005. Today, I'm humbled to work as a music consultant with HearandPlay Music Group for musicians in Africa and beyond.