How to Analyze a Symphony Music Score

Updated July 20, 2017

Music is many things to many people. For some, music is an emotional and spiritual experience, while others view music as an opportunity to exercise the intellect. Music is a highly structured art form, with many rules governing its creation. Analysing the structural elements of a piece of music will enhance your understanding of the art form and create a deeper appreciation for its aural qualities.

Identify the motives. A motive is a repeated melodic or rhythmic idea that is very short in duration. According to Kenneth Rumery, "a melody usually consists of repetitions of one or two motive ideas." Instruments in a symphony likely to have the melody, and therefore the motive, include the violins, trumpets, flutes or clarinets.

Determine the melody's initial contour. Contour involves the overall shape of the melody. Identify changes in upward or downward movement of the notes. Analyse the distribution of high and low sounds. Draw the overall shape of the melody as an unbroken line to identify the contour.

Identify the key centre through harmonic analysis. Most harmonies consist of three note combination called triads. The triads relate to each other, creating a sense of completeness in one triad. This triad is the key centre. In longer pieces of music, key centres rotate. Identify these new key centres by noting changes in the key signature or accidentals within the individual measures of music.

Determine the harmonic texture. Homophonic texture orders the instruments to play the harmony notes simultaneously with a uniform rhythmic pattern. Polyphonic texture treats the harmony notes as a second melody.

Identify the form. The form divides the entire piece of music into large sections. Search for changes in key centre, melodic contour or harmonic texture to identify a new section. Binary form divides the music into two main sections. Ternary form divides the music into three sections, with the first and last sections sharing many elements.

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About the Author

Patrick Wilson earned a bachelor's degree in music education from Western Illinois University in 2000. He then taught public school instrumental music for seven years before entering the world of professional writing. In 2008, Wilson became a content writer for websites as well as a freelance blogger. Wilson has contributed to such websites as eHow, COD and Answerbag.