Danlee Mitchell and
There are Three Foundational Procedures in music that are basic to the
composing of music. These three foundational procedures are repetition,
variation and contrast. These procedures
constitute a "method of procedure" for every operational dimension of
music. They are foundational procedures seen not only in music but also
in other art as well as all aspects of nature.
Composers weave and mold the Eight Basic Elements into small patterns
of material which become larger patterns of material that ultimately make
up the complete structure of a work. One or more of the Eight Basic Elements
functions as "idea" (usually melody) in any given passage, while the remaining
elements serve as "accompaniment" to the "idea". Musical structure has
various layers of complexity in any composition and these various layers
exist in a continuum ranging from the micro (small) level, the mid (intermediate)
level, to the macro (large) level of musical structure.
At the micro-level, the smallest complete unit of musical structure, is
a phrase which is comprised of patterns of material fashioned
from the Eight Basic Elements. A phrase is a length of musical material
existing in real time with a discernible beginning and ending. Phrases
are usually eight to sixteen measures in length but may be longer. When
relating musical phrases to melodic lines, it is important to realize
that while melodies are comprised of complete phrases of patterned tones,
each individual melodic phrase may be broken down into smaller incomplete
units of melodic structure known as motives. Melodic
motives are usually two- or four- measure patterns of melodic material.
In sum, the micro level or musical structure is comprised of two units
— the smaller and incomplete motive, and the larger
and complete phrase.
The mid-level of musical structure is made up of sections
of music. Phrases combine to form larger sections of musical structure.
The length of a section may vary from sixteen to thirty-two measures in
length - often, sections are much longer. Sections are punctuated by strong
cadences. Longer songs and extended pieces of music are
usually formed into two or more complete sections, while a shorter song
or melody may be formed of phrases and have no sectional structure.
At the macro-level of musical structure exists the complete work formed
of motives, phrases and sections.
Both phrases and sections are concluded with cadences; however, the cadence
material at the end of a section is stronger and more obvious in its punctuation.
These are the micro-, mid- and macro-levels of musical structure —
motives, phrases and sections
and the complete composition. This is the manner in which Western music
is conceptualized as structure. Many other world musics are conceptualized
in a similar manner. This approach of musical "mapping" may serve as an
excellent "entry" to the unfolding of the architectural structure of any
piece of music whether Western or non-Western.
Musical structure has a close affinity with architecture and mathematics.
As a metaphor, music composition is often described as "architecture of
sound" or "mathematics transformed into sound". Many compositional decisions
that involve pitch relationships are mathematical in nature. Computer
software programs - e.g., MatheMatica et al- now allow mathematic's equations
to be transformed into sound.
Repetition of the material of music plays a very important
role in the composing of music and somewhat more than in other artistic
media. If one looks at the component motives of any melody, the successive
repetition of the motives becomes apparent. A melody tends to "wander"
without repetition of its rhythmic and pitch components and repetition
gives "identity" to musical materials and ideas. Repetition is also used
in chord progressions and in patterns of dynamics and timbre. Whole phrases
and sections of music often repeat. The following illustration represents
a - a - a
- a - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - etc.
means change of material and may be slight or extensive. Variation is
used to extend melodic, harmonic, dynamic and timbral material. Complete
musical phrases are often varied; however, whole sections of music are
usually not treated with variation. If one were to symbolize musical variation
in a simple way using lower case letters of the alphabet, it would look
a a1 a2 a3
a4 a5 a6 OR a a' a'' a''' a'''' a''''' a'''''' etc.
is the introduction of new material in the structure or pattern of a composition
of music that contrasts with the original material. Contrast extends the
listener’s interest in the musical "ideas" in a phrase or section
of music. It is most often used in the latter areas of phrases or sections
and becomes ineffective if introduced earlier. If one were to symbolize
musical "contrast" in a simple way using lower case letters of the alphabet,
it would look like this: