Learning to Listen: Introduction to Musical Form

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
October 25, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. — What makes a symphony a symphony? What makes a waltz a waltz? How about the blues, what is taking place that makes us call a song a blues song? There are so many different ways to write a song or piece of music, and there are rules for all those ways.

In this episode of Learning to Listen, we're talking about musical form.

The reason we call a blues song a blues song is because it follows an established pattern, called the twelve-bar blues. It can be helpful to think of these rules as a blueprint.

But we don't call it a blueprint in music, we call it form. Just like a blueprint shows the structure of a building, musical form shows us the structure of a piece of music.

Think of composers as interior designers — composers take a music form and decorate it.

Even pop songs have formulas, you'll hear a verse, then you'll hear the chorus, and sometimes you'll hear a bridge. The Beatles' "Ticket To Ride" is an excellent example of popular song form.

So when you hear words like waltz, symphony, sarabande, maybe you've heard the term Rondo before, or maybe you've heard of a Theme and Variations — these are all pieces that have an established structure. Much like in poetry, where there are things like sonnets, limericks, haiku and so on.

In the coming podcasts, we'll take a look at different types of musical form. We'll learn what on earth a Rondo is. We'll talk about Sonata form. We'll learn the difference between terms like the Chaconne and Passacaglia.

You can vote on the subject of our next Learning to Listen topic, or write-in a suggestion for future episodes.

And if you have any questions, please feel welcome to email me directly at ereese@mpr.org.

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