Musical Form 101: What Is It & What Are The Different Types Of Forms?

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Have you been asking yourself, “what is form in music?” If so, then you’ve come to the right place. There are rules when it comes to composing music. The notion that you can just walk in and put together a song without prior knowledge won’t get you far. There are multiple forms of music. The more you are able to study the different forms of music, the more likely you are to effectively put them into practice. It’s just like learning a new language and abiding by the proper guidelines. Let’s take a look at what is form in music exactly.

What Is Musical Form?

For musical composition, form refers to the overall construction. There are certain things to look after when composing music. For example, there is the melody, rhythm, and harmony. One of the most important first steps is to know what musical form is.

Musical form is the structure of a musical piece or set of pieces. It starts with some building blocks.

The basic building blocks of musical form are measures. Measures, or bars, are a set of a few musical notes. The number depends on the time signature of the musical arrangement.

A few measures together create a phrase that can be melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic.

Putting a few phrases together makes a passage. A passage is similar to a paragraph or a page in a book.

The four singing lines in a chorus could each be considered a passage. There is the whole piece to a song as well. The number of passages depends on the length of the track.

The next level of musical form is the movement of the musical piece which is comprised of multiple passages put together. A movement is similar to a chapter in a book.

Finally, multiple movements make an overall piece of music or album. In classical music, several movements could make up a piece of music. In modern music, movements can be thought of as songs on an album.

Different Types Of Musical Forms

As mentioned, many different musical forms exist. Below we’ll review the different types of musical forms.

Binary Form

Binary form means that the piece of music has two sections are approximately the same length and of relatively equal importance. Greensleeves is a popular piece of music that uses Binary Form.

Strophic Form

Strophic Form is when a single passage repeats. This is often used during the chorus. It also lacks variation.

Rondo Form

We also have Rondo Form, which begins with the main passage and then repeats into episodes.

Variation Form

The Variation Form is obviously quite different from the Strophic Form.

Ternary Form

The Ternary Form is found in a piece that has been split into three parts.

Medley Form

Then we have the Medley Form where every new passage and/or phrase is different than the rest of the passages in the piece.

Through-Composed Form

Through-Composed Form is similar to Medley Form.

Sonata Form

Sonata Form is unique because there isn’t a letter structure attached to it. The exposition, development, and recapitulation make up the three parts of Sonata Form is in the same category as Medley Form with the A B C D formation.

12 Bar Blues

Finally, there’s 12 Bar Blues, which as the name implies is mostly used by Jazz and Blues musicians. It’s called 12 Bar Blues because the Blues Form is typically done over 12 bars. The ABACBA flow is followed here.

Renowned musicians such as Wynton Marsalis Septet specialize in Blues songs. There are also eight bar and 16 Bar Blues Forms.

In Closing

Ultimately, form in music boils down to organizing the structure. Much like paragraphs in an article, it is the glue that keeps the songs together. It’s really no different than a set of guidelines at your job or a house needing the right foundation. If you don’t have any type of structure with your music, then you’re just playing aimlessly and there is no rhyme or reason to the music. If you keep this in mind, then you’ll be well on your way to creating a song the way it was meant to be made.


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