What is Form in Music?

What is Form in Music? What is Form in Music?

Music isn't always predictable, but that doesn't mean that it can be analyzed. In fact, many pieces, whether they were written in the classical period or modern times may be more closely related than you think. The same sorts of song structures show up time and time again through a concept called "form".

Forms in music define how we organize, create, and build anything from a classical composition to a bubbly pop song. Below, we'll explore different types of musical forms so that you can classify anything you hear on the radio and beyond.

Understanding Music Form

Musical form helps us recognize common structures in compositions, broken down by melody and rhythmic pattern. Identifying similar sections can help us understand what makes a song specific form memorable or special. As you'll note while we work through the various type of musical forms, certain forms have been born out of certain genres of music, or lend themselves to a specific thematic material while others are more broad.

Musical Form Notation

Song structure and form are defined by the number of unique sections present. The first section is labeled as "A", the second as "B", so on and so forth. When a section is repeated, the same letter comes up again. For instance, let's say a song has verse sectional forms labeled as "A", and choruses labeled as "B".
If the song has a verse, chorus, followed by a verse and another chorus, it could be written as ABAB. Note that in the case of the verse, the musical form is still considered the same even though the lyrics may vary. Forms are typically defined by melody, cadence, and length - not everything needs to be exactly the same to classify under the same section. So long as lyrics of a song are structured with the same melody, rhyme scheme, and pacing, they may be categorized under the same section.

3 Sectional Forms

Different musicians may classify forms into various categories, sectional being one example. Sectional forms are defined by how many distinct sections they have. Distinct sections of music may share the same melody and general structure and can be clearly picked apart when put against other sections within the same piece of music.

Strophic Form

Strophic form is arguably the most simple form of music since it only consists of one section. You might see strophic form written as "AA" since the same melodic ideas are repeated without too much contrast or variation to the material. For instance, the classic song Amazing Grace falls under this distinction. Most songs with strophic form also lie within the folk song or hymn category.

Binary Form or Simple Form

Binary form has two distinct sections, or "AB". The AB or binary form is built on contrasting material that shares similar themes. For instance, lots of baroque music and minuets are made in binary form, having a strong, two-act structure.

Ternary Form

The ternary form has three acts, with two "A" sections and one "B" sections creating a pattern of "ABA". You can hear this pattern in some pop music, alongside folk songs and classical music.

8 Other Music Form Variations

Forms can be classified in several different ways. While strophic, binary, and ternary form may help classify songs based on their number of sections, other forms can be a bit more complex to classify:

Rondo Form

Rondo form is defined by a repeating theme, with contrasting sections in between. It could be thought of as a song or composition with a distinct "chorus". For instance, a common rondo form might be ABACADA, with the "A" marking the one repeated section.

Through-Composed Form, Medley Form, or Chain Form

The through composed form takes a single melodic idea, and builds on top of it, introducing new sections with added unique melodies. New through-composed melodies are often in harmonic progressions. Most through composed pieces may have a fairly stable rhythmic pattern to help build a strong foundation for additional melodies.

Radiohead's Paranoid Android may be considered a loose example of modern through composed pieces:

Theme and Variation Form

Theme and variational form takes one central idea, and then creates slight modifications to that premise weaving in and out from the original and modified ideas. You might have heard this unique form in Charles Ives' Variations on America:


The arch form in music is named after the shape of repetition created by a composition, with a rising and falling action leading back to a familiar expression. For instance, the form ABCBA has an arch form, with the apex at section "C" followed by the familiar "B" and "A" expressions in reverse order.

Sonata Form, First Movement Form, or Sonata Allegro Form

The sonata form, also known as the first movement form, is a form in which the structure of the music is based on the thematic material, broken down into the exposition section, development section, and recapitulation section. It should be noted that between the exposition and development section, the chordal transition often results in perfect authentic cadence. Sonata form often incorporates a coda in the final recapitulation act as well.

You may recognize some of these sections across classical music, like in Sonata in G Major by Franz Joseph Haydn:

12 Bar Blues

As the name suggests, the 12 bar blues form is a pattern used in blues music that consists of 12 measures. To create this form, you play the one chord for four measures, the four chord for two measures, the one chord for two measures, the five chord for one measure, and finally the five chord on the last measure. The 12 bar blues is oftentimes performed on the guitar:

Verse-Chorus Form

Verse chorus form is one of the most commonly used song forms in modern music, and is often used as a beginner's songwriting template . As the name suggests, this form has a verse and chorus, followed by another verse and chorus or ABAB. In this way, it could be considered a binary form that repeats itself, but it's worth mentioning on its own for the sheer popularity of the phrase alone.


Fugues are a specific form in music that relies upon contrapuntal voices, or two or more voices that interact with one another. They can be written for a single instrument or several, with complex melodies and textures that often create a feeling of tension or dissonance. A great example is the intro to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance music video has the following adapted fugue playing:

Musical Form FAQs

Most musical forms originated during the classical period, but they continue to develop today. These commonly asked questions and answers can help expand your understanding as a listener:

What is simple binary form in music?

Simple binary form in music has two sections, distinguished by "A" and "B". It might also be referred to as "simple form" or "binary form" and can be any piece of music that has two distinct sections. This sectional form could consist of pieces in AABB or ABAB patterns, for example.

What are the 7 types of musical forms?

Depending on who your ask there are seven or more forms of musical form. The most commonly referenced musical forms are ternary form, binary form, sonata form, rondo form, verse-chorus form, theme and variation form, and fugue form.

What is a form of music?

A form refers to a specific structure or organization of a piece of music. Each form has its own specific structure that repeats itself across different types of music.

What are the four types of musical forms?

Some of the most classic types of musical form include strophic form, ternary form, binary form, and through composed form.

One particular form isn't more or less effective than another. Hopefully, this guide made it easy for you to understand the most common musical forms used in classical music and beyond. Put this mini music theory lesson to good use and start experimenting with different song forms!

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