~ Form In Music ~

'shaping ideas into songs ...'

topics
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'knowing the balance of form to shape our ideas ...'

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In a nutshell. From the title atop this page in all caps we might begin to sense the importance of musical form in the grand scheme of understanding our music. That whole books and semester length courses for their study are dedicated to 'form in music' at the collegiate level should come as no surprise for we've had our various musical forms for a couple of millennia now.

What is a musical form? In my general terms according to the Harvard Brief Dictionary Of Music; form in music includes all of musical components and their woven together relationships moving through time that would distinguish these sounds from any haphazardly arranged sounds, such as the cacophony of street noise. (HBDM).

(HBDM) page 109

Tell a story. For those of us that enjoy to make music, we don't really need too much convincing to get things going. For those folks that choose not to make music but enjoy listening, probably goes without saying that it's just way more fun for them when they can follow along with the story being told. By using solid, recognizable forms to hold together our stories helps in getting our messages across to those unhip to the changes.

Form in music is how we as musical artists shape and organize the various parts of our stories; with notes, rhythms and melodies, chords, lyrics et all, our stories fashioned in a form are just more presentable and understandable to a wider listening audience. And as we'll see in the following discussions, each 'song' gets to determine how it 'goes' based on the story it tells; that whatever form it needs is fully shapeable with the resources we have. And if not we can always invent something new n'est-ce pas? The following discussion outlines the basics of building up our most common musical forms.

Shaping ideas into songs. One of the coolest things about having knowledge with musical form is how quickly a 'new' song can come together. For whatever the initial spark for the song's inspiration is, those hip to form will begin to quickly puzzle with what form it'll work in. Blues is probably the easiest and truth be told, any four bar phrase potentially becomes a blues tune if is repeated three times.

More difficult is when we just get a couple of pitches to spark off a song. This 'lil' bit', if it comes with words, becomes the hook. If the hook leans towards a style, and styles have their forms, we're on our way. As this is starting to drift towards composing, always try to remember the 10 / 90 balance. That often songs start with 10% inspiration followed by the 90% of perspiration in working out its details. How much of a song's form is part of the 90% is hard to say, especially for those who craft the lyrics, which often take their own sweet time to tumble into place. Again the idea that having a song 'close up' by its form is just a big help.

Knowing the musical forms also helps in that as we read through the bio's of the artists we each dig, we come across their songs that were written in one session, maybe a couple of hours whatever. The idea here is that the initial spark of creativity was used to finish the song in one session. That by 'forming up' the inspiration of the song it then has its closure, the rest is just filling in the pieces to make it whole, thus capturing its magic. We each know of a song or two that seemed to good to be that quickly created, but it's true, they are and knowing the form is a big help in this process.

collaborations

The balance of form. As we get into this topic in the following discussion we'll quickly see that musical form revolves around combinations of even numbers. Two doubles to four doubles to eight doubles to sixteen doubles to thirty two. At 32 bars, we've reached about 500 years of historical development of musical forms. An eight bar 'A' section melody is repeated, balanced by an eight bar 'B' section counter theme, the 'A' section returns one more time to close the story. That a 12 bar blues is three, four bar phrases is more about the story being told. Sort of like 'three's a charm', in that we don't need to hear the line a fourth time. Often a question is asked. Re-asked to be sure of clarity. Then answered.

Artistic form is a slippery thing to talk about. Those floating 'mobiles', that hang in the air enabled by gravity to balance all sorts of disparate looking elements of various shapes and sizes, is perhaps a good visualization of a song. For there's probably no pieces that won't somehow fit together. Just that some go together better than others. We as artists fit those music together. We as musical artists fir pieces together as they move through time. And just how cool is that?

In balancing the words of a song, the lyrics of a verse or chorus, we might default to an original 'king of the English language' himself, Mr. William Shakespeare. Here we delve into the iambic pentameter of his verse often found in his plays. An iamb is like our two eighth notes, the second stressed. Pentameter implies there's five groups of the two, like this. Example A.

wiki ~ iambic pentameter
wiki ~ Shakespeare
 

In balancing the words of a song, the lyrics of a verse or chorus, we might default to an original 'king of the English language' himself, Mr. William Shakespeare. Here we delve into the iambic pentameter of his verse often found in his plays. An iamb is like our two eighth notes, the second stressed. Pentameter implies there's five groups of the two, like this. Example A.

wiki ~ iambic pentameter
wiki ~ Shakespeare

Form and swing. One of the wonderful things about developing a sense of musical form, getting our wits solidly around any really closed loop, is how quickly that can translate into positive things for our rhythmic phrasing. We develop the thought process of beginning and ending a phrase. Create a complete statement organically from our hearts and minds combined, however short or long it may be, fully express the our ideas in our music. And if we can do this with just a wee ditty, get this bit to really swing, it'll imprint on our musical DNA and gradually through practice, advance all of our musical skills.

For the shorter melody lines such as; the riffs, ditties and hooks, easily become vocalized and in their own mini-forms, are a good way to get our lines to groove in a vocal like phrasing, yet created with a musical instrument. For it is in this translation; from our 'vocal' into instrument that carries the character of our own unique way of phrasing. So into the waybac machine to find this first lick, which becomes a sort of rhyme or chant of pitches that, once looping around and under our fingers, can quickly strengthen our musicality in many many positive ways. Example 1.

wiki ~ waybac machine

Is this next idea the first lick we ever learned as kids? Might be pour moi :) In A minor, example 1a.

Will this line swing? Surely someway somehow :)

Here's another one of these loops from wayback, a wee bit of a longer phrase. In C major, example 1a.

Remember this lick from wayback? I'm pretty sure it was a lick the cheerleaders sang at the ball games. With the big four beat it'll swings right along :)

Melody determines the form. If you are now starting out in the study of musical form, it turns out that the melody of a song, and how it is constructed, becomes the determining factor in shaping our various musical forms. We theorists use how a song's melody is phrased, knit together and its measure length to construct a form for the song. Once established, when we play the song, we'll simply cycle its form from beginning to end, oftentimes over and over for many cycles, to present the song in performance. This cycling of a song's form from beginning to end we term one 'chorus' of the song. This idea is a key part of the basis of creating and shaping an improvised solo for the song selected to perform.

A wide variety of terms. As with many of our theory topics, we've a wide variety of vocabulary terms used to describe the various components in the forms of our songs. For each of our styles and the artists that create the magics often have the own ways of describing the ways things go. While the jazz player often has the head, the line, the bridge, the turnaround and the coda, the rocker has the verse and chorus, the blues artist the 12 bar form and three times and out, the pop artist the hook, the bluegrass artists the breakdown. Curiosity wins the day in all of this as those who are 'never to old to learn' will continue to learn new things and evolve, thus never really grow old :) Telling our stories in song is the goal, using whatever works best, the terms that describe the component parts best to the players at hand.

A second 'silent architecture.' Somewhat similar to our silent architecture of our pitches, musical form is a similarly silent component in our aural musics. While we often can feel the form through various musical devices, in some music the form is purposefully hidden so as to create a seamless flow of the music. In some advanced styles of jazz, to 'make the bar lines go away' is the goal, which can also further 'silence' the form of a song. That said, our first task here is to ...

Hear the 'top' of the form. As in any closed cycle of events, finding the beginning of the loop is often key to understanding the form. In music we call this the top of the form; the downbeat of the first measure at the beginning of the song, melody, words etc. Hear the top, the pitch 'G', the downbeat on beat one after the pickup notes of an Americana classic. If we we're counting measures this is our starting point. Example 1.

Cool? Know the rest of the melody line from just hearing its top? The pick up notes create the anticipation to the top of the melody line, thus the top of the form. The 'G' note is the downbeat on beat one, designating it as the 'top' of this song's musical form. This is the spot we need to be able to identify in our musical forms. Every tune has this spot we call the top. Once we recognize it, can feel and hear it, we're golden for an awful lot of Americana musics, knowing our place in the music when performing and begin to have our 'arms around it' for creating our various forms of improvisations.

So, have this line under your fingers yet? Do learn it here if need be for the swing is built right in :) Notice the double bar lines before the 'G' note? That designates the beginning of a section within a musical form.

Easy to distinguish when the written melody of a song is being sounded, the tricky part often occurs when we get to the improv sections, so common throughout all styles of our Americana musics. And our challenge ramps up as the form of the songs and our solos get longer. For as we delve deeper into what the written harmony of the song provides for soloing ideas and move further away from the melody, keeping everyone involved on the same page and together often falls to the form of the song.

And while there are other 'mileposts' to mark the form along the way in any song really, sensing and hearing the downbeat at the top of the form is the way many of us keep track of the form. This is part of the reason and method that many evolving jazz cats play 12 bar blues; to strengthen their sense of form and their ability to create cogent phrasing that is molded to this form created by three, four bar phrases. So can you hear the top of our 12 bar blues form?

And at the bottom ... the turnaround. Once a song is in motion, hearing the downbeat at the top of a song's form is helped by creating a sense of its impending arrival. We do this in what is commonly termed the 'turnaround', which lives at the bottom or end of the form of a song being performed. As its name implies, the turnaround turns us around and back up to the top of the form. In the following written music we also get the repeat sign at the end reminding us to go back to the top, signified by the other half of the repeat bracket. Example 2.

For improvising musicians, this 'solo break' is the portal or gateway to the next chorus. In this usage, the word 'chorus' implies playing one time through the complete form of the song. We'll soon see this term again meaning something different. Verse / chorus? As in two different parts or sections of a song? Yep.

As players strengthen this turnaround part of the form, their solos can get longer. For they can string more choruses together by boldly stating their intentions to continue. Often slang termed 'ride time', the ability to link choruses together creates a format for longer, more involved stories to be told. Solos can either be improvised or worked out, or any a combination of both. Most of us create from our existing ideas. Drawing on these memories to tell our stories and create our solos.

Quick review. All of our musical forms have a start and an end point. The 'top' and the 'turnaround' are the two bookends we commonly find in all of our musical styles. For just like in telling any story, we enjoy a beginning and and end, a hopefully a surprise or two along the way. Once we understand the sense of closure to any length of musical phrase, and its oft repeated cycling to create musical form, there's really no limit to the ways we can artistically shape a form to hold our ideas. That some storytelling or musical forms are historically more common than others is the topic of our discussions here. So we've a beginning and and end. Now for the middle.

In the middle / verse ~ chorus ~ bridge ~ hook. Well now that we've examined the common beginning and end points of musical form; the downbeat at the top of the form and the turnaround at the bottom, which gets us back to the top, deciding what's in the middle and how it is commonly labeled becomes the next task at hand. Lots of variability here for this labeling of the parts of musical form. Be flexible and find which terms work best for you and the players you're working with.

The verse. The verse of a song is usually composed of words with a melody that tell the story. Often told by one voice; the 'storyteller.' An oldtime Americana verse; "I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee ..." sets the story in motion while we often learn of its characters and their doings in the verses of a song.

wiki ~ verse chorus form

The chorus. "Oh Susanna ... oh don't you cry for me ..." The chorus of the song is the part that often sums up the tale, and gives us the 'moral' of the story being told. It oftentimes has a different melody than the verse. Thus providing a further contrast between the two parts. And in a more traditional definition of the 'chorus'; a group of voices that sing together, we find a similar use here; that everyone involved has the opportunity to join in and sing along with the words and melody of the chorus.

wiki ~ mixed chorus

The bridge. As its name implies, the 'bridge' in the form of a song connects various parts together. Also known as the 'middle eight', most often there's a different melody and words in the bridge than the verse. While the bridge and chorus are often used the same way in conversation about form, the bridge is usually the term for larger or longer songs; songs with more measures and definite sections. As we'll see further into this discussion, we usually associate the bridge in 32 bar song form.

wiki ~ thirty two bar song form

The hook. As its name implies, the hook of a song is a catchy phrase of words, or a melody line that get 'stuck' in our heads upon repeated hearings of it. Oftentimes associated with pop music and a big part of 'top 10' hits, the hook is most often a 'turn of words' that a song is built around. Often coming right out of the blue, or from an experience we're having or a turn of phrase we hear from whatever source, many composers will first come up with a 'hook', then build the tune around it.

Ever hear the phrase ... 'oh, that would be a great hook?' Well, you have now :) Each of our Americana musical styles have their classic songs with their hooks, which is very often the title of the song too. "Oh Susanna" surely qualifies as the 'hook' on many many compositional and marketing levels. In instrumental music, the idea of a hook usually translates vocabulary wise into the main theme or melody of a song.

Sections / section letters. As we advance in our studies of musical form, and this is especially true in larger compositional forms, we think in terms of sections that we glue together to make the whole piece of music or song. While we discussed various parts of a song just above, we can also use letter such as 'A', 'B' and 'C' to designate sections in our compositions.

Reading musicians will follow the chart, a roadmap of a song, often using these letter named sections to navigate around. Most often the different lettered sections in a work contain different melodies, chords tempos etc. Placed at the beginning of a phrase, these section letters in a score often will look like these two; the 'A' and 'B' placed into the square shape. Example 3.

Letter 'A' or letter 'B' become designated spots in the music that give players reference points to help get and keep everyone together as the music moves along. In an instrumental song, the 'A' section is also the main melody or hook of the tune. Usually an eight bar phrase which is repeated, so 16 bars total. The 'B' section is the bridge which is the counter melody to the melody of the 'A' section. Yin / yang balance? Yep. There's also a section 'C' later on in this song that takes the mood to a different vibe for the initial soloing and improv.

Melodic phrasing creates the forms. By realizing that many of our most common musical forms are structured by the looping of a song's core idea or motif; the central phrase within a song's melody line, we can gain a way into understanding how the various forms that shape our music are built up by composers. In what now follows, we numerically 'build up', by additive measures, musical phrases and watch how our musical ideas can loop and organically grow into the musical forms of songs most commonly found within our Americana styles.

A one bar form / phrase. This first entry is surely more of a rhythm than a melody phrase. Regardless, we've got to start somewhere. We can lift this one measure idea from our Native American brethren, find the four beats to the bar that cores so much globally let alone our own Americana. That this one measure repeats and loops on forever is the heartbeat of drum circles and the pulse of life. So while not a recognized 'form', this one bar repeated is a source for all. Example 4.

wiki ~ indigenous Native American musics

Hear any pitches or melodies as the drum sounds? The ancient melodies, and modern ones too, are all within our memories. That a boom boom boom boom can conjure them forth is magic we never want to lose.

Three pitch melody. This next idea is a three pitch melody that I've heard from bell towers to 'announce' the hour of the day. These three pitches are sounded first, followed by a number of chimes depending on the hour of the day. Example 4a.

Into the wayback. This idea goes back to when we were kids and is probably part of a longer melody that I do not really remember. So maybe a 'first hook?' Example 4b.

A two bar form / phrase. Doubling up the length of our phrase to two bars opens up our creative into a rather vast universe of artistic potential. Why? Well, now that we have two possible parts we have; various ways to balance, color and contrast one part to the other. We can create the age old two part 'call and response' dynamic, and we have the back and forth 'perpetual motion' of the dance vamp for starters. That these sorts of artistic filters also create melodic motifs or hooks for further development and looping should remind us of their importance to explore their possibilities. Here's a common enough 'two chorder' vamp with a downbeat on 1, giving it a solid rock bottom feel. Example 4bb.

wiki ~ perpetual motion

Some would consider the two bar vamp as a musical form, especially when there's chords involved as in the last idea. For it has been used extensively throughout the decades for some very big hits. Into the wayback machine to find this melody. Example 4c.

As a vamp. Not sure where this last idea comes from, way back for sure. I think as kids we sang it when one of us was in a bit of trouble to sound out the impending parental doom, thus the tritone in the lick :) This next two bar idea, which also goes way back, is a blues staple. Example 4d.

Surely a lick many a bluesman and rocker would know. Very 'Doors' like yes?

wiki ~ The Doors

On the brighter side of things, here's a little two bar pentatonic ditty from the schoolyard. Example 4e.

Nice melodic closure with just two bars. Easy lick to expand through sequence or permuation.

Iambic pentameter. These two bars of rhythm go wayback in our English language and literature. 'Iamb' meaning two paired syllables, one 'unstressed'followed by one 'stressed.' So, in music, unaccented followed by accented. Eighth notes? Sure. 'Penta' means we've five of these iamb's. So, dig how nicely they slip into a two bar phrase. Example 4f.

wiki ~ iambic pentameter

Surely Shakespeare was a fan of this rhythm and all sorts of variations in rhythm and time. Accenting the off beats and thinking 'even' 1/8's, we build the modern swing right onto 400 plus years of English literature. Lyricists take note of this, not really sure why, but if it rhymes, it rhymes :) Do learn about and master this iambic pentameter phrasing. Perhaps start by finding different ways to fit it into measures by using different start points of the phrase. One, and of one, on two, and of two ect.

A three bar phrase. As we doubled from one to two measures, just can't go half to find three. And truth be told, not a thing comes up that is a true three bar melody. Nada. Suggestions ... ? Didn't think so ... :) So then off to the land of plenty ... four bars !

 
 

Children's song form / a four bar phrase. The four bar phrase is probably the basis of it all. As a building block in the larger forms, we'll knit four bars phrases together in various configurations to create the various song forms of our modern musical world. Curiously, most of what we hear on the radio, on any station that plays any style of Americana, breaks right down into a four measure phrase. Often linked together to one another, four gets doubled into eight and eight is the length of phrase that creates the standard song forms, which we'll get to shortly.

modern musical world

So, four bar songs for kids are often just mini versions of larger, more complex forms for longer and more involved stories. So just keeping it simple for stories and songs for the wee ones? Yep, often just a couple of pitches in a couple of measures to ease on into our rote learning process with more fun for all. Remember this four bar ditty? That this next idea might be more of a nursery rhyme that a song is noted. Example 5.

I think I've heard this "Hot Cross Buns" quoted by some geezers over the decades, which usually brings some smiles to the whole process.

wiki ~ "Hot Cross Bun"s rhyme

A four bar modal blues form. This is a rare bird indeed. I've only heard one recorded example of it, now over four decades of active theory listening and even with today's search engines, cannot locate the track as I heard it created by pianist Marcus Roberts. Essentially the form is simply a four bar phrase repeated, harmonically based on a blues' V7 chord, repeated until the idea is finished. A four bar modal blues in 'C.' Example 5a.

wiki ~ Marcus Roberts

Hear this wanting to go somewhere? Maybe to the Four chord at some point? That 'wanting' just might be the built in energy that propels this form. Again, this modal blues is rare. Although as I write this, the musical art of Sun House comes to mind.

wiki ~ Son House

Four, four bar phrases. Not to get too far ahead to quick, but in a rather timeless melody today we can find a 16 bar measure song that glues together four rather distinct four bar phrases. Probably around for the last four hundred years give or take, just a perfect balance of four unique, four measure phrases to form a timeless melody for us to enjoy today. For those readers here who gig, while tricky for sure, this is a great tune to perform as probably everyone in the room will know it :)

In a flash, four bars can become eight. A very common feature of a four bar melodic phrase is to create what we call a second ending. In this format, we're basically using the same four bar melodic idea but shaping the end of the line so that it feels as if it wants to continue on, not quite complete just yet. By the end of the second statement of the phrase, we get the sense of the melody coming to rest and closure.

An idea for drummers. As the drummer in a group is generally the motor that 'marks' the time and tempo chosen by the group for the performance of a song, I've heard advanced players consistently signal the beginning of each new four bar phrase as it comes along. Kind of like mileposts along the road, it reminds us of where we are in the form of the song. In listening to the radio we can hear this also. It might not always be in the drummers part, but something usually happens at the close of or the beginning of each four bar phrase as they come along in the arrangement. This happens over a wide spectrum of musical styles.

Five bar form / phrase. Nada as of this writing. Suggestions?

Six bar form / phrase. While nada again applies, there's some rather famous six measure sections in our literature. The song "My Country, Tis Of Thee ~ America" opens with a six bar phrase, followed by an eight measure section. Also we'd be remiss if we did not point out a song that won the Grammy Award for song of the year in 1967 that features the rare as hen's teeth six bar A section. And while the bridge or B section is eight bars, perfect artistic balance is still achieved. The song? Why, Paul McCartney's "Michelle."

wiki ~ My Country, Tis Of Thee"

wiki ~ "Michelle" song

Seven bar form. While nada still applies in there being no honest to goodness long established seven bar form, we'd again be remiss in not pointing out that one of the top 10, most recorded songs ever by multiple artists is written with the A section as a seven bar phrase. So the power of the story of the words over the structural form of the music? Yep, exactly and absolutely. Let no form dictate the story to be told and the crafting of the magical words in its telling. The composer? Non other than Paul McCartney. Again? Yep. The song? Why, "Yesterday" of course, from way back in ol' 1965 :)

wiki ~ "Yesterday" song

Eight bar form / phrase. Adding in just one more measure makes all the difference in our local universe of musical form. For at eight measures of phrase length, our form really comes together. For as we'll soon see, we not only have a workable length for a complete song form, we'll also use eight bars as a set in stone building block for larger forms, creating the structures that have shaped our melodies for at least a couple of centuries now. This first eight measure song is pure Americana. Example 6.

wiki ~ "Key To The Highway"

This song has been played or recorded by just about every blues artist in the biz. It's all over the web if you be so inclined. Lots and lots of web based instructional / video material based on this eight bar gem.

Eight bars of jolly. Well, I was hoping to include the the perfectly balanced eight bar melody that everyone probably knows titled "The Hokey Pokey" / USA.Unfortuneately, while free of copyright restrictions in Great Britain and other points beyond, not so here in the United States. Oh well, you'll have to take me word for it and find a chart yourself. Just a solid eight bar tune that filled the dance floor. So here's another jolly sort of eight bar melody, not intended to fill a dance floor except maybe a school gym, yet one with the 'big quarter note swing' built right in. And while mostly for the kids, if we can get this line to swing, chances are we'll find the magic in other melodies too. Example 6a.

wiki ~ hokey cokey
wiki ~ copyright

Just a super solid eight bar gem. Need this for a kid's show and want to jazz up the arrangement? Try modulating the tune up in half steps. Maybe a couple of times depending on how much time you have. Combine a rhythmic feel of the swing thing with a couple of modulations, should get the youngsters going :)

With a second ending we double 8 to 16. So just as with the four bar phrase discussed above, with a bit of a melody twist at the end of the phrase, easy to repeat our melody a second time and in the process enlarge our musical form. Most times this 'twist' is simply ending the line with a diatonic V7 chord instead of a tonic One chord. This encourages the continuation of the line, again enlarging our form and extending the story we are telling. This next song is in A minor, so we see the close of the first line on its altered Five chord, 'E7.' Ex. 6a.

Know this melody yet? From way back across the pond, this song was a big big radio hit back in the 60's. Learn it here if need be if you like the line etc.

wiki ~ "House Of The Rising Sun"

Eight measure sections. At eight bars we probably reach the most common balance point in our musical forms. We have complete eight bar songs. We have eight bar songs with a first and second ending and we have eight bar sections that we build into bigger forms. Often using section letters in written songs, there are two basic forms; 'A / A / B / A', where each section is eight bars. And the form 'A / B', where each section is 16 bars, so two eight bar phrases.

Song form / sonata allegro. Here we delve more into the Euro classical music than our Americana forms. For this sonata allegro was the main form for writing the opening section to all sorts of works; symphonies, concertos, string quartets etc. Our own 'A / A / B / A' is simply a rather abbreviated form of sonata allegro.

Traditionally, sonata allegro is usually in three sections, there is the exposition, development and recapitulation. These correspond to our section letter 'A / A / B / A.' So our first 'A' is the exposition, our main melodic idea is most always eight bars in length. We repeat that and then set up motion to the bridge or 'B' section. This is where the idea of a second ending comes in. We use the same theme but usually twist the end of it to set up the bridge. Our bridge is the development section of sonata allegro. More of a counter melody than the classical development, although often in a different key as with sonata allegro, the close of the eight bar 'B' section sets us the return to the last 'A' section. Here we restate the melody and bring the song to its close in its original key.

wiki ~ sonata form

So in this 'A / A / B / A' form each section is eight bars, making a total of 32. The other main 32 bar form we use, 'A / B', just works better when the first eight bar idea runs longer. Most often there's a sequence or modulation to Four in the line, so it runs to 16 bars. In these songs the second part or 'B' section is mostly a repeat of the first idea but with a noticeable difference in the close of the melody, thus the 'A' and 'B' designations. To keep it straight just try to keep in mind that the melodies of our songs determine their overall form. We'll leave the finer points of the analysis for another time.

Nine through 11 bar form / phrase. Nada really, these odd numbers tend to be tricky to balance up I guess. Suggestions?

Twelve bar blues. At the 12 bars we get the '12 bar blues.' Imagine that. Not that blues songs were always 12 measures, or that there's not variations, but there's too much today in this form today not to be acquainted. Everything from the blues through to rhythm and blues and on into the early rock and roll and points beyond is has essential songs in this 12 bar form. If you work to get this form rock solid, can always hear the top of the form while listing to real music as it is performed and know the essential 'Muddy' turnaround, safe to say you're well on your way to makin' some Americana magic and the get the dancers up to sway :) Hey!

Thirteen through 15 bar form / phrase. Nada really, these odd numbers tend to be tricky to balance up I guess. Suggestions?

Sixteen bars / form. If you've read from the top of this discussion, surely by this point you know the math so to speak and can understand what 16 measures can bring us. Four four's. A couple of eights. Two eights with a tag. A 12 bar blues with an extra four bar tag. Half of a 32 bar form. Regardless of how we get here, 16 bars is a key juncture in our study of musical form.

Seventeen through 23 bar form / phrase. Nada really, these odd numbers tend to be tricky to balance up I guess. Suggestions?

Twenty four measures / form. The only thing that comes to mind is a sort of 'double' 12 bar blues. So a 12 bar blues with a first and second ending. The one composition that fits this bill is "Sugar" by tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.

wiki ~ Stanley Turrentine

Twenty five through 31 measures / form. Nada really, these odd numbers tend to be tricky to balance up I guess. Suggestions?

Thirty two measures / form. Thirty two bars is sort of the end of the road here in regards to musical form. Mostly a form for what we call jazz standards, the list of songs in this form in this style is probably endless. For the music here spans now about 100 years, from NYC's Tin Pan Alley to today.

wiki ~ jazz standards
wiki ~ Tin Pan Alley

Rhythm changes. Among the most common of the 32 bar form is what jazz players know as 'rhythm changes.' This song form is based on the Gershwin composition titled "I Got Rhythm." There's a ton of variations on these basic chords and all sorts of melodies. What is not all that negotiable is the 32 bar form. And jazz artists globally will probably know what to do if you call on the bandstand ... 'hey let's play some rhythm changes in Bb.' Here's a chord chart for the generic chords which without a melody, are not copyrighted so can be included here. For our melodies / lyrics is what we copyright. Example 7.

wiki ~ rhythm changes
call

A rather perfect 32 bars yes? As this is a jazz form so kind of rare through the other styles of Americana. Experienced players often want to count this off at 200 or so and beyond. For like the 12 bar blues, the strength of the form is fairly unbreakable even under the craziest conditions. There's a few 'jump' or 'head' tunes associated with this form, notably "Jumping At The Woodside", a famous song for the Count Basie Orchestra.

200
jump or head tunes
wiki ~ Count Basie Orchestra

Strophic form / through composed. We find these two forms in this text together as they are for the most part 'polar' opposites to one another. The age old strophic form uses the same music for multiple stanzas of different lyrics. Led Zepplin's "Stairway To Heaven" is written in strophic form. On the opposite side is the idea of through composed. Here the music is in theory an evolving aural background to the lyrics of a composition. It is composed 'throughout' the song, without repeat from beginning to end. At least in theory :)

wiki ~ Led Zepplin
wiki ~ "Stairway To Heaven"

Coda. Well, as we get to the close of this discussion of musical forms, we find the coda. An Italian word for 'tail' the coda is the last couple of bars of an arrangement. Most often in addition to our standard forms, in written music we look for the coda sign, or as Doc Miller called it ... 'the bug :)' The coda symbol looks like this;

Most times the 'bug' is somewhere in the music with the last measures written at the end of the score. On the last pass through the performance of the song, we 'take the bug', which gets us to the end of the arrangement. Codas often have a something special in them, leaving the listeners with a bit of a surprise at the close of a song. It generally looks like this in the music. Example 9.

Dr. Miller

This last tune is one of mine, not sure if there's a famous coda out there worth noting, there must be though, please stay tuned :)

Exceptions to the rules. So, had enough of being boxed into this number of measures and that many sections plus a coda and all even numbers for the most part anyway? Well, now that you know these basics, don't let the rules get in the way of creating your art. For there's no right or wrong here, just what works and what might not work as well. Things we write early on in our careers will later seem juvenile. Who cares. Just write, play, have fun and share your music. If you get folks up dancing, consider that you and your band 'won the gig.' Knowledge of form and the 'rules' helps you to hang with other players, quickly get on their page and stay there. Form keeps the band together when nothing else will. It'll find common ground instantaneously if you're on the bandstand and need something sooner than 'right now.' That there's just a few forms really, and all based on the four bar phrase, just master this phrase, count it aloud a couple of times, listen to its beginning and end points in the music you dig, hip your bandmates to these ideas and remember that even the listeners to your stories want to follow along and if your ideas are balanced in the traditional ways even accounting for necessary artistic sojourns, chances are they will better follow along on the journeys you create too, so the more the merrier yes? Here's the basics of the rules;

1) learn the rules first ... then we break them

2) repeat rule 1

3) repeat rule 2

4) what are the rules ?

5) who determines ?

6) tradition

7) evolution based on artistic need

8) or not as the case might be :)

Review. Our musical forms are based on the balance we create with words, expressions and motions we find in our everyday lives. Extracting a piece of any of these, we can build up a work that is shaped by common forms that we've had through the many generations of musicians that have come before us. Working both ways; shaping an idea into an existing form as well as well as shaping a form to fit our idea, gradually these meld and we have the best of both, to create the balance of content and expression in our creative works. In finding this balance we can have a 'universality' that can be perceived and shared by all, regardless of their own personal interests in art, music and beyond.

"What is remarkable about Western music is that by its chosen scales, modified through equal temperament, and by developing complex forms and complex instruments, it has raised the expressive power of music to heights and depths unattained in other cultures."

wiki ~ Jacques Barzun.

Footnotes:

(1) Appel, Willie and Ralph T. Daniel. The Harvard Brief Dictionary Of Music. New York: Pocket Books, a Simon and Schuster Division of Gulf and Western, 1960

(2) Ottman, Robert. Elementary Harmony, Second Edition, p. 4-7. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

(3) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 210. U.S.A. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001

(4) To find "middle C", sit at the middle of the piano, extend both your arms outward to touch the furthest keys you can, then bend from the waist and bring your nose to gently touch the keys. The closest "C" is probably "middle C."

(5) Ottman, Robert. Advanced Harmony, Theory and Practice, Second Edition, p. 272- 298. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

(6) Ottman, Robert. Elementary Harmony, Second Edition, p. 8. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970.