Elements of Music - Dr Smith


What are the elements of music?

Watch the video to understand what the elements of music are. More information below

All of music relies on what are known as the elements of music. These are the basic foundations of what creates music itself. Just as art might have the basic elements such as perspective, scale, contrast, colour and so forth, music relies on many elements such as dynamics, melody, instrumentation, tempo, structure and so on.

The Dr Smith mnemonic is a simple system to allow students to remember the main elements involved when listening to any piece of music. Many students wonder how they can practise answering how to describe music - a common demand in numerous exam questions. Questions such as those below are common in the listening exam paper:

  • Explain how the music represents the movement of [the sea/the chase scene/the battle]. You may wish to refer to instruments, melody, rhythm, texture and any other relevant features

  • Compare the music of both extracts

  • Give two reasons why this music is appropriate to represent romance

  • Give three features of the (any particular instrument or feature or elements) that are typical of this style

In fact, almost any question that relies on students describing music will require students to completely know the Dr Smith elements mnemonic and how each element works and can be used.

The Dr Smith mnemonic stands for:

  • D - Dynamics - volume in music

      • Duration - the length of notes, how many beats each note is worth

  • R - Rhythm - the beat, the effect created by combining a variety of notes of different durations

  • S - Structure - the overall plan of a piece of music

  • M - Melody - the main tune, a combination of a variety of notes of different pitches

      • Metre - the number of beats in a bar

  • I - Instrumentation - the combination of instruments that are used and how they are played and used

  • T - Texture - the different layers in a piece of music

      • Tempo - the speed of the music

      • Timbre - the tone quality of the music, the different sound made by the instruments used

      • Tonality - the key of a piece of music (major/minor/atonal)

  • H - Harmony - how notes are combined to build up chords

Students can either:

Elements of Music Display.pdf