If you think the term, musical form, refers to:

  • A school choir.
  • A bench for tired tuba players to sit on.
  • The shape of Sydney Opera House.
  • A violinist's criminal record.

Then think again because the correct answer is none of the above.

Musical form means musical structure. Musical form refers to the shape of a piece of music.

Form is structure not process. Form does not tell you how to write music or tell you why you should write this way and not that way. Nor does it help generate musical ideas or help create variants. Instead, form is a way of arranging and rearranging a complete piece of music into a coherent whole. Form views a piece of music as a single entity instead of a collection of individual bits.

The form of a piece of music can be decided at any stage in the composition process. A piece of music can be structured at the start before putting pen to paper to give a clear idea of where you are heading. It can be decided sometime later during the composition process when there is more material to work with. It can be left to the end when all the individual elements are assembled into a whole. Form is used whenever you feel that a clear goal is necessary for your music.

The section starts by considering if there is a fundamental element in music. Then it looks at an element of form, the section, summarises the common types of form and ends with some thoughts on the limit of form.