How to Analyze Beethoven's Music

Beethoven's music uses standard tonal harmony to analyze chord progressions. While he was advanced for his time, Beethoven's music uses the 18th century system of key signatures, forms, progressions and chords. You will need to have a solid understanding of tonal harmony in order to analyze his music; however, a standard procedure will help to begin analyzing Beethoven's music properly.

Step 1

Start by learning about the main forms in Classical music. Beethoven wrote sonatas, symphonies, binary, ternary, cantatas and rondos. Learning how to identify each of these forms should take priority. You can determine a form by discerning how many sections of music there are. Sometimes, double bar lines in the music indicate the sections. Other times, there will be a key change or a new melody or rhythm introduced.

Step 2

Learn how to identify key signatures. Beethoven always used a key signature in his music. Music can be either in a major or in a minor key. Use the circle of fifths to determine which possibilities exist for the piece you are analyzing. If the piece has five flats, look to the circle of fifths to determine what key possibilities exist for five flats. There will be one major and one minor key. (See Resources for more on the circle of fifths.)

Step 3

Identify if the key signature is major or minor. In most cases, you can do this by looking at the first chord of the piece. If you have a key signature with no flats or sharps, you are either in C major or A minor. If the first chord of the piece is a C Major chord, then you can be certain the piece is in C major. If it is an A minor chord, it will likely be in A minor.

Step 4

Determine where the first phrase begins and ends. You can do this by looking at the melody in the piece. The melody will usually begin and end on the tonic or the dominant. The tonic is the first note of the key; in C major, the tonic is C. The dominant is the fifth of the key; in C major it is a G.

Step 5

Analyze each chord in the first phrase. You should write the chords using Roman numerals. The first chord should be either I or i. Lowercase Roman numerals indicate minor chords. Uppercase indicates major chords. The Roman numerals are in relation to the scale degree of the root of the chord. For instance, in C major, C is I and D is ii, because a D chord in C major is minor.

Step 6

Proceed to analyze each phrase in the piece. At some point, the piece will modulate to a new key. Look for a secondary dominant when this happens. A secondary dominant is the dominant of the dominant. For instance, in C major the secondary dominant would be D, because D is the fifth of G. When you see a secondary dominant, write it as V/I because the new key will move to G. V/I indicates the D chord moving to G is the dominant of G.

Step 7

Continue to analyze the rest of the piece, watching for any additional modulations. In the Classical period, the music almost always returns to the tonic home key.


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