How To Analyze Musical Compositions (Full Guide)

The ability to analyze music can help you have a deeper understanding into musical compositions. A lot goes into making music, it goes beyond thought process because music doesn’t necessarily follow a specific route when it is composed.

There are some general rules that exist but they usually fall by the way side when the creator simply wants to create from imagination as much as possible.

Deconstructing and looking at all the pieces and parts that make up the music is what may be termed as musical analysis, it is very vital for your growth as a musician.

This post will get into, a variety of ways in which you can analyze music for different purposes. Keep reading on as these various ways will be discussed.

Understanding Structure

The most vital thing when comes to the analysis of musical compositions is to first understand the overall structure of music.

Once you have this understanding, you basically have a reference for your analysis.

The core elements with regard to structure that you need to grasp are basically; Contrast, Repetition and Continuity.

Contrast

Contrast in musical form is simply the difference between instruments or parts. There are basically three types of contracts which are rhythmic, melodic and harmonic.

Rhythmic contrast is basically any form of movement characterized by regulated succession of the weaker and stronger elements or of basically different conditions.

Melodic succession is basically the movement of the linear succession of notes.

Harmonic contrast is simply to have a change in keys, chords or cadence.

Repetition

Repetition is sometimes referred to as restatement which is pretty self explanatory as it relates to sounds or sequences repeated.

You’ll find that certain genres tend to use and encompass a lot of repetition than others, therefore you have take this into consideration when looking into composition analysis.

Continuity

The continuity ability of music is its ability to flow from the introduction to its finishing.

Music is a journey with continuity.

Once you have an understanding contrast, repetition and continuity you can then move on and understand the various pieces that consistute what we call a song.

Song structure

It is also important to have a good understanding of how songs are meant to be structured because this is going to be your guiding principle as you approach musical compositions for analysis.

The basic elements that are key to a songs structure are the Introduction, Verse, Chorus/refrain and bridge.

Introduction

The introduction is simply the beginning, it gives a partial display of what is to be expected within the song.

Introductions are usually very short and utilize fewer instruments that paint a picture of what is to be particularly expected.

It’s worthy to note that; not all songs have introductions, some simply start by possibly flowing directly into a verse or a chorus.

Verse

The verse part is what tells the full the story with the lyrics, the song is basically given meaning by the person performing the lyrics.

With compositions that don’t have a vocal performer, there will still be parts with fewer instruments that tend to be much calmer than the chorus parts. These will be the verse sections but just be careful not to confuse the verses with the bridge because they could be quite similar in some cases.

Chorus

A chorus is quite easily recognizable because it can be distinguished due to the fact that it is usually the most climaxing part of a song.

The general idea that people have when creating the chorus is to make it a hook which means giving it enough meaning so it basically becomes the theme of the whole song.

Bridge

The bridge is another interesting part of song compositions.

A bridge simply acts as the contrasting part of the song that prepares for the return of the original theme which is usually a chorus or any other original material section.

How you can analyze musical compositions

Now that we have basic knowledge of what makes up the structure of compositions and songs we can now employ our various techniques to analyze music.

Below are my favourite ways in which I go about analysing music and I hope they provide much value to you.

Active Listening

There are basically two types of listening which are Passive Listening and Active Listening.

Passive listening happens when a listener is simply listening to music without really paying attention to the elements of a song with that much depth and intent.

Active listening on the other hand is when you listen to a song or composition with the intent to get a good understanding of the interaction between elements to a song. In short, active listening is intentional listening usually done to understand certain element or elements.

As a music producer, whenever I find an interesting song, I pay attention to it by listening to it actively just to get a good grasp of what is going on in the record.

I do this because I believe we have a lot to learn from every song we listen to as producers.

Melody

The melody is simply the tune of a composition and will usually be created to give definition to the theme of the entire composition.

Melodies are usually repetitive and will usually rope the listener in.

Learning how to catch the melodies of compositions can help you analyse music better.

Harmonies

Harmonies make the individual chords aswell as the general chords through out the composition.

You need to look for the harmonies because They’ll give you a better idea of the key, mood and overall direction of a composition.

Careful listening will help you easily spot these when carrying out your analysis.

Rhythm

You also have to catch the rhythm of the composition which is usually the groove.

The rhythm should be able to indicate to you the genre of the song aswell as other details that can help you carry out your musical analysis better.

Overall structure

As somebody that is carrying out a full analysis of the composition you need to also have a good understanding of the overall structure of the song.

What meaning does it give?

What is the composer trying to do for the listener?

These are questions that you need to ask yourself because they’ll give you a better understanding of how to go about the analysis.

For example a composition meant to be a score for a movie will usually have a very unique structure which means you’ll judge it as a film composition because that is what it is.

Knowing what you’re listening to will let you be the judge of the structure.

Texture

When analyzing musical compositions you have to pay attention to the texture of a composition as well.

What I’m referring here is simply the various layers that are being combined to complete the composition.

You’ll usually get a sense of this if you have access to the session files or stems of the composition because you can easily solo out layers separately to get a good feel of what is actually going on within the composition.

Timbre

The timbre of the composition is something that has to be closely monitored if you’re looking to analyse a composition.

Timbre is simply the quality of the sounds that are used in the composition. You’ll need to pay attention here because the combination of instruments and their quality will tell you a lot about a composition.

Most Record labels that look to sign producers will usually pay attention to the quality of a producers sound selection and to the quality of the sounds themselves.

Because the type of sounds a person chooses to use in a composition will say a lot about their skill level, expertise and general style.

Flow

One other thing that you have to pay attention to with regard to the structure of a composition is the general flow.

A musical composition is meant to be a journey that is supposed to take a listener to the destination which is simply the understanding of the song and the pleasure that comes with it.

You’ll need to get a good grasp of the flow within a composition and judge whether all pieces and elements are able to operate together to provide the journey for the listener.

This will speak a lot to the composers thought process and general style of delivery.

Mix

When analysing music, another thing that is very cardinal to your final judgement of the composition will be the quality of the mix.

This takes a very experienced ear because being able to catch production quality errors within music takes a lot of ear training.

You should understand the genre, mood, and flow of the song when judging the mix. This will help you make a better judgement of the overall quality of the mix.

Single elements

An effective way of carrying out good musical analysis is by singling elements are judging them individually and collectively.

You can easily do this when you have access to the stems of the composition or simply the session files. If you don’t, then you have to single out elements by ear and be able to analyze how well they blend together with other elements.

This is a good way of understanding a mix better and bringing some awareness to the individual elements making up the full composition.

Sonic Qualities

Sonic qualities are very important to take note of because they’ll let you judge whether a song or composition is easy to listen to.

The best compositions are clean, with every intentional element making it’s way into and through the mix.

You have to pay attention to the overall sonic dynamics being exhibited by the composition when you’re looking to have a good basis of analysis.

Section per section

Lastly, paying attention to each section and analysing it individually is very important and will allow you to take note of everything going on within a mix.

Furthermore, deep analysis of the sections will give you a good indication of the intent behind the sections when you start to judge them wholly.

Going section by section is a good way to analyze long compositions because analyzing the whole thing at once can easily have you miss a lot of key things that you would otherwise capture.