Search this website:

This web page location:

home page  >   Music and Dance  >   Musical Form

Music and Dance

Musical Form

Little Lamb, anticipation, repetition, halves, remembrance

Deeper web pages:

>  Common Formal Patterns

>  Principles and Elements

Musical Form, the orderly arrangement of musical elements in time. Because music takes place in time, its form unfolds in time. Repetition and contrast are the two fundamental characteristics of musical form, even in simple pieces such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (the two halves of which begin identically but end differently).

In music, repetition arouses in the listener both a remembrance of what was heard and an anticipation of what is to come. This is true both of recognizable details and also of subtler patterns that are only subliminally recognized. Also, every musical system has conventions that are explicitly or implicitly understood by listeners, and these conventions have an effect on the interpretation of what is heard, remembered, and anticipated.


Lester, Joel, Ph.D.

Professor and Director, DMA Program, City College of the City University of New York. Violinist, Da Capo Chamber Players. Author of "Harmony in Tonal Music", "Overlapping Models and Keys", and "Approaches to Twentieth-Century Music".

Article key phrases:

Little Lamb, anticipation, repetition, halves, remembrance, listeners, time, effect, interpretation, contrast, place, Mary, conventions, end

Search this website: