Monday, January 14, 2013

Understanding Musical Form


I teach form with all of my students- even the very young.  Form is great to teach because it helps the students learn the road maps, which makes learning and memorizing a piece easier, and helps them to form connections to other sections of the music and even to other pieces.

What is musical form?

Musical form is the shape or structure of the piece- how it was composed.  It divides a piece of music into sections.

Why should you learn the form of the piece?

  • to help with learning the piece
  • to help with memorization
  • to perform with clarity and understanding
  • curiosity and appreciation of music

How to find the form of a piece

There are multiple steps I use to get my students to learn the form of a piece of music they are studying.

Step 1:  Listen to the piece while I play it and mark the cadences.  (A cadence is just the end of a phrase of music. When we speak, we speak in sentences and a period is at the end of a sentence.  A phrase is like a sentence- it is a musical idea that comes to an end with a cadence. A cadence can have a natural breath or pause before starting the next phrase.)
All The Pretty Little Horses, without phrases

Step 2: Look at the phrases and see if any of them repeat. Label the phrases A, B, C, etc. Make sure that any phrases that are repeated are marked with the same letter.
After going through the music and marking cadences.

Step 3: Break the large phrases into smaller phrases labeling them a, b, c, etc. Look back at the larger phrases. Could any of them be alternates to each other?  Relabel the phrases with A1, A2, etc. as needed
Even though section B is similar to A (with b in the second smaller phrases) I wouldn't mark it as A1 because it would get confusing with all the other A's in the piece.  So, even though it could be A A A1 A A, I would still call it A A B A A for ease of understanding this particular piece.
This is a difficult concept to explain in the written word, so I made a video below to explain what I am talking about better. Please watch!

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