Composing Activities - Shape and Form 1


One of the most important aspects of any piece of music is its shape or form. How many of you can whistle or hum the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony? Any section of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusic? Frére Jacques? Any piece by Phillip Glass? Why is it easy to remember some pieces and virtually impossible to recall even the smallest snippet of others? One word - repetition! If you think about any of the musical examples you know well, you will probably find that the bit you remember occurs frequently throughout the music. This is why you can hum the opening of Beethoven's Fifth but probably not know a thing about the development section of the same piece.

However, simply repeating a phrase over and over again is likely to result in boring compositions, so it would be better if we could structure how the music repeats. One of the simplest ways is to use the musical form of sequence - where the shape of a musical phrase is repeated higher or lower. Look at the following examples:

Sequence example 1Sequence Example 1

In the tune above, the first bar is repeated in the second bar, but each note is one step higher. Bar three has the same phrase repeated one step higher again with the last bar returning the music to the home note. This is an example of a one bar sequence.

In the next example there is a two bar rising sequence:

Sequence example 2 Sequence Example 2

Again, the last two bar phrase returns to the home note (or home key) of the music.

In the final example below, there is a mixture of rising and falling two bar and one bar sequences:

Sequence example 3 Sequence Example 3

Note that it is possible (sometimes even necessary) to alter the sequence slightly to make the music flow more smoothly. In the example above, the ends of bars 4 and 7 have been changed so that there is no big jump to the next note.

Compose a new piece of music in PrintMusic that uses sequences, either rising, falling or both. If you are going to use a two bar sequence, a good tip is to make sure that the end note of your first phrase does not return to the home note.

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