PhamoxMusic » What You Need To Know About The Binary Form

What You Need To Know About The Binary Form

Binary Form

The term form in music is basically referred to the way the musical materials are structurally arranged to form the whole of a composition.  The binary form is one of the common and simplest musical forms we have. In particular, binary form layout the structure of a musical piece in two separate sections.

These two sectionals form is the major structural pattern most of the pieces in Baroque instrumental music, suites, and chorales are formed. In addition, composers in the classical and later period also employed binary forms as a part of their compositional structures.

What is binary Form

The binary form is a musical structure that is organized in two sections, which may possess contrasted material, key, or tempo, but with the musical entity that complements each other. In detail, the binary form is a two sectional musical form. It is typified by two compatible and connected sections that are approximately equivalent in duration and form two different sectional patterns.

Structure of the Binary Form

The binary form is a structure with two complementary sections that are contrasted or also related. These sections are the ones that open the piece and the other ones that closed it. There is a sectional pattern as discussed in musical form and labeling that are normally used A B C … or A A’ A’’… to represent each section in musical form. The A, B, and C represent different sections with contrasted or varied thematic materials respectively. 

Structurally, the binary form is always in two main sections with a sectional pattern AB. Accordingly, sections A and B are different sections with different and closely connected thematic materials. Moreover, each main section in binary form is typically repeated. The first section is usually repeated with some little variation before traversing to the second section which is also repeated. Consequently, with the repetition, the actual composition is usually in the sectional pattern of AABB. On the other hand, it is sectional pattern remains in AB without a repetition.

These two sections in binary form are normally to some extent very much alike harmonically and literally equal in length. As said, some of the pieces in binary form can have literally equal sections. However, not all musical pieces in binary form have exact equal sections. For instance, section A could be something like 10 bars while section B is 12 bars. Generally, the second section is usually extended in duration and also to a greater extent complex than the first section.  

Contrast In The Form Structure

Practically, the contrast exists between the first and the second sections in the binary form. Most often, the contrast is established by a change of the key. Frequently, the first section (i.e. A) of the binary form does not normally finish on the tonic note of the key used for the piece. It normally modulates to the dominant with a strong cadence if it is in the major key.

Section A comes to an end when the change of key occurs in the piece. This change of key is typical of the key of the dominant. On the other hand, if it starts in a minor key or tonality they modulate to the relative major and sometimes to the minor dominant key.

The second section in the binary form normally starts on a newly set up key and stay there for a certain period of time. Subsequently, the section will change its key back to the original key of the piece before coming to an end. The change in key normally happens after some harmonic engagement.

ALSO READ: A Complete Guide To The Types Of Form In Music

In other words, the second section usually moves back to the tonic of the key. This is mostly put in place before the end of the section. At the same time, the second section is wrapped up when the piece returns to the tonic. However, the part called codetta can also be employed to close the music.

The summary of the fundamental of the binary form is as follows. The first section changes the key to the entire new key. The second section starts from that new key and changes its key back to the first key the first section starts with. In a simple term, if Section A starts on a triangle and modulates to the square, then section B will start on the square and modulate back to the triangle.

For instance, if the first section starts on the tonic of a major key (I Maj) and modulates to the Dominant (V Maj). Then, the second section will start on with the Dominant (V Major) and modulate back to the tonic (I Major) for a close. On the other hand, If the first section starts on the tonic of a minor (imin) it will modulate to the relative major or dominant minor (v min). In a similar manner, the second section will begin on the relative major or that dominant minor (v min) and modulate back to the tonic of a minor.

Notation Of The Binary Form

Before the 19th century, the common practice is to use repeat signs for the notation. This utilized double bars with signs of repeat to separate both sections. This type of notation indicated that both sections of the form need to be repeated. Also, the sectional repeat with decorative improvisation for the second time is sometimes established. And sometimes the decorative improvisation is not part of the score but expected in performance.

On the contrary, the composers of the 19th century fine it expressive to write the out the repeat separately. They use this style to write out any decorative improvisation and variation in other aspects of the piece.  For instance, the change in either the instrumentation or musical register or key. Also, the change may be the expansion of the piece past the length of its first expression. 

Types Of Binary Form

Basically, we have different type and class of Binary form in music. However, in these section, we will discuss simple, rounded, and balanced binary form.

Rounded Binary Form

This happens when the second section comes to an end with a very few parts of the first section. Usually, it is the opening part of the first section (A) and it starts to appear in the middle part of the second section (B). Occasionally, all parts of the first section may appear but only the beginning part is common. In addition, the part of the first section that appears is normally in the original tonic key. The second section starts with the key that closed the first section and goes through some harmonic activity. Thereafter, it runs into a cadence which is commonly a half cadence. After that, it will present the thematic material from the first section in the tonic key.

Actually, in some cases, the material from the first section that returns may be the exact material.  However, a little alteration may occur in the accompaniment sequence, octave pattern, and also melodic ornamentation at the same time. In spite of any alteration or variation that may occur, the feeling of the first section that returned will still be experienced.

Because of the part of the first section that appears at the end of the second section rounded binary is labeled as ABA’. This is not the same as the ternary form which is normally labeled as ABA. Certainly, a ternary form will return all the thematic material in the first section after a full contrast material in the second section.  Besides, the rounded binary actually returns part of the first section in the ending part of the second section.

Examples of Rounded Form

Rounded Binary-What You Need To Know About The Binary Form

Some few example of rounded binary are Third movement of Mozart’s “symphony no. 25 in G minor” and “Piano Sonata in D Major”. Also, the rounded form is found in the first movement of Vivaldi’s Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Continuo. Another example are Air from Handel’s water music and J.S. Bach Minuet in G major, BWV Anh. 116. This is in fact a typical example of rounded form.

The Minuet by J. S. Bach piece is normally in binary form. It has two sections and each section is repeated. The repetition bars used makes the end of each section to be obvious. The first section starts on the tonic of G major and moves around before it ends on the tonic. Thereafter, the second section starts on E minor, move around, and later in the measure 25 returns to G major. However, the second section returned material from the first section toward the end in measure 33.  The material is from the first 8 bars that open the first section.  The recapitulation with the material from the first section characterized the piece as a rounded binary.

Simple Binary Form

Simple Binary - What You Need To Know About The Binary Form

The simple binary form is all about the development of a single musical material in two essential parts. This practice is very popular and widely used in Baroque era instrumental dance suites. Like normal binary form, simple binary from is also in two sections. However, the first section and second section in simple binary form are similar. The reason is that there is no much difference in the thematic material that both sections utilized. Also, the contrast in the second section is not really strong but sometimes a varied repetition of the first material.

In a nutshell, there is a particular thematic and modulatory approach that simple binary form employed. Basically, the further development of the first section’s main material in the second section. However, the second section may start on the dominant chord instead of a dominant key. This particular approach is peculiar to the opening section with a very well-established dominant key at the close end.

All the same, we need to be aware that contrasts are not well established in a simple binary approach. Mostly, the original theme is used to establish all of the material in both sections. So, the first theme is normally restarted in a different form in the second section. This is typically adapted in such a way that perfectly goes with the new harmonic framework. Also, it can be in the form of inversion.

Any binary form will be classified as a simple binary form when the ending of both sections are not identical. This similar ending is peculiar to a balanced binary form. Moreover, the binary form will close on a unique material and will not return material from the first section.

Examples of Simple Form

A few examples of simple binary is Gavotte I, from J.S. Bach English Suite No 3 in G minor, BWV 808. Also, “Bourrée” from J. S. Bach Suite in E minor, BWV 996.

For instance, in Gavotte I of J.S. Bach, the first section starts normally on G minor and along the line modulate and end in B flat major. The second section without any factor starts on B flat major that the first section ends. The second section then starts and develop melody and motives from the first section. Along the line in the piece, it modulates back to G minor in the 15th bar of the second section. However, the opening melody does not come again. Also, the piece ending in the second section is not the same as that of the first section.

Balanced Binary

The balanced binary is a term used to characterize a visible feature of the binary form which can be simple or rounded. We have a balanced binary form when the closing of the first section and that of the second section have related material that is arranged in a similar way.  It happened in such a way that the part of the ending of the first section comes again in the ending part of the second section. However, the coming back is normally in the tonic key of the piece.


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