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Music Analysis: Music Analysis

Resources to support students for the Year 10 MUS Assessment Task on Music Analysis.


What is Musical Analysis?

An analysis can be conducted on a single piece of music, on a portion or element of a piece or on a collection of pieces.

The student goes through the process of critical listening in order to offer an opinion on the different elements of music used within the piece chosen.


Elements of Music

DURATION is all about time (long/short). It can refer to:

  • The length of individual notes or even whole songs
  • Beat and pulse
  • Rhythmic patterns:
    • Notes, rests, duplets, triplets,
    • Time signatures like 3/4, 4/4, 6/8 etc
  • Syncopation, polyrhythms
  • Tempo
  • Rhythmic features that belong with particular genres and styles

DYNAMICS is all about volume (loud/soft). It can refer to:

  • The volume of individual notes or even whole songs
  • Changes in volume; sudden (block dynamics) and gradual (crescendo, decrescendo)
  • Accented notes
  • Use of technology to control dynamics (compression, automation)
  • Articulation
  • Dynamic features that belong with particular genres and styles

MELODY is all about the horizontal arrangement of sound. I can refer to:

  • A sequence of single notes (sung or played)
  • The contour of the melody
  • Patterns such as phrases, riffs, sequences, motifs
  • Ornamentation or Embellishment
  • Modulation
  • Pitch bends, slides or electronic pitch adjustment
  • Range and register
  • Intonation
  • Melodic features that belong with particular genres and styles

HARMONY is all about the vertical arrangement of sound. It can refer to:

  • Chords such as triads, 7ths, 9ths, 11ths or 13ths
  • Diatonic tonality such as major, minor and dominant
  • Tension and resolution, consonance and dissonance
  • Atonality
  • Countermelodies
  • Modal harmony
  • Accompaniment styles
  • Modulation
  • Intonation
  • Harmonic features that belong to particular genres and styles

STRUCTURE is all about sections of the music. It could refer to:

  • Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Middle eight, Collision, Instrumental solo, Ad lib, AABA form, Theme and Variation, Compound AABA form (A1, A2, B1, A3 etc..)
  • Repetition, variety, contrast, development or unification
  • Treatment of material such as samples and sequencing
  • Well known forms such as 12 bar blues, verse and chorus, through composed, theme and variation
  • The design of particular musical works such as rock opera or musicals
  • Structural features that belong to particular genres and styles

TEXTURE is all about density. It may refer to:

  • The number of instruments or tracks
  • The way a recording has been mixed using effects such as reverb and delay
  • Musical voicings
  • The way an instrument’s tone affects it’s timbre (distorted vs clean guitar)
  • Musical textures such as monophonic, homophonic, polyphonic,
  • Textural features that belong to a particular genre and style

TIMBRE is all about tone. It may refer to:

  • The way particular instruments or voices sound
  • Different tonal techniques used on an instrument (muting, fingertips, picks, bowing, scratching, tapping)
  • Electronic altering of tone using EQ, effects, pedals etc.
  • Tonal features that belong to particular genres and styles


Critical Response

Critical responses to music are formed as a result of critical listening. They include how elements of music and computational devices contribute to characteristics of music excerpts.

Critical Listening

Usually when we listen to music, we listen passively. In other words, we’re just letting the music soak in slowly the more often we hear it. We’re not listening for anything in particular, just enjoying it. That’s fine, but it won’t help you write an essay.

In order to deconstruct the music, you need to listen actively. That means you need to know what you’re looking for before you begin listening. A good method is to pick one musical element (pitch for instance) and listen to the entire song focusing on just that. Then listen again focusing on a different musical element. Make a list of everything you notice. By the time you’ve written notes on all the elements, you will have listened to the music heaps of times and will have hopefully started to form more complex opinions. These opinions will be the basis for your evaluations.

Unfortunately, a list of observations about the musical elements isn’t an essay. Don’t fall into the trap of simply making lists of musical facts. Eg: The key is G, the melody notes are from G major, it is in 4/4, The tempo is 130bpm. Unless you explain why those things are significant, why they contribute to the artist’s vision or the listener’s experience, they are meaningless facts. [source]