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GUIDELINES FOR (STYLE ) ANALYSIS

Music involves many different elements, each of which plays a role in shaping a style and/or an individual piece. In any particular case, some elements will be more important than others, and will therefore receive more attention in analytical discussions, but the careful musician will not want to overlook any of them. A systematic approach is needed, and many taxonomies have been developed to aid in covering the diverse elements of music in an orderly fashion. LaRues SHMRG, summarized below, is commonly used.1 Sound includes such things as medium (vocal, instrumental, etc.), timbre, and, perhaps most importantly, texture: is it polyphonic, homophonic, or monophonic, or does it change from section to section? In some cases, the question of texture may be very difficult, so that the traditional terms may not apply very well; that in itself would be a useful observation. Harmony covers not only the chords themselves (if there are any), but also such general questions as tonality, scale resources, functionality, polychords, polytonality, etc. General observations about the harmonies themselves (tertian, quartal, tertian with added notes, etc.) should be followed up with investigation of voice-leading (e.g., planing?) and the use of dissonance (how is it used? does it resolve? how?). Melody shares some features with Harmony (tonality, etc.). This should suggest such things as scale resources, at least; notice might also be taken of the range of the melody, and the use of stepwise motion versus (wide) leaps. Melodic organization merges with formal considerationssee under Growth. Rhythm includes also meter. Such features as irregular, changing, and composite meters, as well as polyrhythms and polymeters ought to be observed. The absence of meter is also an observation worth making. Growth refers to the way in which the piece develops though time. This includes form at all levels, from motives and phrase structure to the shape of the whole piece. Form diagrams are useful for expressing the results, but attention also should be paid to form as process.

Beyond these musical features, it is sometimes useful to consider extra-musical elements, such as a story line (as in a tone poem) or text (in vocal music).

Jan LaRue, Guidelines for Style Analysis, 2nd ed. (Warren, MI: Harmonie Park Press, 1992).