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panicGUIDE - Part One

This panic guide is as brief and simple as possible - if you want a more detailed explanation of Schenkerian analysis try Guide to Schenker's Theory

At its simplest, a Schenkerian analysis explains how music is made up of a series of common melodic fragments. It also shows precisely how tonal music (which is what is was developed to analyse) can be said to be 'in a key'. If you are wondering what the point of it is already, take a quick look at

What's the point in Schenkerian analysis?

At the heart of Schenker's theory of tonal music is a concept called prolongation. Prolongation explains how the melodic fragments that make up tonal music can be understood as prolonging harmonies through time. Here is a simple example:

a C major triad
(vertical - static)
the same triad prolonged through time by an arpeggio
(horizontalised, linear - dynamic)

In Schenkerian terms, a linear unit (the arpeggio) is prolonging a harmonic unit (the C major triad).

There are four main types of linear units that prolong harmonic units and these are known as diminutions. The first part of this panicGUIDE introduces you to these. It goes on to explain how Schenker develops this simple idea into a powerful and sophisticated analytical tool.