What is the best approach to analysing an extract?

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A listening exam is daunting. There is not a lot of time to analyse an extract, so you need to find the quickest and most efficient way to gain marks. There are many different ways to approach an extract, and you have to find a way that best suits you. I believe the first thing you need to do is pick up on clues as to which musical period the extract belongs to. By doing this, you are already searching for the features the examiners are looking for: context, instrumentation, texture, harmony, melody, function, etc. 

Instead of starting from scratch, you use all you know about each musical period to aid in your analysis. Ask yourself: what is characteristic of that period? For example, let’s look at the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony no. 29 in A major.

Examples of what you can say (not a complete analysis):

Structure

Tempo: Allegro moderato

=> could be the first movement of a symphony

=> so it could be in sonata form 

       -> mention exposition, first subject (tonic), transition (modulation), second subject (subordinate key: usually dominant, could be subdominant, relative major if in the minor key (but irrelevant as it is clearly in a major key))

Harmony: Functional, diatonic

=> Essential for music of the classical era: the musical tension created by the modulation from the tonic to the dominant, and the need to relieve this tension by a return of the tonic

=> clear identifiable cadences (identify the cadences)

Melody

=> clear cut phrases

=> musical focus is on the melody (characteristic of the classical style)

Texture:

What is expected in a classical piece: homophony (melody with accompaniment)

=> starts out homophonic with chorale like accompaniment in the rest of the strings

=> SALIENT: moves to polyphonic/fugato texture. Texture shift could signify a structural shift: first subject to transition.

Context:

=> court music

=> classical period = rise in instrumental music

         -> the emergence and popularity of the symphony

I used important features of the classical era to help me in my analysis. This is particularly useful if you get stuck in the middle of your analysis. If you do this for every musical era, you will always find something to say. 

Maria Mariana  A. GCSE Music tutor, A Level Music tutor, IB Music tutor

About the author

is an online A Level Music tutor with MyTutor studying at Durham University

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