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Stage three summary
(middleground layer analysis)

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Stage three is about finding connections and linking up the music into larger spans. Just as the surface decorations identified in stage two elaborate foreground harmonies, the linear progressions and neighbor notes of this stage must also make harmonic sense. The only difference is that now they are elaborating larger units, in which harmonies are grouped together (in patterns such as I-V-I).

In identifying larger scale linear and harmonic units, bear in mind the following considerations:

  • Schenker suggests that the principles of melodic fluency become increasingly important at deeper layers of the musical structure. Where possible, you should therefore try to find simple stepwise connections between elaborations (alongside other theoretical concerns, one reason for preferring stepwise connections is that they are easier to hear and thus more plausible as an analysis of the deeper layers).
  • decisions as to which notes you mark as structurally more important should balance the consideration of melodic fluency with melodic and metric prominence
  • (i.e. middleground elaborations are most convincing when they have good contrapuntal and harmonic support (i.e. middleground passing and neighbor notes should be made consonant by the bass line in the foreground)

The example below shows one possible analysis in which the foreground elaborations are linked together as the decoration of a neighbor note progression. As you will probably notice, however, this is not a very satisfactory analysis for a number of different reasons.

There are several reasons why the alternative analysis below is better than the first attempt:

  • it joins up all the progressions into a single span of a third progression, explaining the first three notes more effectively
  • thinking in terms of compound melody, the G can be understood as a lower voice beneath the initial B. One might argue the same for the D, but there are no other notes for it to connect with in this register (there is no return to this D nor is there a C onto which it can descend, for example) so it is better understood as a foreground decoration
  • it better reflects the melodic prominence of the B, which is higher in the texture


  • Use stems and beams to show all large-scale elaborations and label them clearly
  • Use downward stems in the bass to mark the roots of principal supporting harmonies.
  • Mark harmonic units with slurs beneath the Roman numerals and progressions from I-V with a slur that curls up and over the V
    • approach chords to the dominant (e.g. II or IV) can be joined to V with a horizontal line. This is particularly helpful if the basic harmonic unit is V-I or V-V
  • Use slurs to connect the main arpeggiations in the bass (I-V, V-I) and also to mark elaborations of these notes
  • Use dotted slurs where necessary to show when two foreground linear units are elaborations of the same note (or to connect two notes an octave apart)
  • Use beams, stems and diagonal lines to clarify features such as unfolding and voice exchange, which involve movement between different voices.
  • Use dotted slurs or arrows to show register transfers.

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    © Copyright Thomas Pankhurst