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My study guide / Sample advance theory lesson in the making

In the process of studying for a final exam I decided to make a sample lesson that I would make for my online theory course, because what better way to ensure you know something than to teach it. 

This is a very very rough draft of a lesson but its up for anyone to read and learn. Enjoy.

Introduction to Schenkerian Analysis


As we delve deeper into the world of music theory, how we analyze music becomes more of a macro view than a micro view. With Schenkerian analysis, we will view music in a much broader scope. This lesson is far from a complete view of this topic, but instead a boiled down version of an entire topic.

Who was Schenker and what is Schenkerian analysis. 

Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) was a musician and theorist that developed a method in which to analysis tonal music. Through his method of analysis, one is able to place all musical notes of a piece into hierarchical multiple levels. These levels would show how the notes of lesser structural importance prolong the more important structural notes through embellishments.

Schenkerian analysis is widely accepted and has become one of the standards when it comes to tonal analysis. 

Basics of Schenkerian Analysis

These are some of the basic terms needed to understand Schenkerian analysis. You will notice that many of the terms are in German while others are in English. Though all the terms can be found in both languages, the terms that are in German are commonly used un-translated.

Old terms:

  • Compound Melody – a melody that suggests interplay between two or more voices through leaps and jumps.
  • Counterpoint – the relationship between two or more independent lines of music

New Terms Part One:

  • Ursatz – the highest structural level in any given piece, represented by the most essential notes
  • Urlinie – the top or melodic line of the Ursatz
  • Bassbrechung the bottom or harmonic structure of the Ursatz
  • Kopfton the initial note of the Urlinie
  • Obligatory Register – The register the Ursatz is normalized in regardless of where the actual notes are placed
  • Linear progression – a stepwise motion in one direction at a level of musical structure beyond the musical surface. They are noted with a 3-prg, 4-prg, or a 5-prg depending if they are a progression doing up or down a 3rd, a 4th, or a 5th.

In Schenkerian analysis, all music follows one of the following Ursatz patterns: with a Kopfton starting from scale either degree 5 or scale degree 3. Very rarely does the Kopfton start from scale degree 8 and never from 1.

In the Bassbrechung, there is always a tonic harmony, a dominant harmony, and sometimes, depending on the Ursatz structure, an intermediate harmony.

New Terms Part Two

  • Interruption – An interruption is when an Ursatz structure that is interrupted due to the form of the music. An interruption will always occur on scale degree 2 on the dominant before returning to the Kopfton.
  • Teiler – the dividing dominant chord before the return to the Kopfton
  • Linear Intervallic Pattern – a repeated interval pattern between a pair of voices, often accompanying a harmonic sequence
  • Prolongation – embellishments used to prolong the Ursatz structure.


As mentioned in the terms, an Ursatz structure can be interrupted due to the form of the piece. Just as the Urlinie is interrupted so is the Bassbrechung with the Dominant acting as the divider.


Interruption is possible in almost every musical form. Common Interruption lines are 3-2||3-2-1 and 5-4-3-2||5-4-3-2-1.

Melodic Prolongation (Composing Out)

All aspect of the music must be taken into consideration and analyzed. The melody, the harmonies, instrumentation, texture plays a role in what Schenker called Auskomponierung—the expansion of a structure through prolongation and motions of various kinds. Auskomponierung literally translates as ‘composing out’, reflecting Schenker’s interest in a process of elaboration from the deep structure of a piece to its surface. The term refers to contrapuntal elaboration – the Ursatz represents an Auskomponierung of the tonic. There are a number of ways Ursatz structure can be prolonged, the first one we will discuss is melodic prolongation.

Melodic Prolongation

The first to methods of melodic prolongation involve prolongation before the Kopfton.

  • The Initial Ascent – A rising liner progression in a variety of contexts (sometimes from the tonic pitch up to the primary note (Kopfton)).
  • The Arpeggiated Ascent – Much like the initial ascent, however, instead of stepwise motion to the Kopfton an arpeggiation through the tones of the tonic triad leads to the first fundamental line.

Other melodic prolongation happens within the context of the music after the Kopfton.

  • Unfolding – typical in compound melodies, unfolding involves movement between the pitches of a two note chord (either from higher to lower note or vise versa) within a single melody.
  • Motion into an inner voice – a motion from the top line into an inner line usually through stepwise motion
  • Motion out of an inner voice - a motion from a inner line into the top line usually through stepwise motion
  • Voice exchange - an exchange of tones between two voices, the most characteristic type being a motion from a tenth to a sixth or vice versa, in a prolongation of a single harmony

Some of the most common elaborations and transformations of the structural line involve motion to a higher or a lower register.

  • Register transfer – a change in register through ascending or descending motion through an octave by means of either stepwise, arpeggiated, or a combination of both
  • Coupling  - an association between two registers connected via register transfer that takes on motivic significance
  • Superposition – where a inner voice is placed above the top line.
  • Reaching Over – a structural ascending line that is embellished by localized descending lines
  • Cover tone – an inner voice that remains above the top line for an extended period of time (much like a descant)
  • Substitution – an unexpected tone taking the place of the excepted tone. An example of this would be the substitution of scale-degree 7 for scale-degree 2 in an descent Urlinie

Chord prolongation

The melody is not the only thing that can be prolonged; harmonies can be analyzed as being prolonged by means of one or more other chords. A few common ways harmonies can be prolonged are as followed:

  • Bass arpeggiation expanding a triad by moving from one inversion to another
  • Neighbor motion with one or more chords in-between two soundings of a single chord
  • Passing motion from one inversion to another with one or more chords in-between
  • Voice exchange between the outer voices
  • Applied dominant chord (secondary dominant chords)
  • Leaps in the bass: an example of this has the bass motion from I to I6 is met through descending thirds in the bass
  • Prolongation through transformation: an example of this adding a flat-7th on the tonic chord which transforms the tonic chord into a secondary dominant chord to the IV chord.
  • Elaboration of a chord
  • Elaborating motions

Schenkerian Notation

Schenkerian analysis requires a very different way of notation. In this method of analysis note heads, slurs, and beams have new meaning. Here is a quick guide to those meanings.

  • Unstemmed filled noteheads – notes that form part of the immediate musical context, but are not part of the larger framework
  • Stems – used to designate a broader structural significance. The length of the stem may also be used to distinguish various levels of structure.
  • Open noteheads – used to designate tones that belong to the highest level of the structure. Open noteheads are found in both top and bass lines.
  • Parenthesis – placed around notes that are implied by a specific context but are not actually present in the music
  • Beams and Slurs – grouping related tones together. Slurs are used to group tones that are arpeggiations, linear progressions, and neighboring motions. Beams are primarily used to group the notes of the highest Ursatz structure but also group tones that are part of unfolding.
  • Broken slurs and ties – indicate the retention of a single pitch over a broader span, usually after the intervention of other tones.
  • Stem direction – depending on which direction the stems are pointing indicate which voice the notes belong to.
  • Diagonal Lines – These lines connect notes from the top line to bass harmonies that they belong to but may occur “out of phase”.
  • Brackets – used to show motives

Applying the knowledge to music

Now that we have gone over all the basic things one needs to know about Schenkerian analysis, now we apply them to analyzing music.

Step 1.    Do a harmonic analysis of the music as well as an analysis of the form. Insure you mark where the phrases are in the music and the cadences.  Create an imaginary continuo to be sure you know where the Urlinie and the bass.

Step 2.    Begin a foreground graph: Listen to the music and, using the notational system associated with Schenkerian analysis, place all the notes onto staff paper. Label any elaborations and be sure there are no stray notes left un-stemmed or un-slurred. Bracket all motives you may find. (Remember these graphs do not show rhythms). Determine which notes will have stems and which notes will note. You do this by weighting each note’s importance. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does this note fit the harmony?
  2. Is the harmony structural or chord prolongation?
  3. Is the note metrically supported?

Step 3.    Begin middle ground graph: Begin to remove all embellishments and elaborations leaving mostly the higher-level structural notes (both filled and unfilled noteheads).

Step 4.    Begin background graph: remove all filled noteheads

Once the graphs have been completed you can see examine how the piece is structured.


Analysis of Tonal Music : A Schenkerian Approach, Third Edition

Allen Cadwell, David Gagné

Oxford University Press, New York, 2011

Tom Pankhurst's Guide to Schenkerian Analysis

Schenkerian Terminology

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