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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - Music Periods - Baroque 2 & DR SMITH

In the previous blog I wrote about the Baroque period in general. In this blog I’ll go into some more detail about the style of Baroque music.

Sounds Good

Being able to identify key features of a period is very important in music and fortunately the Baroque period is fairly easy to spot. Here are some of the things you need to listen out for (I’ll use the DR SMITH model for this)*:

Dynamics. The instruments of the Baroque period were quite limited with what they could do. For example the harpsichord could either play loud or soft, but it couldn’t make any gradual changes. Therefore the dynamics of the period would tend to be quite sudden going from loud to soft, or soft to loud. This is called terraced dynamics. Composers would also employ terraced dynamics, especially when a phrase was being repeated; for example, the first time you hear the phrase it would be loud, the second time would be like an echo and be played softer.

Rhythm: A lot of the music had a continuous rhythmic drive with very few breaks.

Structure: I’ll go into a lot more detail about structure in the next blog, but for now I’ll just say they used concerti grossi, binary and ternary form, theme and variation, and ground bass/basso continuo.

Melody: The melodies within the Baroque period are built from motifs (small pieces of music). This makes the music quite repetitive. A single melodic idea was repeated, and sometimes modified.

Mood: (Not a usual DRSMITH entry but worth mentioning) Baroque music had one mood throughout an entire piece (or movement).

Instrumentation: Strings played the main role especially since the development of the violin. The harpsichord and organ were the main keyboard instruments used (in fact if you hear a harpsichord it’s very like (not always though) to be Baroque music. If you hear a clarinet…IT’S NOT BAROQUE. Woodwinds used in the period were recorder, flute, oboe, and bassoon. Trumpets and horns were used but as they didn’t have valves they could only play a limited range (number) of notes.

Texture: The main textures used were homophonic and polyphonic.

Tonality: The Baroque period started to use major and minor keys (that our modern ears are now used to). Earlier periods of music used modes. In addition to this composer would start to modulate between keys to make their music more interesting.

Harmony: The harmonies in the Baroque period were fairly simple with a narrow range of chords.

*DRSMITH - A nemonic used to help you remember different elements of music. Each letter can have more than one thing to talk about.

D - Dynamics - Volume of the music

Duration - lengths of notes (beats each note is worth)

R - Rhythm - The beat, or effect, created by combining notes of different durations. Words like syncopated or driving can be used to describe rhythm. You can also use swung, irregular, dotted…

S - Structure - How the music is planned (ABA, AABBCA) etc.

M - Melody - The tune…is it conjunct, disjunct, scalic.

Metre - The time signature of a piece.

I - Instrumentation - What instruments are used? Is it a wind band, an orchestra, a string quartet…?

T - Texture - This is how you describe the way the music weaves together. Homophonic, Polyhonic, Heterophonic, Monophonic…

Tempo - How fast is the music? Does it change?

Timbre - What is the tonal quality of the music? Bright, mellow, brassy, woody, breathy…

Tonality - Is it major, minor, modal? Is it discordant (atonal)?

H - Harmony - How are the notes combined to build up chords?

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