Musical Form

Category: Music Theory

A concept that I don’t think I’ve introduced yet, but is actually quite important to understand is MUSICAL FORM. As you can probably guess, musical form describes the structure of a piece of music or how a piece of music is put together. Think about breaking up a piece of music into logical sections. Have you heard of the terms “verse”, “bridge” or “chorus”? These are ways of identifying different sections in a piece of music.

How do you identify these sections? Like everything else in music, this is not an exact science. Here are things to look for:

  • Melodic themes that are repeated throughout the piece. Repetition can give clues as to how a song can be divided into sections.
  • Variations on a theme can also give clues as to how a musical piece is structured. This means that the notes do not have to repeat note-for-note, but can vary around a melodic theme or succession of chords.
  • Key changes can indicate the end of one section and the beginning of another.
  • Changes in rhythm can indicate the end of one section and beginning of another.

Each musical section is identified with an alphabetical label – starting with “A”, then “B”, and so on. The form of a piece of music can be described using a series of these letters (AABA or ABACA), or can be described by using the name of the form.

Common musical forms include:

  • Strophic (AAA..) – Verse-chorus combination that is repeated over and over again.
  • Binary (AB) – Two complementary but related sections. An example of this form would be “Greensleeves”.
  • Ternary (ABA) – The beginning and ending section are the same with a contrasting middle section. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is a simple example of ternary form.
  • Rondo (ABACA or ABACADA) – A song with one principle theme (A) which alternates with different contrasting themes (B , C, D)

Identifying the musical form of Fur Elise:

There is a pretty obvious musical theme that is present at the beginning of the piece. This is the part of the song that everyone is familiar with. The first thing I noticed is that this theme is repeated throughout the piece. Each section that contains the musical theme from the first section I have coded in purple in the graphic below. (Click on the graphic for a bigger version of it). Next I took a look at the remaining sections. They did not have much in common. The second section (starting at measure 23) is driven by very fast passages in the right hand while the section starting a measure 60 is driven by the repetition of notes in the left hand. Since there are no common themes in these sections, I will label them B and C respectively and color code them on the sheet music below as blue and green.

We just figured out the form of the song Fur Elise! It goes ABACA; a rondo! Take a look at the music piece below to see the repetition and contrast in the piece.


Posted on December 28th, 2013 by sharlene


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  2. Tracie Says:

    Excellent explanations!

  3. Nat Says:

    What form is Elegie by Alexander Glasunov in?

    Please reply!!

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  5. Im desperate Says:

    what is the musical form of Wrecking ball

  6. Jeff (Reply ASAP) Says:

    What is the structure of little talks

  7. Elena Says:

    What is the form for Seventeen by Alessia Cara?

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