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I have been told to figure out which notes in Mozart's theme are skeletal and which ones are just embellishments before I develop my Theme and Variations.

But I don't know how to tell if a note is skeletal or not. I mean it is easy to see that the 16th notes are embellishments. But what about those 8th note runs in the right hand? Are all of those 8th notes skeletal or only half of them or even less or what?

Here is the theme I am talking about: enter image description here

Everything before the key change is part of the theme I am talking about. In other words, the first 25 bars or so of the piece that are all in A minor is the theme. How am I supposed to tell which notes make up the skeleton of the theme? If I can figure that out, then I can do what I have been suggested to do which is to slowly build from the skeleton to the theme itself and then develop that theme further(similar to what Beethoven did in the finale of his Eroica symphony).

But yeah, how do I figure out which notes are skeletal? Do I look at the bass line and see which notes are chord tones in each measure and decide that those chord tones are the skeleton or what?

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To expose the skeleton, recognize and remove melodic decorations: passing notes, suspensions, pedals, auxiliaries, the lot. You'll be left with chord tones matched up with changes of harmony. This immediately gives you useful materials for making variations.

For example, removing the turns, you first have:

X: 1
M: 2/4
L: 1/4
K: Amin
(A | c) (c | e) (e | a) (a | c')

and later you have this:

X: 1
M: 2/4
L: 1/8
K: Amin
(e2 | g2 g2 | d2)

A very easy way to begin making variations is to restore a characteristic decoration or two:

X: 1
M: 2/4
L: 1/8
K: Amin
(cd | e4 | B2)

similarly:

X: 1
M: 2/4
L: 1/8
K: Amin
ab | c'2 ^g2 | a2 fd | c2 B2 | A2

I chose quarter notes for the skeleton based on the harmonic rhythm. From that perspective most of the melodic eighth notes are passing notes.

There's always a bit of interpretation in an exercise like this and other views are possible. Since the goal here is to extract a skeleton for development in variations, it makes sense to remove more detail rather than less.

  • Is that XMLK notation some sort of standard? I've never seen it before. Could you point me in a direction where I can find more information about it? – nivlac Mar 21 at 12:27
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    @nivlac - have a look at music.meta.stackexchange.com/q/2/104 and the related/linked posts – Doktor Mayhem Mar 21 at 12:30
  • Why and how did you decide the eight note figures were embellishments instead of skeletal? – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Mar 21 at 21:27
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    @Kevin, based on the harmonic rhythm. It changes in quarter notes. From that perspective most of the melodic eighth notes are passing notes. There's always a bit of interpretation in an exercise like this and other views are possible. Since the goal here is to extract a skeleton for development in variations, it makes sense to remove more detail rather than less. – user48353 Mar 21 at 22:00
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    I think that las comment should be added to the answer. – Tim H Mar 22 at 8:40
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It depends of course on which level you plan the reduction of the tune: You can choose only the harmonical framework then you get:

Am-Am-Am-Am-Em-Em-Em-B,Em

C-G-C-G-Am-E-Am-E Da Capo

or you choose the half notes:

do-mi-la-do-ti-ti-la etc.

if you decide to reduce to 4th notes you get the result that @replete is showing.

the most logical reduction (in my opinion) would be the 8th notes:

lala,do-dodo,mi-mimi,lalalala,do ... (all the rest is already there)

so you will have some 16th as passing notes or suspended notes which can be easily as nonchord tones on beat or between ... the beats.

What was your question already?

how do I figure out which notes are skeletal? Do I look at the bass line and see which notes are chord tones in each measure and decide that those chord tones are the skeleton or what?

Yes, you will! And you knew just everything you need ...

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I think this is more of an art than a science, but here is how I generally approach it: the skeletal notes are the one that realize the most straight-forward standard harmonic progressions.

Let imagine we have a passage like this...

       melody : ^4  |    ^3 ^2  |^1
                 f  |     e  d  | c
                    |           |
chord figures :  5  |     6  5  | 5
                 3  |        3  | 3
                    |           |
         bass :  D  |     G     | C
                    |           |
     Analysis : ii  | iii6 or   | I
                      I6/4 or
                      V

...where the second bar is the one where we want to determine the skeletal note - the essential harmonic note.

We need to rely on a solid understanding of harmony and typical harmonic progressions. Let's keep that aspect simple for this example and say we want to find harmonic progressions of root movement by descending fifth and cadential harmony.

Of the three potential chord to identify in bar 2 the V realizes root progressions by descending fifth. So we use that as our skeletal harmony.

Now when we look at the melody and ask which are the skeletal notes we see that the ^2 (d) rather that ^3 (e) is the essential harmonic tone that will complete the V chord, therefore ^2 is the skeletal tone and the ^3 is the decorative embellishing tone.

Basically look to comfirm harmonic norms rather than atypical harmonic progressions.

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