III. Form

This section introduces students to the basics of form in Western classical music. It begins by examining phrase-level form, primarily using terms from William Caplin (1998), before moving to composition-level form.


While this section assumes some familiarity with the topics covered in Diatonic Harmony, Tonicization, and Modulation, it is not essential to have completed a thorough study of that section in order to use this section. It would be easy to mix study of phrase-level forms in section III with the diatonic portion of section IV. It may be best to leave composition-level form until after tonicization and modulation have been studied.


The first chapter introduces some basic concepts necessary to study phrases, including formal hierarchy, motivic analysis, and the idea level.

The next chapter properly introduces the phrase, periods and sentences. After that, hybrid forms are introduced, followed by expansion and contraction. It is possible to skip hybrid forms and study only expansion and contraction.

The group of chapters on large-scale form begins with a framing chapter on formal sections in general. This is followed by chapters on common forms such as binary, ternary, sonata, and rondo.

Further Reading

Caplin, William E. 1998. Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. New York: Oxford University Press.


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OPEN MUSIC THEORY Copyright © 2023 by Mark Gotham; Kyle Gullings; Chelsey Hamm; Bryn Hughes; Brian Jarvis; Megan Lavengood; and John Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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