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ELEMENTS OF MUSIC: FORM

The word form is associated with shape, structure, organization, and coherence. Form calls to mind the human body or a balanced arrangement of figures in a painting. Form in music is the organization of musical elements in time. In a musical composition, pitch, tone color, dynamics, rhythm, melody, and texture interact to produce a sense of shape and structure. All parts of the composition are interrelated. Our memory lets us perceive the overall form by recalling the various parts and how they relate to each other. The form becomes clearer as awareness and recall of these parts are developed through repeated listening. As listeners, we can respond more fully to the emotional power and meaning of a musical composition when we appreciate its form.

Techniques That Create Musical Form

Form has already been explored in connection with simple tunes like Mary Had a Little Lamb and Home on the Range in the Melody section. These tunes have phrases that are repeated–exactly or with variation–and phrases that are contrasted. Repetition, contrast, and variation are essential techniques in short tunes as well as in compositions lasting much longer. Repetition creates a sense of unity; contrast provides variety; and variation, in keeping some elements of a musical thought while changing others, gives a work unity and variety at the same time.

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