Form

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Form, in reference to music, illustrates the structure of a musical piece through ideas such as the design, plan, shape and architecture. Generally, the composer will plan the layout of his music, otherwise it may give the feeling of shapeless wandering.

Commonly used terms

Under the broad heading of form, the terms below are frequently used:

  • Motive (or motif)
may be described as a short, melodic pattern or rhythmic figure which recurs significantly in a composition.
  • Phrase
a unified musical thought coming to a point of rest. See cadence.
  • Period
usually two or more phrases related by unity of melody, rhythm, tonality and texture.
  • Section
a collection of phrases or periods comprising a major subdivision of work (such as a "development" or "transition" section).
  • Binary
a form which is divided into two unified parts, usually AB or AABB.
  • Ternary
a work comprised of two contrasting sections (A and B) followed by a return of the first section (A).
  • Rondo
a large structure where a principal theme (A) alternates with contrasting material, usually ABACA or ABABCABA.
  • Sonata Allegro
a large structure which outlines:
  1. Exposition
  2. Development
  3. Recapitulation
a composition having the principal characteristic of a central musical idea which goes through various transformations.

The form of a piece of music is made clear by the arrangement of its "phrases" and "sentences". A phrase may consist of a few short bars (usually 4), then ending with a cadence or "point of rest". Musical form may be thought of as like the words we speak or write. Music needs introduction, breathing points, punctuation, rests and endings. A cadence may be final or intermediate (ie. non-final). Final cadences are the perfect and plagal, corresponding to a full stop. Non-final cadences are the imperfect and interrupted, corresponding to the semicolon or comma.

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