Although some pieces of music lack clear sections, most pieces of music contain two or more primary sections. How do we go about distinguishing between these sections? How can we name each section in a clear way that takes into account the content of the sections and repetitions?
You may not be surprised to hear that different genres of music have arrived at different solutions for these problems. Here are two of the most common methods:
To get a better understanding of how these systems work, let’s take a look at a two examples:
This piece is 32 measures long and consists of 2 periods each made of 2 phrases of 8 measures in length. The phrases begin in measures 1, 9, 17, and 25. The first and second phrase both begin with identical melodies for the first six measures; the third and fourth phrases are comprised of mostly unrelated material. Traditionally, after playing to the end of the piece performers repeat the first half again. One way to analyze this piece would look like this:
Let’s look at the song My Old Kentucky Home.
This piece would be best analyzed in song form. We can easily call the first 8 measures a verse sense the lyrics change on the repeat. Measures 11-17 are the chorus, or in this case the refrain (these terms are interchangeable although refrain is somewhat dated). After the chorus the verse repeats with a different set of lyrics. Traditionally, this piece is performed with the following form: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus.