A Complete Guide To The Types Of Form In Music

A Complete Guide To The Types Of Form In Music

Form In Music – Types And Examples

Form in music is mainly about the structural arrangement of all the musical elements like melody, rhythm, dynamics, and how they were tie-up as one in a musical piece. It is the term generally used to clarify the typical structure within a musical piece. And also how every section combines in succession with others to form the entire piece.

Every piece of music is composed in one form or the other and always with either repetition, contrast, or variation. There are so many musical forms in existence today and composers can employ any form in his/her composition to give it an identity. In this article, we will take a look at common musical forms that have influenced the musical composition greatly and see how they function to create an identity.

Musical Form And Labeling

The major element use in defining the structure of a musical form is labeling. This is actually done using alphabetical letters like “A, B, C” to represent every musical unit. The unit here is the musical ideas, materials, or sections. However, the size of every unit depends on the structure of a particular form. The unit can be small with few bars, phrases, passages, or sizable as a movement or the entire piece.

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Therefore, if we have a single unit of music with phrases, we can label it A. And let say we repeat this single unit, we will have a musical from AA. However, if we contrast unit A instead and form a new unit B, we will create a musical form AB. This AB form is known to be two contrasting musical units. We can also progress to vary the unit A and add it to the form AB to create a new form ABA’ (Note that ‘ signify variation). We maintain this alphabetical labeling with every new unit or section of different music. If any unit of music ever come again, we use its original letter name or label for it. And with this knowledge, we can easily analyze any kind of music in a sectional form.

Types Of Form In Music

Traditionally, a musical form has been primarily connected with the order of phrase, melody, and rhythm formation in a piece. However, we can easily bring a repetition of the main melodic idea or its contrast into segments or smaller units. Moreover, we can treat any formation of a new melodic idea within the piece as a unit or section as well. All we need to do is to employ the labeling by alphabetical letters ideology we discussed in the section above.

Below are some of the most common musical forms in existence today are described below:

  • Strophic Form
  • Binary Form
  • Through-Composed Form
  • Ternary Form
  • Rondo Form
  • Arch Form
  • Sonata Form
  • Theme And Variations Form

All the types of the musical form listed above are evolved from the variation of the main thematic material. The pattern of arrangement in terms of new materials is also not the same in each of them. We will look at all of them one after the other and see what makes each of them what they are.

Strophic Form

This is the basis of every musical form because it has only one music idea in all sections.  It is like a melody that keeps coming without any contrast or variation. Strophic form only uses repetition to broadens a musical piece and form the entire composition with the same structure. Certainly, this it does by repeating a sole section of the music.

The simple representation of strophic form with labeling is “AAA …”. Most folk songs and hymns fall under this form and one example is “Amazing Grace” because the same melody is used for all the verses. Another typical example of the strophic form in classical music is Das Wandern by Franz Schubert.

However, in order not to make the strophic form boring, there may be some variation or theme used in some sections. Where the melody for example remains the same, variation may be in accompaniment or the tempo of the music to have something like “AA’A’’…”.

Binary Form

This form is one of the forms that are very common in music. The binary form is a musical piece with two different major sections or parts. The music idea in each section is generally different and also closely connected. Usually, each section of the binary form is typically repeated immediately during the whole of the piece. Although this is not always the case. The binary form is usually in “A-B” but with each part repetition it will become “AABB” or ||: A :||: B :|| (note that “||: :||” is a repeat sign).

Another thing that is peculiar to the binary form is notes that end both sections. Many of the dances composition in the baroque era is based on binary form. The typical examples are minuet, sarabande, gigue, allemande, courante, and many others.


This is the musical form where the repetition of any melodic idea is to stand out. Precisely, every section in through-composed has a unique melodic idea that is not repeated. Unlike strophic form that uses the same melodic material with every new text or lyrics, the through-composed form uses new melodic material for all its texts or lyrics. This musical form is always a structure in the “A-B-C-D-E…” sectional pattern without a repetitive plan. In fact, as the music progresses, the new melodic materials are continuously coming in.

However, a stable rhythmic pattern sometimes appears in some through-composed melodies to promote coherence. This same rhythmic pattern is typically employed to inject a sense of continuity to a musical piece for the listeners not to find it random.

Additionally, most through-composed pieces are not too long and are commonly used in some opera work. Most opera works use different music for every stanza of the poem to be in line with the change in mood’s idea of the text. Absolutely, once a particular section has finished with this form, it is never returned to again. The typical example of a through-composed form is Halt (op. 25 no. 3) by Franz Peter Schubert. This solo piece has a different melody for every stanza of the poem.

Ternary Form

This is a musical form that is based on three sections. In ternary form, the first section is revisited after the end of a second section. This happens when you start a piece of music with particular thematic material, move to another contrasting material, and back to the same first thematic material for ending. However, the third section sometime is a varied version of the first section’s thematic material. This musical form is always a structure in an “A-B-A” sectional pattern.

Ternary Form is common in classical pieces and also in contemporary music. In addition, each section in this form normally ends with an authentic cadence. Therefore, each section in ternary form is a standalone musical piece that can be sing alone without moving to another section. A typical example of the ternary form is “The trumpet shall sound”, a de capo aria from Messiah by George Frideric Handel as well as “Alla Hornpipe” from his Water Music. “Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremiah Clarke “for Wedding March” is also an example of Ternary Form.

Rondo Form In Music

This musical form is like an expansion of both the binary and ternary forms we recently discussed. In rondo form, the first section’s thematic material is repeated after every other new section. In this particular form, you start with the main thematic idea, move to a new idea, return to the main idea before you move to another completely new idea. Also, after the second new idea, you return to the main thematic idea and then move to the third new idea. This continues in order with a return to the main thematic idea after each new thematic idea.

The rondo form is always a structure in the “A-B-A-C-A-D-A …”  sectional pattern. Every new section that comes in is in some manner in contrast to the previous one. This contrast by a new section in most time is established by the addition of a new melody, change of key, and also the harmony. The contrasting sections that differ from the main section are generally called episodes. Likewise, the main section is usually referred to as refrain. In some cases, the thematic material use variation with either rhythm or articulations. But will normally end with the usual cadences every time.

Typically, rondo’s musical form is truly repetitive and rhythmic in a most instant. The tempo used for it is usually the fast allegro. Notwithstanding, it is a musical form that always sounds vibrant, lively, and stimulating to the listeners. Some typical example of rondo form is Mozart’s Rondo in D Major K.311, the final movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 13, Bach’s E Major Violin Concerto, and many more.

Sonata Form In Music

This musical form is also known as the first movement form as well as allegro form. It is the form of music that is established on contrasting musical ideas. Its structure is based on three different sections which are Exposition, Development, and Recapitulation. these three are enclosed in a two-part tonal framework. In addition, it sometimes employs a coda as an option at the end.

The first part of the two-part tonal framework is exposition. Every sonata form starts with the Exposition which presents the main thematic material and tonality of the home key. This is not part of the introduction that sometimes announces the music. The exposition also happens to be in two sections and each of the sections can have either one or more thematic material. In particular, the first section in exposition is expressed in the major key. At the same time, the second section in exposition usually expressed in the key of the dominant Key. And sometimes as a relative major or dominant key provided the first section is in a minor key.

The movement from the first to the second section in exposition is called transition or bridge. The transition is often triggered by a strong cadence known as Perfect Authentic Cadence. The PAC gives room for modulation from the first section’s key to the key of the second section in exposition. In particular, the thematic materials of the second section in the exposition are normally different from the first section’s material.  These differences are in terms of rhythm or mood of the theme.

ALSO READ: What You Need To Know About Musical Notes In Sheet Music

The second part of the sonata form is development. This part of the sonata form normally evolves from the first part material. Specifically, the material from the first part known as exposition is basically reconstructed at this part. Also, to properly integrate with the first part, it uses the same key that exposition end with to start. However, it may later modulate to a different key as it.

The third section of the sonata form is recapitulation. It denotes the end and it is the homecoming part of the sonata. After all the up and down that lead to the adventure and exploration in the development section, the music will return home in recapitulation. This part of the sonata recaps the materials from the exposition in different forms. The recapitulation section usually starts with the main thematic material in the tonic key. The second material here is also in the tonic key as related to the material that starts the music.

Moreover, to have a standout ending and finish the whole piece off in a top-notch, a coda follows the recapitulation. However, the coda is just an optional part of the sonata and is not always use to end the piece.

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