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How to do a Schenkerian Analysis (Summary)

Simple Summary | Stage One | Stage Two | Stage Three | Stage Four | Detailed Summary | Example

Stage One
    Write out a version of the music you are analysing in which:
  • each note is represented by a stemless crotchet
  • any consecutively repeated notes are removed
  • there are no bar lines
  • the inner parts are removed and figured bass is used to clarify the harmony and voice-leading
Stage Two
    Foreground Analysis
    Label foreground harmonic units and then find any linear units that prolong these harmonic units
  • mark harmonic units of music with Roman numerals (i.e. I, II, III, IV, V).
  • mark linear units with slurs and appropriate labels:
    • arpeggiation (Arp.)
    • consonant skips (CS)
    • linear progressions (3-prg, 4-prg etc)
    • neighbour notes (N)
  • when you have labelled the linear units that most obviously prolong a harmonic unit, look also for the following:
    • further decorations (e.g. chromatic passing notes) that relate to these linear units
    • linear progressions where the first and last notes are consonant with the harmony of the last note but where the first note is harmonised differently (see Working method - example one)
Stage Three
    Layer Analysis
    Look for linear units that connect the progressions identified in stage two and prolong larger scale harmonies.
  • mark a note from each linear unit from stage two with a stem
    • it must be a consonant note from the linear unit (i.e. not a passing note in the middle of a linear progression)
    • remember the highest note of a progression is often the most prominent in the top line, whilst in the bass, the root might be more important than the third of a chord
  • identify larger scale linear units that connect these notes and show them with beams (in the bass, beams are most often used to connect the tonic and dominant roots - see notation guide for more details)
    • the succession of marked notes should represent the simplest and smoothest possible line
    • expect to find the same basic types of linear units found in stage
    • when going through this process with the bass line remember to consider the harmony as well - tonic and dominant chords are more significant for the tonal structure than some other chords, particularly at the beginning and end
  • the progression uncovered should usually follow the basic rules of counterpoint (no parallel fifths etc.)
  • analyses of longer pieces will probably involve several different layers at stage three and it is probably a good idea to create a new graph from the stemmed and beamed notes, missing out some of the less structurally significant notes
Stage Four
    Background Analysis
    Uncover the basic two-part contrapuntal progression that spans the entire piece
  • identify the fundamental structure (descent from or )
  • identify one of the basic prolongations of it as detailed in Prolonging the Fundamental Structure
  • remember that there may be an initial ascent or arpeggiation
  • tidy up your notation to make the graph as clear as possible