What's the difference between a tune and a melody?

  • 4
    We should create music stackoverflow:) Jan 2 '11 at 13:19
  • I'm flabbergasted that this question started out on Stack Overflow! This is definitely the "furthest" and most appropriate question migration I've seen.
    – John Y
    Apr 10 '12 at 22:10
  • melody = linear(horizontal) pitch interval; harmonic = vertical pitch interval; tune = a contour of intervals. Check Parsons code for melodic contours.
    – RainDoctor
    Apr 11 '12 at 3:46
  • Tune can mean a song as a whole as well as its main musical theme, while melody is usually restricted to the latter, at least nowadays. If someone were to say to me "He played a delightful little melody on the piano", I'd expect him to have used a single finger, while "a delightful little tune" is more likely to have involved both hands. ("A delightful little song" would remove all ambiguity.)

  • Melody is more likely than tune to be used in opposition to harmony. If you're singing in the choir and ask "who has the melody at the fifth measure", the answer will be (probably) "the sopranos"; but if you ask "who has the tune", you'll either get puzzled looks, or someone will play an A on the piano.

  • It's a bit subjective, but I think tune is less formal than melody: if you're whistling it, it's a tune, but if Maria Callas sang it, it's a melody.

  • 1
    Tune is definitely less formal than melody. I would say that melody is a technical term that sometimes gets used in a conversational context ("a pretty girl is like a melody"), but tune when referring to melody or song is a purely conversational term ("play that tune again!"). There is a technical definition for tune as well, which has to do with instruments adjusted to the exact same pitch, but that's an entirely different matter.
    – Owen S.
    Jan 17 '11 at 18:30

It's depending on the meaning of tune. If you understand tune as a harmony. Then it is a sequence or collection of tones that "suite" together, i.e. that sound harmonical. See also: wikipedia

A melody is just a linear sequence of tones that are considered to belong together.


Mainly spelling. That is, tune and melody are very, very similar; I would treat them as synonyms. The MacOS X dictionary (not a dreadfully authoritative source of information) defines 'tune' as MELODY and 'melody' as TUNE, supporting my contention. There are other words used in the definitions, but they come up very similar:


familiar melodies: TUNE, air, strain, theme, song, refrain, piece of music; informal ditty.



she hummed a cheerful tune: MELODY, air, strain, theme; song, jingle, ditty.

Tune has some non-melodic connotations when it is a verb - tuning an engine is different from whistling a tune.


A "tune" to be a short section of music, usually containing harmony and possibly multiple melodies. Tune can also mean solely the melody, but almost never solely the harmony.

"Being in tune" means that multiple people, when trying to trying to sing/play the same note, have the exact same pitch.

A "melody" is single series of notes that can be hummed, sung, or played by a single person. A melody is not any random series of notes, but it is the most important part of the music that is supported by the harmony. In one way, it is the part of the music that you remember and associate with the music. When a band director says "They [naming a section of instruments] have the melody," that means that the section has the most important part.


I'm studying music, and I understand "tune" to mean a few different things. E.g., tune can mean melody as opposed to harmony. An instrument can be tuned to the correct pitch, so that it is in tune. It can also mean an instrumental piece without lyrics.

  • This answer isn't useful. It doesn't add anything not stated in previous answers and comments.
    – Zairja
    Nov 2 '12 at 18:56

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.