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Using the Musical Elements for Music Expression

Getting to know the musical elements

     Conveying emotions and experiencing emotions largely depends on social and cultural aspects, and that said, you should be aware of the emotional qualities you perceive when you listen to certain sounds, chords, rhythms, melodies, etc, so you can translate that into your music.

This post is about basic music theory where you can learn about the musical elements and how you can use them to explore the emotional qualities of music.
The manipulation of musical elements in order to convey emotions comes as far as from the renaissance period musical practices, which in turn comes from the ancient Greek’s ideas about the symbiosis of oratory and music, and how one should influence the other.

     For instance, in renaissance, certain instruments would be used to depict contexts or associated to certain characters, fast tempo, agitated basses and frequent modulations were commonly used to express anguish, excitement, heroism or rage, and descending melodic lines in minor tonalities would be used to depict suffering.

     This way of thinking and ways to use the musical elements has influenced modern music too. All that said, everything counts! From the way you sing, the sounds you choose, the way you play your instrument, the chords, the melodic lines and motifs, scales, rhythmic approach, and so on.

     Taking all this in consideration should get your creative juices started. Let’s make a quick overview of the musical elements so we are all in the same page:


     That is how high or low we perceive a sound. pitch can be organized in patterns or succession of sounds/notes. This is the category of harmony/chords and scales or melodies.

Related keywords: Harmony; consonance and dissonance; melodies; intervals; chords; scales; modulation; tonality.


     Is the time element of music. It is related to the duration of sounds and to a given rhythmic pattern in time. Usually we hear these in relation to a steady pulse, and mentally organize this pulse or tempo into meter, dividing them into beats per measure or bar.

Related keywords: Beats; meter; tempo; accents; syncopation; accelerando; ritardando; note duration

learn about the musical elements and how you can use them to explore the emotional qualities of music.

Pitch and Rhythm are actually closely related, either because of the words we use to make up the melodic line that depending on the way we sing them, have a rhythmic cadence to it, or (if it’s instrumental music), we use rhythm to give a sense of flow to the melodic lines and motifs.


     Refers to the quality of the sounds we hear, making it possible for us to distinguish between a trumpet and a clarinet, for instance. This property also helps us to create variety in our music and, as said, we can use timbre as a way to evoke certain atmospheres or associate a specific instrument to a character or situation.

     To give you an idea about how important tone is, let me show you the impact of the choices you make regarding the instruments you are going to use in your compositions, as it can help you achieve that dramatic effect you have in your mind!

Tone Color Example 1 Tone Color Example 2


     Refers to how loud or soft a sound can be:

Related Keywords: piano; mezzo forte; forte; crescendo; diminuendo or decrescendo


     Is also one of the elements of music, and although it is not related to the production of sound per se, it is a very important aspect of the story telling side of music. It is how we organize or arrange our musical ideas into sections that may or may not be repeated throughout the music.

Related keywords: intro; verse; chorus; bridge; A section; B section; binary (AB); ternary (ABA); rondo (ABACA…); sonata


     It is how the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic materials are combined in a musical piece (i.e. how many notes in a chord) and how many instruments are playing. Depending on your choices, texture can be sparse or dense.

     As a way of showing how influential and evocative the musical elements can be to one another, you will be hearing a first example with drums, bass, rhythm and solo guitar.

     The following example is derivative, meaning that I took one of the elements of the first music piece and built the second piece of music around it. In this case, it was the drums. I took the same basic rhythm and just changed the tempo, making it faster. automatically, it suggested a completely different musical idea. Around it, I composed a different bass and guitar groove, and at some point I started hearing a brass section that I also added.


     So far, everything sounds like cooking, adding ingredients and what not. but it’s not like we are so far from the truth, if you consider the ingredients to be the musical elements and the way you combine them, triggers different moods and responses to your music.

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