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Basic Musical Forms

The large-scale form of a musical composition can be projected via any combination of the musical elements (rhythm, dynamics, melody, tone color, texture, form). Traditionally, however, musical form in Western music has been primarily associated with the order of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic events (or the text) in a piece. Letters (i.e. A, B, C) are used to designate musical divions brought about by the repitition of melodic material or the presentation of new, contrasting material. Some of the most common musical forms are described below:

Strophic form: a design in vocal music, in which the same music is used for several different verses (strophes) of words. [Example: "Deck the Halls" has many verses of words sung to the same music.]

Verse 1.... Verse 2.... Verse 3 (etc.)....

Through-composed: a structure in which there is no repeat of return of any large-scale musical selection.

A    B    C    D    E....

Binary Form: a two-part form in which both main sections are repeated (as indicated in the diagram "repeat marks"). The basic premise of this form is contract:

Basic Music Forms - Music Theory Notes Example 1

Ternary Form: A three-part form featuring a return of the initial music after a contrasting section. Symmetry and balance are achieved through this return of material:

Basic Musical Forms - Music Theory Notes Example 2


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