An interval is the distance between two pitches.

The combination of intervals in a melody gives it different shapes. These shapes can be described in a number of ways:

Arpeggios are rising and falling melodies that use the notes of a chord. A broken chord is the alternation of the first, third and fifth degrees of the scale. Here’s an example in the melody of a piano sonata by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:

Score of Piano sonata K545, opening, Mozart.Score of Piano Sonata K545, opening, Mozart

What type of melody has a lot of leaps in it?



Most of Western Classical music is based on scales. A scale is a set of notes ordered by increasing or decreasing pitch. The intervals between these pitches give each scale a different characteristic and name.

The two videos below explain the types of scales and their characterics.


Melodies can be described in different ways:

  • diatonic melodies are mainly based on major or minor scales
  • chromatic melodies include notes outside the key of music
  • atonal melodies are not based on any key or tonal centre


When music is based on a major or a minor scale, it is said to be in the key of this scale. The key signature is found at the start of the music. It indicates which scale is being used, and the sharps and flats used in the scale.

Circle showing the key signatures including the major and minor keys.


Phrases are the musical version of sentences. They end with different types of cadance - like commas or full stops. Phrases can be different lengths, depending on the piece of music.