Learning Forms - Any Tips?

I've recently been in a sort of rut with composing.


Being that I will not compose professionally, at least that's not the plan at this time, I haven't taken the concept very seriously in the past. But I feel that having some skill in composition at least to the point of low-moderate level would be highly beneficial for understanding how something should be played - the interpretation of music for example. The benefits of practicing inter-instrumental transposition is also a massive plus.


This sudden interest was sparked when I read a very short reply by Jon Corelis here, he said "First master the rules, then break them". Now, obviously he didn't originate said quote, but that doesn't matter much to me. I don't like history, so learning things like precedent and form are usually rather boring to me, but it is absolutely essential to understanding the written musical language.


My question then, is does anybody have any tips on how one could begin to study forms in music and apply them? I go to a rather small high school, so we don't have any advanced theory classes. Even in college, I'm afraid, I may not take formal classes over the direct topic of composition. I'd like to start now, but I just don't know where to start or what recources are available to me at this point.


Merci en advance,

Chris Rodier

You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments!

Join Composers' Forum

Email me when people reply –


  • Lucky for you, we live in the internet age and learning the basics of form has never been better. Here are some links that can help:

    First video is one of my undergraduate piano professor talking about form. (Note; he talks about a book you might not own because this video is for his piano class he teaches)



    Here are some more links about form:

    Form in Music


    What wikipedia says about form


    Britannica thoughts on Form


  • Great post, exactly on the topic of info I've been trying to learn. I've been trying to learn a bit about song structure on google and all I've came up with sites that tell me  things like , intro,chorus,melody etc etc.. This vid shows how you can have repetition but also how to keep the song from becoming style by sprinkling more sounds on the a pattern the 2nd and 3rd time it comes around.
  • hi  If i understand you, you search for a book (or recources in general) of musical forms or a tips on how you could begin to study it.

    maybe i can't help u so much but I'll try it ... 


    i d like to give you a complete panoramic of my study in musical forms (and not only) 

    I began to study musical form after a good period of harmony on "numerated bass" and "romantic harmony" in Italy u must study how harmonize a piece of a "concerto grosso" bass  of the scuola napoletana (--->see Alessandro Scarlatti).

    And at the same time u must harmonize a melody in "romantic style" .... for romantic style i intend a melody with appoggiature, elisioni, ritardi all'8va, alla 5a (obviusly alla 3a), chromaticism, and with use of chord of seventh, 9th, 11th and 13th.  


    only after this (in the same time you study also the ropes of contrappunto...the species at 1,2 max 3 voices) u can apply ur knowledge to a form and write your music, the form is a canzone, a Lied ....a song ABA' (u can also write a different form for exercise, AB ---> binary etc.. analyze mendelssohn romances without words).

    for all this u need from 1 to 4 years of exercise, one or two years if u are very quick and u don't like to deepen this academics arguments. 3 or 4  if you want to digest  the arguments for a good exam!

    after  we go on with contrappunto...> bicinium, madrigals, canons and finally "doppio coro" (is a imitated counterpoint for two choir each one with 4 parts, with a total of 8 parts) and the fugue (is an academic fugue), also we deepen the form of romance.

    we have 3 years for this things.

    after and really finally.....

    there is a sonata form, we apply this in a piece for piano, for piano and violin, for quartet, and in a 1° time of a symphony. we study at the same time symphonic variations (on a theme we must do a minimum of 3 variation for orchestra, in a different kind of variation----> for example melodic, harmonic, ornamentali) and a free oratorio in a free style on a text given.

    recently at this point you can write in the style that you prefer (you can often use your own structural organization), some year ago the exam on the sonata form could be based on romantic or atonal (in general dodecaphonic) style.


    I think this is an outworn program, but there is an important step: the fugue! with the proportions of this "form" (it is not really a form but a free container) and with the severity that it gives you, you can do many things!

    you studied also orchestration, musical analysis, you could be able to read a orchestral score at piano....


    the book....in italian there is a very good book on musical form is the Giulio Bas, this book explain all ancient forms and their origin, from rhythm s cells, phrases and period construction   to     great forms. but this book only is not complete, you can add the Riccardo Nielsen s forme musicali, is beautiful 'cause guide you in an analysis of the different forms in different author, also modern (not contemporary).

    if you have a sufficient knowledge of italian try to buy this book.


    for the fugue the old french teachers are very good! you can study it on Gedalge , this is a famous book..you could find it also in english. but before you must study counterpoint from 2 to 4 voices in all the species, canons and double and triple counterpoint. 


    don't worries  for all this things, this is a complete course for learn the old forms, if you don't want to be a composer you can choice only the things you need. and in general with a lot of analysis on the scores you'd make a good work !


    good and quickly theory book:

    Brindle reginald -Musical Composition-(is very easy, but is only an introduction to the different chapters of composition)

    De la motte - Counterpoint, and also harmony. this books are very nice, they study the subjects  through the analysis (exercise are easy easy)

    Vincenzo Persichetti Twentieth-Century Harmony ->beautiful but it give you a strange idea of the new composition...i don't know how i can say... too technic...maybe...

    Piston - harmony ...Piston speak a lot and make a few, but is very interesting! after a good practical course 


    YES Internet is good but also hazardous.





  • Hey,

    I applaud you on deciding to study form. I think it is one of the most overlooked things by people learning to compose nowadays.


    I have been deep into the study of form recently and specifically classical form. One of the things I have found is that form does not just have to do with how many bars a piece of music is, and what to call the groups of bars, but it is really looking at what you are trying to accomplish within the music.


    Assuming you have an understanding of some harmony, and particularly how to read roman numerals and figured bass, I would recommend the book Classical Form by William Caplin. It was written relatively recently, I think 1998, but in it, he helps to clarify terminology in form that is frequently misused. It is by far the best explanation of form that I have ever read and I feel it is changing drastically the way I think about composing.


    I have written quite a few articles on my blog about what I have been learning. You can check it out if you'd like. http://www.artofcomposing.com.


This reply was deleted.