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The pieces of the piece

15 January, 2016 - 09:13
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The overall form of a piece can be broken down into sections. Even a very short piece of music can usually be described as sections (for example, three phrases: a call and a repeated answer). For a very long piece, it can be useful to divide and subdivide multiple times, to see how the composer spins out a long piece by connecting and developing smaller ideas. For example, a symphony is divided into four movements. One of those movements might be a dance consisting of four repeated sections. The first of those sections might consist of 2 eight-measure phrases, and the first of those phrases might be built from four variations on a short motive (and so on).

  • Are the musical ideas that draw the attention best described as motives, distinct phrases, or long lines with no clear division into phrases or motives?
  • How are the musical ideas put together? For example, do phrases happen one at a time, or do they overlap? Is an entire section built up from a single motive? Is a phrase-based melody accompanied by a persistent rhythmic motive?
  • To what extent is repetition used? At what levels is it used? (For example, repetitive rhythm establishing the beat, short motives reused to create a melody, whole phrases repeated, whole repeated sections)? Are repetitions exact, or slightly different? What is different and why? (For example, does the melody change slightly to fit new words, or is the repetition in a new key because of the expectations of sonata form?)