General Guidelines for Understanding and Discussing Music Analytically
[*a quick and super-basic rundown to help non-musicians hear music.]
Often I find students try really hard to “fit” music to neatly compiled terms, but in the process get frustrated because what they perceive doesn't seem to fit the term or “definition.”
Please do not worry about this just yet. More often than not, your ears are giving you the correct information, but because there are many musical events occurring at the same time (and there is no guarantee that two people will focus on the same event at that time), the terminology can become a hindrance to your learning and understanding.
Nothing occurs in isolation but understanding the concepts helps discuss the music objectively.
Certain concepts such as Polyphony and Homophony are often difficult to distinguish,
It becomes even more troublesome because often compositions employ more than one texture at a time (e.g. stacking an essential polyphonic layer over a homophonic base)
When I use the term “voice” when referring to a “melodic line,” it can refer to ANY instrument (it does not have to be a human voice). Similarily, “choir” refers to a group of like “instruments” as in Brass choir, string choir, woodwind choir, vocal choir.
Listen for: Patterns, repeats, ostinato / vs. free form un patterned (Strophic vs. Through-Composed)
FORM – (What is the composer’s intent)
OR What do we Perceive to be the intent?
Listen for changes in musical “events” elements.
The quickest way to break down anything is through the time honored system of dichotomy. Begin with two opposing concepts (then fill in the grey area).
Because music occurs in time, I like to start with rhythm. We measure and discuss these events as they occur “through time.”
The two most basic distinctions, “Long” and “Short”
Not all “longs” or “shorts” are of equal duration.
Some “longs” are longer than others, but are still comparatively “long” enough to be considered a “long”
For the sake of ease write “-“ for a long value and “.” For a short value. In this case, “.” 1 pulse and “-“ equals 2 pulses.
Example: -.-- -.-- --..
How do rhythm, harmony and melody work together to help identify form?
What do our ears perceive
Static or “in motion”/transitional.
Consonance – stable
Dissonance – unstable
Wide intervals vs. narrow (intense, focused, or smooth)
Leaps (chaotic, jumpy)
Dry or Wet (Reverberation)
Ambitus (the high and low pitch range of music).
motif - musical "words"
Leitmotiv - musical "nouns"
TEXTURE: Changes in Texture (greek root: ) are another
Most of the music two which we are accustomed is considered “Homophonic”
That is there is one distinct melody with supporting harmony. A related term for this is Monody.
Textures with 1 Melodic line of Interest: Monophony, Heterophony, Homophony
Texture with 2 or more Melodic Lines of Interest: Polyphony
Polyphony can be imitative (as in Canons/Rounds)
or Non-Imitative.Counterpoint and Contrapuntal (contra: against / punctus: point) are terms often used synonymously with Polyphony