Putting it All Together

At this point, we’ll put together all the skills we’ve been working on so far to create a form diagram. As before, we encourage you to use descriptive language (“new key, now the melody is in the horns, melodies are now shorter”) rather than style-specific terms (“development”). This language is more detailed, focusing you on exactly what you’re hearing.

It might be a little overwhelming to listen for all of what we’ve focused on thus far all at once: exact and modified repetition, contrast, and elements of closure/cadences. So we’ll typically engage in several “hearings” of a given piece of music.

Don’t stress about perfection, but do see if you can focus on what’s most important about a piece of music’s form. It may be useful to think about trying to divide any given piece of music into 2–4 most-important sections or an overall description (e.g., “a series of variations on a theme”). This is even true in songs with a seemingly larger number of sections: for example, a popular song may have 3–5 verses, 3 prechoruses, 3 choruses, and a bridge, but they often group together into a smaller number of verse-prechorus-chorus “cycles” (explained here).

Activity: Create form diagrams by ear

Goal: Develop aural sensitivity to form.

Instructions: Listen to a song from the playlist below and create a form diagram. You may wish to purchase a song and use Variations Audio Timeliner, which makes the relationship between the music and the diagram especially straightforward. As you create the diagram, focus on the following:

  • any repetition of something at least 5 seconds long, including any differences from the original
  • any contrast that lasts at least 5 seconds
  • cadences—if it is unmanageable to note every single cadence in the song, you might focus just on large section-ending cadences

Suggest a song for this playlist!


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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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