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Topic: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

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  1. #1

    Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    Hello everyone,

    While having dissected several pieces written by masters like Mozart, Strauss or Offenbach, I have noticed one common point.

    For example, Mozart's horn concerto #1 has motifs written on 8 measures in 6/8. Strauss's marches, polkas and waltzes have motifs written on 8 measures for example, the polka "Perpetuum mobile" is a series of 24 melodies written on 8 measures in 2/4. Offenbach's Infernal Galop has melodies written on 8 measures. Marches have motifs written for 8 or 16 measures depending on the signature.

    Why motifs are written for 4, 8 or 16 measures? Is this a common writing rule?

    Cheers,

    Fred.
    There is no spoon.

  2. #2

    Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    in common-practice time, yes, it was considered "proper" to write music in symmetrical even numbered phrases: 4, 8, 16, or 32.

  3. #3

    Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    And this is probably a product of having heard this form so much, but I know that melodies with a measure count other than a multiple of 4 sound unbalanced to me. I wonder how much of that is nature and how much is nurture...

  4. #4

    Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    Thanks for your answers.

    So writing melodies on 4, 8, 16 or 32 measures is a rule of writing correctly?
    There is no spoon.

  5. #5

    Lightbulb Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    Actually it's not a "rule" at all.

    The reason to write a theme in 4 8 16 bars formats etc. is the same to do it different: your will and your target.

    Because music is made of tension/relax, and proposal/answer elements, you may find easy building little melodic cells with binary scheme:

    a note or a little group of notes, followed by a similar pattern, or by a pattern thta has a similar duration. If you repeat it in a "multiple scale", you may build a bar...then answer with another bar, and you have a 2 bar "inciso" (a kind of one half of a phrase...).

    To make a phrase you answer to it with other 2 bars, and then you have a 4 bars half theme. Then you answer to the first half (usually with melodic and harmonic sense of suspense) with another half with a sense of conclusion, and you have for instance a 8 bar theme. you can make the same with a larger 8 suspended + 8 concluding format and you have the classic music 16 bars theme exposition...etc. etc.

    The effect is a very simmetric and well balanced timing and "melodic rythm".

    It is perfect for Dance, where symmetric choreography were supposed to exist, or for military march feeling, to follow steps, or symply for the aesthetic love for geometric symmetry (like in Mozart music).

    But if you are writing an expressive, suspended, or instinctive theme, you dont need this format at all, maybe the opposite, the effect will be better if you keep it odd as it is, or simply follow your first instinct keeping it as it is born: never make square the spontaneously born theme.

    If you write a march, it will be probably the opposite, and if you don't make it symmetric (4+4= 8, 8+8=16 etc.) it will sound odd..

    Then NO RULE! just targeting balanced rythm (like in Classical music or Marching Band music) or targeting expression and passion (like in Baroque or Romantic music etc.etc.)

    You rule! Just find the right way to write for the right effect!

    (by the way I recommend you read a book about "Musical Form". this is the discipline that teaches you how managing the format of your music, and why using multiple of 2 4 8 or the opposite and when, up to building large format like sonatas, concertos and symphonies.

  6. #6

    Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    Thank you Fabio for your explanation.

    That would be indeed interesting to get a book about musical structures.

    For writing marches, I have noticed it works by packets of 4, 8 or 16 measures depending on the signature. That's why I wrote my second march by packets of these values. And it sounds indeed much better than my first march.

    I'll check for a book about musical structures.

    Fred.
    There is no spoon.

  7. #7

    Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    I don't think it's a property you have to be conscious of while writing; I think melodies will naturally form themselves with 4, 8, or 16 measures in your mind. Sometimes you can lengthen it by a measure or two by making the melody take longer to resolve, but, again, I don't think it's something you need to be conscious of... it will just happen that way because of how we perceive music.
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  8. #8

    Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    Quote Originally Posted by raweber View Post
    ... but I know that melodies with a measure count other than a multiple of 4 sound unbalanced to me. ...
    Does Yesterday by Paul McCartney sound unbalanced to you? (Just asking.)
    //
    // Ars longa, vita brevis
    // http://edosbear.blogspot.com/
    //

  9. #9

    Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    Quote Originally Posted by boulifb View Post
    Thanks for your answers.

    So writing melodies on 4, 8, 16 or 32 measures is a rule of writing correctly?
    As others have said, this is not a rule. And if strictly adhered to can lead to very stiff and predictable music (which as some have said is sometimes required).

    Note: The Blues uses a 12 bar format for the most part.
    //
    // Ars longa, vita brevis
    // http://edosbear.blogspot.com/
    //

  10. #10
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: Why 4, 8 or 16 measures?

    Hi Fred,

    As others have already mentioned (and I agree), it is more a matter of conditioning rather than a rule, formal training or not, that dictates a binary, modular approach to phrases. And certain genres, like a march, it does indeed sound natural to use this approach.

    But from the perspective of someone who spends a lot of time with musical theater music, you soon break out of the 2-4-8-16-etc. measure mold. Even though the hallmark of much musical theater music is the 32-bar song form, a lot of that symmetry is lost in the actual presentation (arrangement and orchestration) of the song within a show. And once you get into the dance arrangements for a song, there is even more asymmetrical phrasing.

    My point is, that as an arranger or pit musician for musical theater, the unsymmetrical phrases become more and more "natural " sounding when you write and play them regularly. And even the audience, which for the most part are NOT musicians, accept these odd-measure phrases fairly easily because all good musical theater is an amalgam of music, words, motion, lighting, etc. where the whole is always greater than the sum of all the parts.

    Sean said it best Fred: (I'll paraphrase) Let a line go where it wants to go; let it be natural and free.

    Regards,

    Frank

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