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Form – Common Structures and Macroform

     A commonly accepted definition is that music is organized sound and to do so, we use the musical elements. Any of the presented materials, thus far, would not make much sense if they were not combined and organized in such a way that we are actually able to provide some sense of communicative intent – purpose and meaning (see repetition).

     Form is also one of the elements of music, and although it is not related to the production of sound per se, it is a very important aspect of the story telling side of music. It is how we organize or arrange our musical ideas into sections that may or may not be repeated throughout the music.


     When I plan my musical materials, I tend to go from high-level of conceptualization (more generic) to low-level or deep-level (more detailed). I like to call the high-level of organization of Macroform and at this point I will only be concerned about dealing with the various sections in the music piece, as a whole; how many sections or parts will be necessary to express my idea; how many times these will be repeated, if at all; and other considerations that I will be addressing shortly. The main types of macroform, or ways to organize the structure of a musical piece, are:

  • Binary – a music piece that has an A section contrasting with a B section ( i.e. A B )
  • Ternary – the same as above, except it ends with a variation of the A section ( i.e. A B A’ )
  • Rondó – alternating an A section with other contrasting sections ( i.e. A B A C A D A )
  • Sonata – consists of three main sections: exposition of thematic material, development and recapitulations ( i.e. A B A B C A’ B’ )
  • Minuet – Similar to ternary form except B is a modulating section ( i.e. A B A’ )
  • Scherzo – The same as minuet although faster and with less harmonic changes

     The most popular way of referring to form or to a music structure is by naming the various sections of a song as follows:

  • Intro – beginning section of the song  
  • Verse – introduces the song’s main narrative
  • Pre-chorus – occurs after the verse and usually builds up or transitions to the chorus
  • Chorus – contains the main idea and repeats more often throughout the song
  • Bridge – a contrasting section with all the other parts of the song
  • Instrumental/solo – section containing embellishments from the performer(s)
  • Outro – section that ends the song

It is not mandatory to have all these parts in a song. Again, you should only have the necessary parts that will help you to convey your message and they can be arranged in any way you like or need.

     Slowly we will be moving to lower levels of organization and now we will be concerned with how each section can be organized in itself in terms or melodic and/or harmonic materials like cadences:

  • Period – four bars with cadence and another four bars with some of the previous bar material
  • Codetta – Interchange of V-I cadences with richer cadences in the end of a given section of the music piece
  • Sequence – an exact repetition of a segment but transposed
  • Elaboration – themes that were not modulated are now worked into a contrasting middle section

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