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Section 11.2 Melodic Alteration

While there are more than a dozen ways to alter a melody, we will focus on seven methods of basic melodic alteration at this point of the text.

Subsection 11.2.1 Inversion

Inversion as applied to music means an idea is exactly upside-down or “mirrored” across a horizontal plane, like mountains reflected in a lake.

First, listen to the following example.

Figure 11.2.1. Bach, Invention No. 1 in C Major, BWV 772 (1723)

The first seven notes in measure 1 are inverted in measure 3, shown in the following example.

Figure 11.2.2. Melodic inversion in Invention No. 1 in C Major by J.S. Bach

Melodic inversion can be real (where every interval is exactly the same quality) or tonal (where the intervals abide by the scale or key). For the majority of this text, we will encounter tonal inversion until we discuss techniques of 20th- and 21st-century music in the final chapters of this text.

Subsection 11.2.2 Intervallic Change

Intervallic change is less exact than inversion. With intervallic change, the rhythm is generally intact and the motive relates to a previous iteration, but some of the intervals are different.

Figure 11.2.3. Ray Noble, “The Very Thought of You” (1934)

The next example has two intervals changed, one of which includes a change in contour.

Figure 11.2.4. Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, “I’m Not In Love” (1975)

Subsection 11.2.3 Augmentation and Diminution

Augmentation usually refers to an exact doubling of the duration of every rhythmic value in a motive or phrase.

Figure 11.2.5. Augmentation of fragment “a” in Invention No. 1 by J.S. Bach

We will discuss extension and fragmentation of motives later in this chapter.

Diminution is the opposite of augmentation and usually refers to the exact halving of the duration of every rhythmic value in a motive or phrase. However, diminution can also refer to the use of shorter rhythmic values, as in the following example.

Figure 11.2.6. Diminution of the first four notes in “Uranus” from The Planets, Op. 32, by Gustav Holst (1916)

Subsection 11.2.4 Rhythmic Change

Similar to the inexact nature of intervallic change, label a motive as having rhythmic change when some but not all rhythmic values of the motive are varied.

Figure 11.2.7. Hurby Azor and Ray Davies, “Push It” (1987)

Imagine the effect if there had been no rhythmic change and the first measure was merely repeated.

In the next example, from Beethoven’s “Pathétique” sonata, motive 1 has dotted rhythms during the introduction of the piece.

Figure 11.2.8. Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, I, Introduction (1799)

In the development section, Beethoven changes the rhythm of motive 1 then abbreviates it in the following measure when it is sequenced up a step.

Figure 11.2.9. Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, I, development section

Subsection 11.2.5 Ornamentation

Ornamentation means the notes in a motive can be ornamented or embellished with passing tones, neighbor tones, and the other non-chords tones we studied in the previous chapter.

Here is an example of the ornamentation of a 4-note motive.

Figure 11.2.10. Stevie Wonder, “Sir Duke” (1976)

Subsection 11.2.6 Extension

Extension of a motive needs little explanation: additional material is added to the end of a motive upon its repetition or reoccurrence at a later point in a piece.

Refer to the “Sir Duke” example directly above and to the final measure of the J.S. Bach Invention in C Major example in the section on augmentation.

Subsection 11.2.7 Retrograde

While rare in tonal music, it is worth mentioning retrograde, which is an exact reversing of the order of notes, as can be seen in the following example from popular music.

Figure 11.2.11. Melodic Retrograde in “Toxic” by Cathy Dennis, Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winnberg, Henrik Jonback (2003)

We will not consider transposition of a motive (also known as a sequence) to be a motivic alteration worth labeling since it is so common.