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Single-movement forms

Traditional
In a Sectional form, the piece is built by combining small clear-cut units, sort of like stacking
LEGO bricks (DeLone, 1975). When these units are not referred to by letters (as outlined above),
they often have generic names, such as Introduction or Intro, Exposition (see sonata and fugue),
Verse, Chorus or Refrain, Bridge or Pre-chorus, Interlude, Break or Breakdown, Conclusion,
Coda or Outro, and Fadeout.
Sectional forms traditionally include:
1. STROPHIC FORM, usually used in vocal songs, repeats the same tune: (AA...) - several
times. The sections of these pieces are often known as "verse 1", "verse 2", etc.
These strophes are however often subdivided into other sectional forms - especially the
binary and ternary forms below.
o In music, strophic form (or chorus form) is a sectional and/or additive way of
structuring a piece of music based on the repetition of one formal section or block
played repeatedly. It is the musical analogue of repeated stanzas in poetry or
lyrics: where the text repeats the same rhyme scheme from one stanza to the next,
the accompanying music for each stanza is either the same or very similar from
one stanza to the next.
It may be considered AAA... or AA'A"....
2. BINARY FORM uses two sections, one after the other: (AB); each section is often repeated:
(AABB), or repeated and modified (usually at the end): (AA1BB1).
o Binary form is a way of structuring a piece of music in two related sections, both
of which are usually repeated. Binary is also a structure used to choreograph
dance.
o

Binary form was popular in the Baroque period, often used to structure
movements from sonatas for keyboard instruments. It was also used for short,
one-movement works. Around the middle of the 18th century, the form largely fell
from use as sonata form and organic development gained prominence. When it is
found in later works, it usually takes the form of the theme in a set of variations.
Many larger forms incorporate binary structures, and many more complicated
forms (such as sonata forms) share certain characteristics with binary form.
Structure

Most strictly, a piece in binary form is characterized by two complementary, related sections of
roughly equal duration. The first section will start in a certain key, and will usually modulate to a
related key:
compositions in major keys will typically modulate to the dominant, the fifth scale degree
above the tonic
compositions in minor keys will typically modulate to the relative major, the major key
centered on the third scale degree above the tonic; alternatively the first section could close
in the dominant minor, or with an imperfect cadence in the original key.
The second section of the piece begins in the newly established key, where it remains for an
indefinite period of time. After some harmonic activity, the piece will eventually modulate back
to its original key before ending. In 18th-century compositions, it was common for both A and B
sections to be separated by double bars with repeat signs, meaning both sections were to be
repeated.
Binary form is usually characterised as having the form AB, though since both sections repeat, a
more accurate description would be AABB. Others, however, prefer to use the label AA'. This
second designation points to the fact that there is no great change in character between the two
sections. The rhythms and melodic material used will generally be closely related in each
section, and if the piece is written for a musical ensemble, the instrumentation will generally be
the same. This is in contrast to the use of verse-chorus form in popular musicthe contrast
between the two sections is primarily one of the keys used.
Further Distinctions
A piece in binary form can be further classified according to a number of characteristics:
Simple vs. Rounded
Occasionally, the B section will end with a "return" of the opening material from the A section.
This is referred to as rounded binary, and is labeled as ABA. In rounded binary, the beginning
of the B section is sometimes referred to as the "bridge", and will usually conclude with a half
cadence in the original key. Rounded binary is not to be confused with ternary form, also labeled
ABAthe difference being that, in ternary form, the B section contrasts completely with the A
material as in, for example, a minuet and trio.
If the B section lacks such a return of the opening AA material, the piece is said to be in simple
binary.
Sectional vs. Continuous

If the A section ends with an Authentic (or Perfect) cadence in the tonic key, the design is
referred to as a sectional binary. This refers to the fact that the piece is in different tonal
sections, each beginning and ending in their own respective keys.
If the A section ends with any other kind of cadence, the design is referred to as a continuous
binary. This refers to the fact that the B section will "continue on" with the new key established
by the cadence at the end of A.
Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical
If the A and B sections are roughly equal in length, the design is referred to as symmetrical.
If the A and B sections are of unequal length, the design is referred to as asymmetrical. In such
cases, the B section is usually substantially longer than the A section.
Balanced Binary
In some simple continuous binary forms, there is a kind of "rhyme" between the closing gesture
of the first reprise and the closing gesture of the second. In other words, the cadential material at
the end of the first reprise (in the key of the dominant) will return, transposed to the tonic, at the
end of the second reprise. This is referred to as balanced binary.
3. CHAIN FORM: the binary form extended with more sections, like (ABCD); also this often
with repeats, like (AA1BB1CC1DD1).

4. TERNARY FORM (sometimes called tertiary) has three parts, where the third section is a
recapitulation of the first section: (ABA). Very often, the first section repeats. When a
section recurs, it is often modified as above: (ABA1), (AA1BA1).
Ternary form is a structuring mechanism of a piece of music. Along with several other
musical forms, ternary form can also be applied to dance choreography. Ternary form is a
three-part structure, often notated A-B-A. The first and third parts (A) are musically
identical, or very nearly so, while the second part (B) contrasts sharply with it. The B
section is often known as a trio.
At least in pieces written before the 19th century, the first section of a piece in ternary
form does not usually change key, but ends in the same key as it began. However, an
example where this is not the case is in Mozart's Piano Concerto No.21 (K.467) 2nd
Movement. In this second movement, the A section is in a different key to the third
section. The middle section will generally be in a different key, often the dominant of the
first section (a perfect fifth above). It usually also has a contrasting character; in a march,
for example, the highly rhythmic and strident character of the march itself is usually

contrasted with a more lyrical and flowing trio. Often the trio is in a 3/4 time signature as
opposed to the 4/4 of the primary march theme.
As well as marches, ternary form is often found in baroque opera arias (the da capo aria)
and in many dance forms, such as polkas. It is also the form used in the minuet (or
scherzo) and trio, which in the classical music era was usually the second movement of
symphonies, string quartets, sonatas and similar works.
A distinction is sometimes made between compound ternary formin which each large
part of the form is itself divided in a way to suggest ternary or binary form (giving, for
example, an overall scheme of A-B-A-C-D-C-A-B-A)and simple ternary form, in
which each large part of the form has no particular structure itself. Da capo arias are
usually in simple ternary form; minuets (or scherzos) and trios are normally compound.
Another name for the latter is "composite ternary form."
Commonly, the third section will feature more ornamentation than the first section (e.g.
da capo arias). In these cases the last section is sometimes labeled A ("A prime") to
indicate that it is slightly different than the first A section.
5. ARCH FORM: (ABCBA).
In music, arch form is a sectional structure for a piece of music based on repetition, in
reverse order, of all or most musical sections such that the overall form is symmetric,
most often around a central movement. The sections need not be repeated verbatim but
must at least share thematic material.
It creates interest through interplay among "memory, variation, and progression." Though
the form appears to be static and to deny progress, the pairs of movements create a
"unidirectional process" with the center, and the form "actually engenders specific
expressive possibilities that would otherwise be unavailable for the work as a whole."
(Wilson 1992, p.32)
Bla Bartk is noted for his use of arch form, e.g., in his Fourth and Fifth quartets,
Second Piano Concerto, and, less so, Second Violin Concerto (ibid). Samuel Barber's
Adagio for Strings also uses arch form.
Most popular structure = ABCBA
Especially the forms from here on are often concluded with a coda.
6. RONDO FORM, which has a recurring ritornello separated by different (usually
contrasting) sections. It comes in two categories: 1. asymmetrical: (ABACADAEA); 2.

symmetrical (somewhat related to the Arch form above): (ABACABA). Here, a recurring
section is sometimes more thoroughly varied - especially the 'A'.
Rondo, and its French equivalent rondeau, is a word that has been used in music in a number of
ways, most often in reference to a musical form, but also in reference to a character-type that is
distinct from the form. Although now called rondo form, the form started off in the Baroque
period as the ritornello form, coming from the Latin word ritornare meaning "to return",
indicating the return to the original theme or motif ("A"). The typical Baroque rondo pattern is
ABACADA. Although consisting of a few differences, some people use the two terms
interchangeably.
In rondo form, a principal theme (sometimes called the "refrain") alternates with one or more
contrasting themes, generally called "episodes," but also occasionally referred to as
"digressions," or "couplets". Possible patterns in the Classical Period include: ABA, ABACA, or
ABACAB'A. The number of themes can vary from piece to piece, and the recurring element is
sometimes embellished or shortened in order to provide for variation.
The form began to be commonly used from the classical music era, though it can be found in
earlier works. In the classical and romantic periods it was often used for the last movement of a
sonata, symphony, concerto or piece of chamber music.
Rondo was often used by baroque composers to write Ritornello rondos. They were used in the
fast movements of baroque concertos and contrast the whole orchestra (who play the main
theme) against soloists (who play the episodes.) But Ritornello does differ slightly from other
Rondos in that the theme is often different when it recurs but is always distinguishable as the
same theme.
A common expansion of rondo form is to combine it with sonata form, to create the sonata rondo
form. Here, the second theme acts in a similar way to the second theme group in sonata form by
appearing first in a key other than the tonic and later being repeated in the tonic key. Unlike
sonata form, thematic development does not need to occur except possibly in the coda.
Rondo as a character-type (as distinct from the form) refers to music that is fast and vivacious
normally allegro. Many classical rondos feature music of a popular or folk character. Music that
has been designated as "rondo" normally subscribes to both the form and character. On the other
hand, there are many examples of slow and reflective works that are rondo in form but not in
character. Composers such as George Gershwin normally do not identify such works as "rondo".
7. SONG FORM, one of the most common used in Popular music (AA B AA B A....), where
the last "A" repeats several times. Sometimes, this form can have some slight variations,
such as (AA B AA B C A...); (AAB AAB C D A...) or even (B AAB AAB A...). This form

is used in several compositional styles such as, chansons, canzones, ballads, hymns, arias,
pop music etc.