I've been playing piano for a few of months, and of the couple of pieces I know, neither of them are particularly repetitive. I mean they definitely have repetition, but much less so than EDM (electronic dance music). I guess it makes sense since dance music should be really repetitive to keep the groove and familiarity. You have stuff like chorus and drop in EDM but an ABAB ABCB etc. structure doesn't seem to be really relevant to piano. But it's more than that, there doesn't seem to be a beat that you can dance along to.

Sorry if this is all vague, but I was just wondering if people can point out to me some other more obvious differences between classical and EDM.

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    There are many, many structures in classical music, and some have more repetition and steady or prominent beat than others. Check out esp. the work of modern composer Steve Reich (and other "minimalists"), which relies heavily on repeating small musical chunks (or even samples) many times, and often has a strong and steady beat. Many electronic artists have said they're influenced by him. But meanwhile, I'm afraid "list all the differences between two genres" is both too broad and too subjective to work as a question. Voting to close, sorry! Commented Feb 26 at 14:52
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    I’m voting to close this question because its focus is too broad: "music for piano" is a vast body of a few centuries worth of work (as well as more centuries that have been arranged for it), and even EDM is difficult to make generalizations about. Commented Feb 26 at 14:53
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    What are some of the piano pieces you know? You might get better replies, if we can compare to something specific. Commented Feb 26 at 21:32
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    Classical music not repetitive? What about the first movement of Beethoven's 5th symphony? Has anybody counted how many times that 4-note theme occurs?
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 27 at 1:12
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    Both "classical music" and "EDM" are umbrella terms covering many different styles. Details like composition structure can vary a lot between them. The question needs to be more focused to be answerable. Commented Feb 27 at 2:40

3 Answers 3


But it's more than that, there doesn't seem to be beat where you can dance along to.

The entire baroque period is based on dance. It essentially owes its existence to two phenomena, one of which is the development of meter: a beat you can dance along to. This came from popular dance forms of the 16th century and was incorporated into more classical contexts such as opera (which was then a new form), and church music.

Of course, they were dancing somewhat differently, so their idea of "a beat you can dance along to" was somewhat different, too:

A popular form in the baroque period was the suite, which is a series of dance movements of various types: allemande, courant, gavotte, sarabande, minuet, gigue, and more. These pieces typically had two sections that would both be repeated, and often they would come in pairs, where you'd play the first one again after playing the second, so twelve similar sections in a row. This is seen as so superfluously repetitive by some modern performers that they neglect to perform the repeats.

This dance heritage survives into the classical and romantic periods in the sonata form, which is defined by a particular formal arrangement of repeated sections. Since those pieces weren't intended for dance, the repetition is reduced and stretched out somewhat, so it is less noticeably related to dance, but it is nonetheless.

but a ABAB ABCB etc structure doesn't seem to be really relevant to piano.

Look at Mozart's Rondo alla Turca or any other rondo. The form may not be exactly the same, but the principles are there.

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    @t_t The "rondo," as phoog mentions, is one of the repeating-est classical forms. It basically has a "refrain" that keeps coming back, like "ABACADA" etc. Commented Feb 26 at 14:56

In the way that you're asking, the primary difference is the scale of repetition. In classical music, entire sections of a piece might repeat, giving the piece its overall form. But small-scale repetitions — say, of just a few notes — are relatively limited, at least in the sense of defining the piece's overall structure.

EDM more often concerns itself with very small cells of repetition. Rather than forming the large-scale structure, they serve to anchor the other aspects of the music. The larger scale structure of EDM comes more from the sound design — the layers of sound, timbres, electronic effects — rather than the melodic or harmonic elements.

Where classical music intersects more closely with EDM is in some minimalist music, in which the repetition and evolution of small-scale elements form the core of the music. Composers like Philip Glass and John Adams have good examples of this, and you can hear it especially in many modern film scores in which the music is melodically repetitive, but the variations of orchestration (i.e., sound design) provide the musical interest.

  • Lots of EDM has repetition both on the "bar" scale and the "section" scale- with multiple drops or verse sections that are similar to each other.
    – Edward
    Commented Feb 27 at 0:51
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    @Edward That's true, but there is much greater focus on the "bar" scale that in common-practice classical music.
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 27 at 1:04

A very common form for "classical" keyboard compositions is ternary menuet da capo, or sometimes called things like trio da capo form. The sectional form could be something like this...

  Menuet            Trio
||: A :||: B :||  ||: C  :||: D :|| da capo (repeat menuet without repeats)

The menuet may use a key change at the end of A or its B section. There is a formal stop between menuet and trio. The trio is meant to contrast musically with the menuet and its A and B sections may involve a key change like the menuet. The form does not strictly need to be menuet. Many other small dances take this form.

Rondo form has similar sectional labels as menuet da capo, but the transition between sections is handled differently; there is no formal stop between sections. A common example is...

| A | B | A | C | A |

...where the A section is usually a repeating section fairly easy for a listener to recognize. The transitions from A to contrasting sections B, C, etc. often involve key changes.

Superficially, the A, B, C, D sections of those forms look like similar labels for verse, chorus, bridge, etc. in pop songs. But I see two differences in what those lettered sections represent.

First, in a pop song those sections might be only 2 to 4 bars in length, while in the classical forms those sections will usually be 8 or more bars in length. Also, the two styles usually differ in the harmonic content of their sections.

In a pop song a section may repeat a short chord progression many times. For example, an A verse in a pop song might repeat a four chord progression three or four times.

Sections tend to not change key in pop music, but in classical form, after a beginning section that stays in the opening key, it is very common for each section to transition away from its beginning key and end in such a way to prepare for a key change in a subsequent section.

In my opinion it is the handling of key changes that really distinguishes classical and pop form. In classical form key changes are the principle way to define formal sections. Pop music typically does not rely so strongly on key changes to define formal sections.

Many people focus on the brevity of thematic material — mostly melodic and chord progression ideas — in pop music and the tendency to repeat that brief material many times to expand the length of a song. In many cases that approach is due to a focus on rhythm and groove, and the prominence of drum kit percussion, in a way that is fundamentally different than classical style.

But, there are two "classical" forms that should be mentioned involving greater repetition of material. Both are types of variation form: ground bass and theme with variation.

In both cases the main material may be only 8 bars in length and it will be repeated with variation anywhere from 3 to 30 or more times. Ground bass will repeat a bass line many times while playing varied melodic material above it. Theme and variation also involves melodic embellishment and variation, but the whole texture can change, and the bass isn't unchanging like in ground bass.

Formal labelling might simply identify an A section of maybe | A | B | which will be repeated many times. From the harmonic perspective these are classical forms that may be as harmonically simple as some pop songs.

You have stuff like chorus and drop in EDM but a ABAB ABCB etc structure doesn't seem to be really relevant to piano.

Both styles can label sections with letters in a superficially similar way. Beyond the obvious differences in rhythm and instrumentation between the two styles, the big difference is how key changes define such sections in classical style.

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