Listen to Music Through Form

Updated on November 19, 2017
Reginald Thomas profile image

25 years as a conductor, professional trombonist, and teacher. This author enjoys writing about his passion for music.

How to Listen to Music Through Form

Many of the same principals and rules for writing a book, an essay or a magazine article apply to composing music. It could be as simple as a two minute song or a full symphony with four movements. In music we call this the form, or structure, that the composer has chosen.

This article will demonstrate, through three examples, how the structure of a piece is music is put together by a composer. As we learn, we will be able to listen to music through its form.

John Philip Sousa: The March King

I get excited when I hear the name John Philip Sousa. As a musician I played in many bands and we performed many of his pieces. As a conductor, I performed his marches with several groups.

Taking a passage out of a book called John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon by Paul E. Bierley: “John Philip Sousa was the symbol of an era and was known as the man who did one particular thing better than any other. He was to the March what Johann Strauss was to the Waltz and he has been described as the “Dickens of Music,“ the “Kipling of Music”.”

I find this book to be one of the best books about Mr. Sousa. Fantastic information about the man, his music, adventures, and his time in history.

In 2007, I had the great privilege of meeting John Philip Sousa lV, the great grandson of the march king. We grew to be very good friends and as we met on several occasions he would tell me stories that were passed down through his family tree. He is a delightful man who continues to promote his great grandfather’s legacy. I appreciated other information that he shared with me about the composer and I will cherish that for ever.

The “Stars & Stripes Forever” is our national march. One of the listening exercises for this article will include a march that Mr. Sousa said was his best, “Semper Fidelis.” I agree!

I could absolutely go on for pages and pages talking about this great composer but will save that for another time.

John Philip Sousa

Source

A March

A March as a musical genre is a piece of music that was originally designed to be played while marching. Many call this type of music a military march because of its origin. It can be slow or it can be fast called a “quick step”. Marches are often heard in a parade or in a regular concert setting usually played by a band.

This particular March called Semper Fidelis, considered by Mr. Sousa to be his best and was adopted as the official march of the United States Marine Corps.


Most all marches have:

  1. Different sections – called strains
  2. Several separate melodies (some of which are played all at the same time)
  3. Contrasting section called the Trio


Form of a Typical March

  1. Introduction ( fanfare type beginning, usually 4 to 8 measures in length)
  2. 1st strain (this is usually 8 to 16 measures long, main melody is introduced). 1st strain is repeated.
  3. 2nd Strain (16 measures in length, second melody is introduced)
  4. Introduction to the Trio (not always heard in every March, so this is optional)
  5. Trio: This section is in the middle of the March. It is often played by the woodwinds, the third primary melody is introduced, a Key signature change occurs.
  6. Breakstrain (often called the “dogfight”.) This is the section between the first time through the trio and the last time the Trio melody is heard again. It is usually a very loud and busy sounding section. In some marches, this section sounds like a battle between the different sections in the band.
  7. Coda - this is the ending of the March which usually concludes with the trio melody heard again and is much louder than the previous time. You may also hear an added counter melody.

Listening Exercise #1: "Semper Fidelis" by John Philip Sousa

If you’ve never heard this March before you are in for a treat. First of all, the medium for performance is called a band. The band is called ”The Presidents Own Marine Band” From Washington D.C. and is one of five service bands. (Marine, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard)

Why are you listening to this piece, please follow along with the description that I gave for the structure or the form of a March above and you will be able to clearly hear the sections as they occur.

As you are listening to the trio, see if you can identify four distinct melodies being played at the same time. Sousa’s use of counterpoint was outstanding.

Presidents Own Marine Band - Semper Fidelis

Sir Paul McCartney

Listening Exercise #2: "Yesterday" by the Beatles

To quote Wikipedia, “ballads derive from the medieval French chanson ballade which were originally “danced songs“. In the latter 19th-century the term took on the meaning of a slow form of popular love song and is now often used for any love song, the sentimental Ballad pop or rock”. To be more specific, a ballad is a song that tells a story, dramatic, funny or romantic. The most common today are found in Country and Western and Rock-n-Roll.

Musical form in a ballad is quite simple and that we have different sections and they were identified by the material melody and harmony that are contrasting to each other.


AABA song form

This song form has four sections: An eight - bar section we call “A”. This is followed by a second eight - bar section we call “A“. This is followed by another eight - bar section we call “B“ which is new contrasting material different from the previous “A” section in both melody, harmony and lyrics.

Now, for a bit of clarification here as we need to understand the terminology that I’m using with the word “bar”. In an earlier article I referred to the term “bar line” as a vertical line separating two measures. And space between two bar lines is a measure. Many times certain words and terminologies carry a different name for the same function. This is the case of the word “measure” and “bar” in music. Some musicians call it a bar and some musicians call it a measure. They are one in the same.
In the song Yesterday by the Beatles, we hear a perfect example of the simple song form that is outlined below. Follow along as you listen to a recording of this example and keep track of the number of measures or bars in each verse as well as the bridge.


Introduction Verse Verse Bridge Verse

A A B A

"Yesterday" Paul McCartney

Listening Exercise #3: "Ragtime Piano" Tetris

This exercise is for fun! Try to figure out what the form is in this next piece. I think you will enjoy listening to this very talented pianist as he performs a Ragtime number called Tetris. Ragtime means “ragged rhythm” which is called “syncopation”.

Ragtime Pianist

Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Reginald Thomas

    Let me know if you have any questions.

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://spinditty.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)