Ch. 8 – Deconstructing is Learning

When I was a child I liked to figure out how things worked. So much so that I was willing to risk being unable to put things back together just to learn what was inside. When something like a radio or a mechanical toy stopped working I enjoyed the chance to pull it apart. I had a curiosity which taught me about objects and their properties.

Like radios and toys a composition is assembled and evolves into something based on the background and personal knowledge of the builder. One way to discover how a composer may have finally arrived at the compositions you learn is to deconstruct those compositions. That is part of a good students job. To see what possibilities for a melody, a harmony or tempo exist. The technical agility of the composer may also have quirks of awkwardness that could possibly have originated in voyages of discovery using the very similar methods of deconstructing analysis that good playing and composing calls for.

Ways of Deconstructing


  1. Harmonic Analysis
  2. Structural Analysis
  3. Create new rhythms for specific passages
  4. Create exercises out of challenging passages


  1. Harmonic Analysis

Whether you are looking at the basic Heart and Soul, that became so popular for untrained musicians, or if you’re learning a Sonata by Beethoven, understanding the harmonic structure assists your learning process. Does the music begin in the key that it finishes? Is there any pattern to the harmonic movement?


  1. Structural Analysis

Getting to know music’s structural forms can be fun. We often hear songs and don’t even consider what the structure is. The familiar 12 bar blues like “Route 66” or “Kansas City” is one of the simplest forms that we know and the structure of the blues chord progression is pretty similar between them all. This form is an example of Strophic form and it is a repeating structure. You will find the use of the letters ABA are used a lot to indicate that the structure has a different middle section. AAA would indicate that every section is the same. That usually means the chords and the number of bars are also the same. A less familiar one is the Rondo which is ABACAD and the beginning section keeps repeating followed by a new section each time. Other pop songs are other kinds of Strophic form that has a whole new set of words each time through like My Funny Valentine. The songs that became so popular in the 1930’s a tradition that lasted up until the 60’s often started with what was called a verse which can be

Verse(intro) – A A B A – The Verse would in later decades have a different meaning. Songs by Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and many others often started with a verse that set the song up dramatically and then the catchy parts usually followed a 32 bar structure.

3.     Create new rhythms for specific passages

The goal here is to develop a fluidity to the notes. The different rhythms will program your brain literally to accept all the possible ways you can approach the combinations of notes and fingering.

4.     Create exercises out of challenging passages

This is a more advanced concept but can serve as a way to conquer the challenges in a difficult passage.  Some of you may be wondering if these kind of activities are worth the effort and that they take the fun out of learning. I say quite the contrary. A poet could say that doing a crossword puzzle takes the fun out of language but we know this is not true. The idea of a sequence will typically use the same fingering repeating the notes in a continuing series of steps to higher or lower notes.

Getting Inside the Composer’s Head (Breaking the Linear View of Stucture and Interpretation)