Intro to form and style

When we talk about the "style" of a player or a song, or a type of music, what are we discussing?

We analyze music (take it apart and consider it's constiuent parts) to understand what is going on. we can analyze the melody, harmony, rhythm, sound/timbre, genre, form or some other aspectof the music. By analyzing music we can better understand what is going on, what works, and why. We could then use that information in synthesis, that is creating new music; however, merely using tools that work (a particular progression, rhythm, technique, etc.) does not mean that the composition will work or be interesting.

So what is style?
we can define style as:
- the choices a composer or performer makes from all the possibilities available.

Ok. Lot of help that does. We need to have some framework to understand the choices we have (we need to know that we have choices in the first place). By having a framework of questions to ask in our analysis, we can get a clearer picture of what's going on.

Let's start with sound and timbre.
What instruments are being played?
What techniques are being used on thse instruments/voices?
Out of instrumentation choices, which specific choices are being made? (Is the guitarist playing with a slide or capo?, is the drummer playing cymbals that might clash/mask other performers frequencies, Is the horn player using a mute? Are any electrical objects affecting the sound? if so, which ones and how?)
How are the dynamics? Are things balanced? Is there a preponderence of one voice/instrument? What effect does this have? Do the levels remain the same or change throughout the piece?
What is the texture density like?
- are there sparse thin textures (few voices), or dense thick textures (many voices)?
What types of textures are involved? (monophonic, polyphonic, homophonic, chordal)

Looking at melody, we might ask questions like:
- Which scales the melody is based upon.
- the range of the melodic content.
- the shape or contour of the melody.
- the phrasing of a line.
- the thematic usage of melody, repitition, and variation of melodies. the relationships between differing melodies and how they interact.

Looking at harmony, we might ask questions such as:
- what kinds of harmonies are present? (harmonized melodies, chord-block style, chord punctuations)
- What are the particular chord structures (vertically thinking) chord types, particular voicings, etc.
- how do these structures change over time? What are the progressions or other patterns?
- How long does the harmonies remain or change?
- What harmonies are implied by melodic content?
- Which keys or other tonal (or atonal) constructs are being implied by the harmonies?

Considering the rythm we might ask questions about:
- the meter used, and its implied meanings.
- the tempo at which the music are pieces of it are played.
- What types of patterns repeat, evolve.
- How simple or complex the rhythms are.

Genre or periods of style will be an ongoing investigation for us and we will not start here, but it requires the use of the above framework. This page will eventually be at the front of a section on genres. We will examine the common practices in a genre, what are the expected norms for a particular style/genre, and what rules are observed, as well as how composers have played with those limits and how to arrange or compose as well as play in a particular style.

Form describes the larger structures within a composition, how they repeat and change.

In song writing we may look at a piece that goes:

which we could write as:

Some forms are well known and have names (binary forms, ternary forms, etc.)

With a framework such as above, we can start to think more deeply about the music we listen to or create.

Next lesson is on transposition.

Christopher Roberts

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Last updated May 15, 2003
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