On the one hand, humans have been shown to like things they are already familiar with. Since we already have experience with them, they’re easy and therefore pleasant for our brains to process. (This is sometimes called the “mere exposure effect.”)
On the other hand, we need novelty to keep our interest, since we tune out elements of our environment that are always the same in order to pay attention to new stuff. For example, you might hear a lot of background noise upon entering a room, only to realize just a few minutes later that you’re no longer paying attention to it.
The play of repetition and novelty in music is often referred to with the term “form,” and that’s our focus in this chapter.
Students sometimes think their teachers expect them to be aurally analyzing absolutely everything they hear. Don’t aim for that! But we’d love for you to be able to turn this mode of listening on and off as you wish. For example, maybe you’re trying to plan your approach to arranging a piece of music for an a cappella group, so you want to think about the way sections relate to each other and make some decisions about shortening or combining them—so you turn on your “analysis of form” listening skills. But then maybe you go to a concert of one of your favorite ensembles, and you just want to enjoy the wash of sound. We value both of these ways of listening. (We also think you can enjoy both.)
One last note before we dive in. A lot of how form works in music is very style-specific. For example, the ways an electronic dance music (EDM) track builds up tension over time are often very different from the shape of a classical set of variations on a tune. Our goal in this chapter is to sensitize you to some principles that we believe are relatively style-neutral: closure, repetition, and contrast. As you learn more about styles and genres in your practicing, performance, and listening, you will need to learn the detailed principles and terms associated with whatever you end up working with.
Students will be able to:
- Identify exact repetition of passages of heard music lasting at least 5 seconds.
- Identify and describe altered repetition of passages of heard music lasting at least 5 seconds.
- Identify important moments of contrast in heard music.
- Identify the ends of heard single phrases as either closed (ending on tonic) or not.
- Use the above skills to come up with a basic formal diagram of a piece of heard music.