Artwork from the book - Pitch, Melody and Phrasing in Popular Music according to David Machin by Mel Rosenberg - מל רוזנברג -
I'm a writer, scientist, musician, inventor and lecturer. During the daytime I am advisor to the President of Shenkar College. In the evening I write children's books, satire, and "how to" manuals ("Mel's ten tips). I'm co-founder of Ourboox and married to Ourboox CEO Shuli Sapir-Nevo.
Oct 2013
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Pitch, Melody and Phrasing in Popular Music according to David Machin

by Mel Rosenberg - מל רוזנברג

Don’t forget to listen to the two mysterious melodies at the end of the book!


When you hear a song, what is the music telling you? Is there a meaning that lies in the pitch, the ascending and descending notes? David Machin, in his book, Analysing Popular Music, thinks that there is.



High pitch can signify brightness, excitement, agitation or lightness. In Western culture (at least) up is associated with feeling good.

In this context low is associated with darkness and evil, obscurity, bleakness, etc.


Machin cites Cooke (1959)  suggesting that in classical music, ascending pitch is related to outwardly expressed emotions, as opposed to a descending pitch which conveys loss of energy.

Try humming a few popular songs to see whether this is a general statement.


According to Machin, the range of pitch is also important. A jump of an entire octave might convey excitement (Blueberry Hill, Over the Rainbow, I’ve got it bad). Does that mean that staying in a small range means that the song is not conveying excitement?



In a scale there are usually 8 notes, with note 8 a repetition of 1, one octave higher. These 8 are chosen from the 12 possibilities.

Each note may have a meaning. 1,3, and 5 represent the basic chord and are physically related. Notes 2 and 4 will be construed as unstable and going somewhere safe (i.e., to 1,3, or 5). See the opposite page.


1- stable, the root, the tonic

2-something unstable, promising something new

3-stable and happy. A safe choice.

Minor 3rd – stable, but sadly so



4-needs to be resolved

5- stable, like the 1 note

6- generally upbeat, similar to the third

7-major seventh is slightly thoughtful, reminiscent

Minor 7th- sadness, loss, pain.



The minor 7th is considered a ‘blue note’, whereas the major 7th is associated with longing. The major 3rd is happy, the minor 3rd is sad.



The phrasing of the melody is also important. How long does it last, what is the shape, is it short with a long decay, staccato or legato, etc. The long decay might suggest slowness and relaxation, lingering of emotion. Attack notes or phrases might suggest energy, excitement, lack of ease.


Here are two songs that generate a mood of unrest, unexpectedness. What do you have to say about them?

Artwork from the book - Pitch, Melody and Phrasing in Popular Music according to David Machin by Mel Rosenberg - מל רוזנברג -

Bali Ha’i, from South Pacific. Listen from 0:42

note for me: minor3-4-5,5b,4,minor3. 


Do you recognize it?



Trust in me, from Jungle Book, listen from 0:10




More in the next pages!

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