Working with Sonata Form



All ideas should be written with the same time signature (with either 2- or 3- or 4-beat feel – not a mixture) and the same basic tempo. Whenever you have worked out any of these exercises well, play them into the computer, each to a new track or pattern (ask for advice, if you are not sure).

1. Create a short fanfare-like phrase of a few (2-4) bars’ duration. It should be intended to be played in unison (i.e. without any chords in the accompaniment) . It will work best if the notes of the I chord (maybe also those of the V chord) in C major are firmly emphasised.

2. Create a more lyrical (or melodic) melody in C major (which later will be accompanied). It should last 6 or 8 bars and finish on the note C. (Remember the work you have done on question-and-answer phrases and sequence.)

3. Create a more powerful melody of 4 or 8 bar’s duration, perhaps using sharp rhythmic ideas. Start and finish this on a C. (Using short sets of repeated notes might help you to build this melody.)

4. Invent a short musical idea (not really a melody) – maybe an adapted scale starting on C. It should last no more than 2 bars and you should be able to repeat it several times in SEQUENCE (starting each repeat on a higher or lower note) until a note of a D7 chord (D, F-sharp, A or C) is finally reached. The whole passage should not be more than 8 bars long. (In the sequences you might find the addition of some sharpened notes / black keys advantageous.)

In the same way that the musical ideas you developed in sections 1-3 made a contrasting and complementary collection of themes, so too you should try to obtain similar variety and balance in the ideas developed in sections 5-7.

5. Make up a 4-bar tune in G major (remember this means no more Fs, but F#s!), The first bar should particularly emphasise the notes of the I (G-B-D) chord and the second bar, using the same rhythm as bar 1, emphasizes the notes of the V (D-F#-A-C) chord. Continue as you wish, but finish in the middle of the 4th bar on a note of the V (D-F#-A-C) chord. (You will probably feel that the melody sounds incomplete, wanting to continue in the way it started. This is fine!)

6. Write a similar simple melody of 4 bars. It should again make use of the notes of the I (or G) chord in bar 1 but now to a different rhythm. In the 2nd bar it should emphasise the IV (C-E-G) chord instead of the V chord. This time it should end on a G at the start of the 4th bar.

7. Write in G major a bass theme, which seems to be full of strength. It should start on G and also finish on a G at the beginning of the third bar. Also, if you emphasise the note D, it will help to create a sense of strength. On all accounts, use a D before your final G.

Recording with the computer

To record to a computer make sure that you have sequencing software installed and the computer linked to a MIDI-keyboard. When you click on the “record” button in the sequencing programme, you should hear a percussive metronome click. To adjust the click to your music find the tempo and the time signature boxes and alter the values until a click beat which suits what you have in mind for sections 1-7 above has been found.

When you now click on the “stop” icon. You will notice that a “track” has been created, probably called “OK’ or “MIDI 1″. Click on this to highlight it and press the “backspace” key to delete this track. (If later you want to delete a track, use this method too.) Now click “record” again and, after one or two introductory bars of metronome click, play your Fanfare (Ex. 1). Click “stop” twice and then “play” to hear your recording. If it is bad, use “backspace” to delete it and record it again. If it quite good, but not perfect, ask your teacher to “quantize” the track to improve the timing.

Your teacher can also show you how to edit out or to correct wrong notes. Click to the left of the track strip you have recorded to “mute” the track. You won’t hear it now if you click on “play”.

Now highlight the track strip below the one you have already recorded. You can now record the lyrical tune (Ex. 2) without hearing the fanfare (Ex. 1). Follow the same method until you have created seven tracks corresponding to the seven exercises of Part I. Now you must name each track. Double-click on each “OK” or “MIDI 1″ etc to open a box in which you can type a sensible name for the track. Now “un-mute” all the recorded tracks by clicking again where you clicked to mute them.

To make one long, continuous piece from these seven elements your teacher will need to show you how to move and copy the tracks. It is simple, but varies according to the software you are using. Arrange your tracks in the order given in Part 2. Print-outs at all stages can be very helpful to you.


Link together the musical material developed in Part 1 using the following model. Because sections repeat they become more memorable and the results should be more and more satisfying the further you progress in structuring the music.

N.B. The text in italics is to help you develop the full sonority of a piece for piano. Develop this once you have completed the linking as shown in normal script. Your teacher will help you to choose chords for the accompaniment if you are not sure.

  • Fanfare (Ex. 1) Bass the same as melody – i.e. in unison.
  • Lyrical (Ex. 2) Accompaniment to be developed.
  • Fanfare (Ex. 1) Bass the same as melody – i.e. in unison.
  • Lyrical (Ex. 2) Accompaniment as before. An octave higher/ lower than before.
  • Powerful (Ex. 3) Accompaniment to be developed.
  • Powerful (Ex. 3) Accompaniment as before. An octave higher/ lower than before?

Sequence (Ex. 4) Accompaniment to be developed. Perhaps adding a creative extension on D7 notes might be added.

  • I – V G major (Ex. 5) Accompaniment follows the chord scheme of melody (see Part 1)
  • I – V G major (Ex. 5) Accompaniment as before. An octave higher/ lower than before?
  • I – IV G major (Ex. 6) Accompaniment follows chord scheme of melody (see Part 1)
  • I – IV G major (Ex. 6) Accompaniment as before. An octave higher/ lower than before?
  • Strong bass (Ex. 7) Add chords in right hand
  • Strong bass (Ex. 7) With the same chords as above. An octave lower than before? Add 3 or 4 additional G major chords for a strong conclusion.

As you link ideas together, you will often find that, if you cut off the last note or two of a phrase, it will help you to go more fluently into the next phrase. Do not hesitate to make little changes like this in the interest of fluency.

©John Mason