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Western classical music

Key periods
Early period (Medieval and Renaissance)
The Medieval period includes music from after the fall of Rome to about 1400. Monophonic
chant, also called plainsong or Gregorian chant, was the dominant form until about 1100.
Polyphonic (multi-voiced) music developed from monophonic chant throughout the late Middle
Ages and into the Renaissance, including the more complex voicing of motets. The Renaissance
period was from 1400 to 1600. It was characterized by greater use of instrumentation, multiple
interweaving melodic lines, and the use of the first bass instruments. Social dancing became
more widespread, so musical forms appropriate to accompanying dance began to standardize.
It is in this time that the notation of music on a staff and other elements of musical notation
began to take shape. This invention made possible the separation of the composition of a piece of
music from its transmission; without written music, transmission was oral, and subject to change
every time it was transmitted. With a musical score, a work of music could be performed without
the composer's presence. The invention of the movable-type printing press in the 15th century
had far-reaching consequences on the preservation and transmission of music.
Common practice period: The common practice period is when many of the ideas that make up
western classical music took shape, standardized, or were codified.
Baroque period: from 1600 to 1750, J.S. Bach
Baroque music is characterized by the use of complex tonal counterpoint and the use of a basso
continuo, a continuous bass line. Music became more complex in comparison with the songs of
earlier periods. The beginnings of the sonata form took shape. The tonalities of major and minor
as means for managing dissonance and chromaticism in music took full shape.
During the Baroque era, keyboard music played on the harpsichord and pipe organ became
increasingly popular, and the violin family of stringed instruments took the form generally seen
today. Opera as a staged musical drama began to differentiate itself from earlier musical and
dramatic forms, Vocalists began adding embellishments to melodies. Instrumental ensembles
began to distinguish and standardize by size, giving rise to the early orchestra for larger
ensembles, with chamber music being written for smaller groups of instruments where parts are
played by individual (instead of massed) instruments.
Classical period: 1750 to 1820, Mozart, Beethoven

The Classical period, from about 1750 to 1820, established many of the norms of composition,
presentation, and style, and was also when the piano became the predominant keyboard
instrument. The basic forces required for an orchestra became somewhat standardized. Chamber
music grew to include ensembles with as many as 8 to 10 performers for serenades. Opera
continued to develop, with regional styles in Italy, France, and German-speaking lands.. The
symphony came into its own as a musical form, and the concerto was developed as a vehicle for
displays of virtuoso playing skill.
Romantic period: first decade of nineteenth to mid 20th century, Chopin
The music of the Romantic era, from roughly the first decade of the 19th century to the middle
20th century, was characterized by increased attention to an extended melodic line, as well as
expressive and emotional elements. The music became more chromatic, dissonant, and tonally
colorful, with tensions.

Elements of Music

A sequence of single notes

The main, most prominent line or voice in a piece of music
The line that the listener follows most closely.
When accompanied, the melody is often the highest line in the piece and stands out
Melody is often the most memorable aspect of a piece
Melody Contour: Shape of a melody, pointed, smooth etc.
Range: Distance between the lowest smooth note and highest note.
Phrasing: the length of a melody, normally related to human taking a breath


Pulse, beat, time signature, bar, tempo,

Syncopation: use of accent in week beats or between beats creating tension


is the relationships between the different lines (instruments) within a piece.

Texture can be thick or thin
Homophonic: Melody with accompanying chords (harmony)
Monophonic: One solo line, may have multiple instruments but all in unison
Polyphonic: Music with independent lines playing simultaneously.


Follows the proportional relationships used by Pythagoras

Harmony is derived from tonality
Scales: major, minor
Modes: Ionian, dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Aeolian


Chords derived from tonality

Multiple melodic phrases in harmonic relations

Cadences: perfect, plagal, imperfect, interrupted


Forte: loud
Piano: soft
Terraced dynamics: blocks of loud and soft music with movement between
Crescendo: from soft to gradually loud
Decrescendo/ diminuendo: from loud to gradually soft


Range: how high or low an instrument/ voice can play

Technique: skills of a player or singer
Attack: beginning of a sound
Decay: ending of a sound
Envelop: The entire sound consisting or attack through to decay
Idiomatic: capabilities of an instrument, special features


How the music is arranged into different parts

A few established forms are sonata AB C AB, through composition ABCDE, strophic
(Verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus/chorus), Rondo ABACADAE, 12 bar
blues AAB AAB,