Teaching Score Analysis in AP Music Theory

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The development of analytical skills is an integral part of theory and musicianship training. Analytical activities can play a useful role in virtually every class session, even in the earliest stages of study. This article suggests ways to incorporate analysis into a basic theory and musicianship course.

Part I: Analysis and Music-Reading Skills

The music-reading (rhythmic reading and sight-singing) component of the first-year theory course provides an ideal forum for the introduction of score analysis. Even the most elementary exercise affords opportunities for teaching analytical skills, and the resulting improvement in performance quickly rewards student efforts.

Example 1 demonstrates how analysis can be applied to a simple exercise in rhythmic reading.

Example 1

A pre-performance analysis might include the following topics:

What is the meter type? The beat type? What is the beat value? The division value?

Determining that Example 1 employs a compound duple meter places the example in a broader metric category, which helps the student relate it to previously read examples and anticipate the kinds of patterns that may occur. It also prepares the student to follow a conductor’s beat. Determining the value of the beat and the division enables the student to locate each beat on the score and to subdivide the beats for accurate counting. Knowing how the note values employed in the exercise relate to the beat and division values also helps the student select an appropriate sight-reading tempo.

Does the example contain more than one phrase? How are phrases articulated?

Understanding that the rest in m. 4 separates two musical thought units leads to a more coherent performance as the student shapes each phrase toward its musical goal, and of course it helps the student to begin to understand the term “phrase.”

Are the phrases generally similar or dissimilar? In what ways are they alike, and in what ways do they differ?

Noticing the similarity between mm. 1-2 and 5-6 leads to more efficient sight-reading.

Does each phrase begin on the downbeat or with an anacrusis?

Knowing on what part of the measure the exercise begins is indispensable to an accurate reading; noticing that both phrases begin with an anacrusis fosters greater understanding of the parallel construction of the phrases.

Are there recurring patterns (motives)?

Viewing the exercise with the analytical overlay shown in Example 2 not only heightens the student’s awareness of its construction (and familiarizes the student with the concept of “motive”) but also leads to more efficient reading, as the student realizes that the exercise employs just a few patterns but combines them in different ways.

Example 2

To be sure, if the class were to undertake a detailed analysis of every exercise before performing it, there would be no time left for doing rhythmic reading. A handout listing appropriate analytical questions for rhythmic reading may encourage students to think about all of these points independently. Still, it is useful for the instructor to preface each rhythmic reading with one or perhaps two brief analytical questions, since this is a quick and practical way to develop the habit of analytical thinking.

Sight-singing is an even more fertile field for the development and application of analytical skills. Let us examine Example 3, the Mayan folk melody “Xtoles,” from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Example 3

As we prepare to sing this melody, we may ask not only the questions already posed in conjunction with rhythmic reading but also the following:

Is the melody in a key? If so, what is the tonal center? What scale or mode is in evidence?

The piece ends with the rising perfect fourth E-A, suggesting scale degree 5 through scale degree 1 in A, and the same pitch pattern precedes the other double bars as well. The key signature of the three sharps also suggests A major. A closer look at the content of the melody, however, reveals just five notes: A, B, C-sharp, E, and F-sharp. The melody, then, is pentatonic, and a pentatonic scale on A (but employing a range from E to E) would be an appropriate preparatory exercise.

How many phrases are there? What delineates them? How are the phrases related one another? What rhythmic and melodic motives occur?

Although this melody is shown (deliberately) without phrasing slurs, its organization is clear. Rests set off units in the first portion of the melody; repeat signs set off the next four-measure unit; and, as we inspect the remainder of the melody, we find two more four-measure phrases, each ending with the same cadential gesture heard in mm. 11-12 and 15-16. In fact, the last two phrases are variants of mm. 13-16: mm. 17-20 present the same pitches at the same metric points as mm. 13-16, but the internal rhythm of each beat is altered. Measures 21-24 vary the contour of the first half of the phrase but still base the first two measures of the phrase on tones of the A-major triad, leading to a B, and the cadential measures are identical to mm. 15-16.

Measures 1-12 are somewhat different. Measures 1-4, which are repeated virtually exactly in mm. 5-8, outline C-sharp-A. The next two measures move to B, which, we may recall, is the half-phrase punctuating tone of the later phrase, and the section then concludes with the same two-bar cadential motive that ends each of the following phrases. These factors suggest that we ought to interpret mm. 9-12 as one phrase, despite the rest in m. 10. It is significant that the pitch contour of mm. 1-12 outlines the basic pitch content of each of the subsequent single phrases: A/C-sharp moving to a punctuating B, followed by an F-sharp-E-A cadential gesture. This knits the three phrases of mm. 1-12 into a unified introduction of the remainder of the melody, whose form we may thus represent as:


Part II: Melodic Analysis and Written and Keyboard Harmony

As students learn to harmonize a melody, melodic analysis must inform decisions about harmonic choices. Many of the analytical questions posed in connection with sight-reading remain pertinent to this application as well, as does the “top-down” ordering of the questions.

Example 4 is a melody intended to be harmonized by the student, either at the keyboard or on paper.

Example 4

To create a logical harmonization, the student needs to ask:

What are the tonal implications of the melody?

One hopes that the student’s first act is to sing the melody, so that it will be apparent from its sound as well as from the visual cues, such as the penultimate E-sharp, that the key is F-sharp minor.

How many phrases are there? What articulates them?

In order to compose a coherent setting, it is, of course, essential to understand that the half notes of mm. 2 and 4 set off phrase endings.

What are the melodic and harmonic goals of each phrase? What is the harmonic point of departure of each phrase?

The first phrase begins on scale degree 1 and ends on scale degree 5, suggesting a corresponding harmonic movement from tonic to dominant. (Although scale degree 5, C-sharp, is also a member of the tonic triad, its context makes that harmonic choice an awkward one: It is difficult to harmonize the preceding G-sharp and D in a way that creates a convincing cadence to i at the C-sharp.) The second phrase complements the first with its melodic motion from scale degree 4 to scale degree 1, and its supporting harmonic progression would begin with some dominant-preparation harmony and close with a V-i cadence. (It would also be possible to end the second phrase with a deceptive cadence.)

What kind of melodic contour does each phrase exhibit, and what kind of bass movement is desirable in order to complement the soprano?

Example 5a below shows a harmonization that fails to address this question; although the chord roots create a logical progression, the soprano-bass counterpoint is seriously flawed. Phrase 1 shows some of the blatant errors that may occur when there is too much similar motion between soprano and bass: there are two sets of parallel octaves, in which the outer voices move in similar motion to a perfect octave and the soprano moves by leaps.

The defects of Phrase 2 are slightly more subtle: as the bass parallels the soprano in the first two chords of the phrase, a melodic augmented second ensues, and when the bass again follows the lead of the soprano at the cadence, with respect to the conjunct nature of its line as well as to the general direction of motion, a weak cadence results.

Example 5 a-c

What harmonic rhythm does the melody imply, and what sort of rhythm should the bass line then maintain?

Example 5b illustrates a possible consequence of a lazy and uncritical reading of the melody, a harmonization based on the false assumptions that (a) repeated melodic tones or consecutive tones that can be interpreted as belonging to the same harmony should invariably be set to a single chord, and (b) every melodic tone is a chord tone. A better-informed student, who understands that syncopation of the bass line or the harmonic progression undermines the fundamental metric organization of the melody, and who realizes that the eighth-note F-sharp of the last measure is an anticipation rather than a chord tone, might propose the solution shown in Example 5c, which maintains a quarter-note harmonic rhythm. (This solution also exemplifies a more satisfactory soprano-bass counterpoint than Example 5a.)

It goes without saying that harmonic analysis is an integral part of learning to understand the “grammar” of tonal language and to appreciate its subtleties. The practice of proceeding from outline to detail, cultivated from the earliest work in rhythm and melodic analysis, will enable the student to deal efficiently with longer and more complex works.

Part III: Analysis of a Complete Movement

Let’s end with an examination of a movement from a Baroque violin concerto: the middle movement of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter,” op. 8, no. 4. NOTE: It will be easier to follow the discussion of the piece if you print out the three pages of the score.

Example 6

Page 1, mm. 1–7

Page 2, mm. 7–12

Page 3, mm.13–18;

The analytical questions pertaining to the simple sight-singing exercise, together with a few additional questions about the harmonic setting, will reveal most of the pertinent information about the structure of the movement.

What is the key?

The E-flat major tonality of the movement as a whole is clear at a glance, although if this piece is the students’ first analytical encounter with an example that modulates, the instructor may want to direct their attention to the final cadence.

How many large sections does the movement contain? How are they defined? What is the large-scale harmonic motion of each section? Are any secondary areas tonicized?

There is fairly continuous melodic activity in the solo violin most of the time, with a noticeable slowing of this activity in mm. 8 and 16-18. Inspection of the supporting harmony at these points reveals both points to be strong cadences, the first concluding on a B-flat harmony and the second on E-flat. The first phrase begins on an E-flat harmony and the second on a B-flat chord, so the large-scale harmonic scheme is I---V V-I. The B-flat chord of the first section cadence is approached from its own dominant and is otherwise treated as a local tonic, as the persistent A-natural in mm. 4-7 suggests, so we can also speak of the large-scale tonal plan as a modulation to the dominant and back. The clear two-part form with its (fig. 18) tonal plan is a typical Baroque continuous binary structure, symbolized:

What smaller units does each section contain? How many phrases are there, and how are they grouped? What is the harmonic plan of each phrase?

There is a circular harmonic progression from I to V7 and back to I in mm. 1-2, and the return to the tonic coincides with a melodic cadential gesture, the falling half step from A-flat to G in eighth notes. This comprises the first phrase.

The next phrase begins with a composing-out of the span from a B-flat triad in first inversion (m. 3) to the root position of the same harmony (m. 5); the principal vehicle is a harmonic sequence containing a chain of 7-6 suspensions. As this gesture approaches the root-position B-flat chord, we hear the first indication of the tonicization of B-flat in the bass A-natural and the F 6/5 chord it supports, that is, V 6/5 of B-flat. The arrival on B-flat 5/3 in m. 5 does not yet sound conclusive; however, the local V 6/5-I progression does not create a decisive cadence. Instead, the phrase is extended twice. There is a definite arrival on the tonic of B-flat downbeat of m. 7, with B-flat in both outer voices, but once again the harmonic progression does not create a strong cadence. (The progression from m. 6 to m. 7, in fact, merits close attention: The second chord of m. 6 looks like a V 4/2 chord in B-flat, containing as it does F, A, and C over a bass E-flat, but it does not resolve as one might expect V 4/2 to resolve, with the E-flat moving down stepwise to D as the base of I6; instead, the E-flat falls directly to B-flat, with the D being transferred to an upper voice. Vivaldi, in effect, treats the apparent V 4/2 as a double harmony, comprising the dominant in the upper voices and the subdominant in the bass.) A further extension in mm. 7-8 reiterates the arrival on B-flat, this time from a strong dominant harmony.

How are phrases related to one another, especially in terms of the melodic material?

The melodic line of mm. 1-2 reappears, transposed, in mm. 9-10, the first phrase of the second section. The rising scales of mm. 3-4 are also echoed in mm. 12-13, though with an interesting difference: Whereas in mm. 3-4 the first and third beats outline a stepwise descent from F to C, in mm. 12-13 the corresponding tones create a primarily rising line, outlining C-D-E-flat-D (Example 7). (The harmonic support changes along with the melodic change, and the 7-6 suspensions of mm. 3-4 are replaced by an underlying 5-6-5-6 contrapuntal pattern in mm. 12-13.)

Example 7

We can now expand our original brief formal sketch into a more comprehensive diagram. Figure 1 summarizes the formal and harmonic plan of the movement.

By beginning early, with simple, transparent examples, and persistently incorporating analytical activities into different aspects of the theory and musicianship course, you can help students achieve a high level of analytical proficiency in a relatively short time. It is hoped that students will come to appreciate both the practical benefits of analysis and the intellectual and musical pleasure that a deeper understanding of music can yield.