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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - Analysing Music

Being able to analyse music is a key part to any exam. In this blog I’ll give some tips on how to analyse music when you’re listening to it as well as looking at the score.


The important thing is to listen actively. To do this you need to be able to focus on one element, however, if you’re only getting to listen to the piece a specific number of times divide the number of elements by that number. Using DRSMITH is really useful for this exercise and I’ll recap this method in the next blog.

By all means list the musical elements (for example stating the key, the range of the melody, the meter, the tempo), but it is important that in an analysis question you explain why they are important. In other words, how do they contribute to the music, experience, purpose etc..

It is very likely that you will be listening to music that you don’t like. In fact, it is highly likely that a lot of your set pieces you won’t like, they won’t be your usual listening choice. However, it’s more about being able to understand what’s happening within the music rather than liking it. If you’re studying music I believe it is important to broaden your musical horizons and sample music from a diverse range of genres. Keep in mind that without the music from days gone by, we wouldn’t have the music we have now! If you can respect the music and appreciate its significance, you’ll go a long way.

Analysing A Score

Looking at a score and seeing what is happening is a really useful skill to have. You don’t need to be able to hear the music to understand what’s going on (though of course hearing it helps immensely).

Things to look at:

Title & Composer

The title can sometimes give a lot of clues, however, music from Baroque through to Romantic didn’t always give descriptive titles such as “Sunset In The Mojave” preferring to just use “Allegro in C”. The titles will go some way to giving you an indication as to what the possible mood is going to be and even “Allegro in C” gives you some idea.

Looking at the composer will give you an indication of the period the piece was written in. This can be important so that an understanding of the style of music can be gained - within the context of the period. However, even if a piece is written in the Baroque period, it doesn’t mean it has to be played in a Baroque style!

Key & Time Signatures

These will give you indicators as to the rhythmic structure and possible mood of the piece.


Look for chords, progressions, modulations.


Look at rhythmic patterns, note durations, rests, accents, syncopation, irregular beats. Are there any augmented rhythms? Are there any diminutive rhythms?


Sudden? Gradual?


How is the melody distributed? Homophony, polyphony…etc.

Articulation & Phrasing

How long are the phrases? Are they equal in length? Does the composer use staccato or legato?


Ornamentation was prevalent in the Baroque era, but is still used today. Is there any in the piece? What is their role?


What has the piece been written for? Is there any change in instrumentation?


What structure does the piece take? Is it binary, ternary, through composed, strophic, verse/chorus etc.?

Expression Marks

Is there any pedalling in the piano part? Are their any tempo changes?

It is important to note that the composer will rarely give all the information. It is up to the performer to interpret the music as they see fit - but they need to have somewhere to start so the composer will give the intentions. In your analysis you’re looking at what the composer may have been intending with the writing of the music, rather than how you would interpret it (unless you’re specifically asked to state how you would perform it (and why you would!))

In the next blog I’ll go over DRSMITH.

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