Using the Given Opening

Before you attempt an ABRSM grade 7 question 2 keyboard question, the first step is to analyse what is already on the page – you will always be given a few bars to get you started. Look carefully at what is written already and write down what you discover. Then, keep going in the same way!

You will need to look at these elements:

  • The harmony
  • The melodic shapes
  • The texture
  • The rhythm

In this lesson we will look at some piano openings written by the Classical composer Musio Clementi. We will describe how the music works by looking the patterns in the melody and the accompaniment, and how these work together to make a whole piece. All of these examples are taken from Clementi’s Sonatinas.

In this first example, the melody is in the right hand, and the first two bars are based on a broken chord pattern. All the notes belong to the tonic chord of C major. In bars 3 and 4, the melody is based on scales. Also notice that in bar 4, the melody is transferred to the left hand in the second half of the bar, and that there is a repeated tonic note (C) in the first three bars. Sometimes this C fits with the harmony (e.g. in bars 1 and 2), but sometimes it doesn’t (bar 3).

Whenever you find a non-chord note like this, try to work out what type it is, because you might be able to use more of the same type of non-chord note. In this case, the C is a pedal.

The texture is thin, and the bass part is relatively simple.

thin texture

In this example, the melody moves more slowly that the accompaniment. Both the melody and accompaniment are based on broken chord patterns, until bar 3, which begins to move by step. The left-hand has a triplet figure which is in root position in bars 1-2, with a cadential 6/4 in bar 3.

broken chords

This next melody is based on a dotted rhythm which starts in the right hand and then moves to the left. This time the accompaniment moves more slowly than the melody, and when the melody moves to the left hand the right hand slows down.

dotted rhythms

This sonatina starts with a more varied kind of rhythm than we have seen so far. There are a number of different note values used in the melody, whereas the accompaniment is simply quavers (8th notes). This combination of rhythm types works well – the simple left hand allows us to hear the more complicated melody clearly.

Notice here also that the texture changes in bar 4 – the right hand chords make a thicker texture and help to shape the music into a cadence.

The left hand octaves are a common pattern in keyboard music. You might also come across a bass line doubled at the octave.

The G# in this melody is a chromatic appoggiatura. You may have thought a G# would signal a modulation to A minor, but as there is no A minor chord, so can be no modulation.

chromatic, not modulating

This last example is a little more complicated than the previous openings. The thickness of the texture here is three notes, rather than two, so the chords will sound fuller.

thicker texture

The melody is in the top line of the right-hand part, and the bass is the lowest part. In between we have a middle part, which starts in the right hand but continues in the left in bar 5. Although it is split between the hands, it is just one part. It is simply written onto the stave where it is easiest to play (and you must always make the music playable!) In a multi-part piece like this one, it is best to think in terms of the rules for SATB harmony, with appropriate voice leading (moving smoothly), avoidance of consecutive 5ths, and so on.

The melody here is characterised by repeated notes. There are four Fs in bar 1, and there are more repeated notes in bars 4 and 5. Repeated notes also feature in the bass and inner parts. Some of these repeated notes are pedals: both dominant and tonic are used.

In bars 2-3, notice how the right-hand leaps up by a 6th. If you were writing SATB harmony this type of movement would be incorrect, because it is difficult to sing, and the parts cross. But in piano music, where there are many octaves to explore, this type of writing is quite common. Notice the large leap also in the left-hand, into bar 5. Leaps should only happen for good reasons however, and should never break the flow of a phrase.

Once you have discovered how a piece of music has been constructed, you will then need to use the same kind of ideas to reconstruct the rest of the piece. Music written in the Classical style tends to be quite formulaic (moving in expected, predictable ways).