I'm trying to make a list of the short motifs e.g. in Baroque, which are the elements in the music by Bach, Vivaldi, Händel et all.

I have found some lists of figures, ornaments, decorations in the common practice period (which also may fit in 12 tone music).

Now I am trying to find names for these short motifs like c,d,e,c and their variation (all kind of inversions) as: c,b,a,c (horizontally mirroring or c,e,d,c (crab) and c,a,b,c. (But I don't search for this terms of transforming! What I'm looking for are just a names of e.g. this figure: passing tone 1-3 and back.

I'm sure I have found once a list of such motifs (and their labeling. (Similar to the names of the Neumes in Greorian chant notation because I consider them as a development of those neumen motifs.)

What I could name is: triads (e.g. Alberti bass) and "Läufer" (scale), I've once also read the name "Ruggiero" for the Bass motif solatiso doremido, that is also used in the 5th sequences progressions - but I'm not sure about this and I can't find the source again.

I hope your answers can help me

  • with links or already existing lists
  • with graphic (de)signs to recognize or systematize them,
  • e.g. typical songs like we use to learn the intervals - e.g: "There's a place for us" -> minor 7th, "Maria" -> augmented 4th (West Side Story) This can be folk songs, baby songs, pop songs, classical motifs.

as an example the sequenced motif above mi,fa,so,mi - re,mi,fa,re - do-re-mi-do I'd name "the piggies motif"

1 Answer 1


I found this dissertation (open access) a few years ago, and I have returned to it many times for all the great ideas it contains:

Callahan (2010) Techniques of Keyboard Improvisation in the German Baroque and Their Implications for Today’s Pedagogy

Some screen shots with named figures:

P. 110

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P. 132

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P. 133

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P. 261

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You will notice Callahan quotes a lot from Michael Wiedeburg an 18th century German musician. The source of that stuff is Der sich selbst informirende Clavierspieler. Unfortunately, for me, it's in German and I can't read the text. But that shouldn't be a problem for you!

If you were wondering about the English names of these kinds of figures, I don't think there are standard names. But in an academic setting people often use the German terms. Like ursatz from Schenker. An English speaker would probably just call a schneller a schneller.

Sort of related are some phrase length terms from Joseph Riepel: Zweyer, Dreyer, and Vierer... "two-measure unit," "three-measure unit," and "four-measure unit." Found in translation from German in: Strunk, Source Readings in Music History.

  • +1) Very useful, something like this I’m looking for. I’m expecting more creativity and fantasy of other members. May be the other contributions are more individual, but I think if we all work together we could build a catalogue of motifs like grammatical modules in language. Apr 29, 2020 at 14:43
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    Great dissertation! He also gave a great presentation on this, with live improvisation, shortly thereafter.
    – Richard
    Jun 8, 2020 at 17:46
  • Hi Richard, where was that presentation given? Jun 8, 2020 at 17:50
  • It was at the Society for Music Theory's 2010 annual meeting in Indianapolis.
    – Richard
    Jun 8, 2020 at 18:01

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