Analysis Square Bracket

Analysis Square Bracket Which one

The Analysis Square Bracket is the “answer” to avoiding confusion between a slur (play smooth) and a musically analyzed phrase (a section of music).

We often find that the analyzed section of music is actually to be played smooth (a slur), therefore using a slur (curved line) to analyse that section looks okay.

However, what happens when the section of music is not played smoothly or already has articulation that includes slurs and staccatos?

Using an additional slur as an analytical sign is confusing.  Which slur means to play smoothly and which slur is an analytical sign defining the "section" or "part"?  (Confused yet?  Students are!)

The Analysis Square Bracket is used to show an analysis of the music – the Analysis Square Bracket is not a “part” of the music - it is simply an Analytical Sign. (See – KISS – Keep It Super Simple!)

Analysis Square Bracket - Phrases

In Joseph Brye’s “Basic Principles of Music Theory”, a slur is defined as “a curved line placed over or under two or more notes of different pitches to indicate that they are to be played legato (in a smooth, connected manner) or sung with one breath."

When analyzing Form, we are looking to identify separate parts, each part being complete in itself.  These “parts” are comprised of measures (usually, at this stage, 4 measure parts).

In Grove Music, Geoffrey Chew writes that “In musical notation, a curved line (or square bracket, etc.) extending over or under a succession of notes to indicate their grouping as a coherent unit, for example in legato performance, or for purposes of phrasing.”

(Reference:  Volume Grove Music Online, issue Published in print January 2001 | Published online January 2001 | e-ISBN: 9781561592630)

In the example below, from "The Project Gutenberg EBook of Lessons in Music Form", by Percy Goetschius, we see how the Analysis Square Bracket is used to identify the Analyzed Phrases.

Project Gutenberg Analysis Exercise 46

Analysis Square Bracket - KISS!

The Analysis Square Bracket is a way to Keep It Super Simple!  (KISS!)

The Analysis Square Bracket can be used for the purpose of indicating phrasing.  This Analysis Square Bracket is added TO the music (for analysis purpose) and is not part OF the music.  Students do not get confused about what is part of the music (articulation – slurs, staccatos, etc.).

So, when the music that is being analyzed has articulation, remember to KISS:  Keep It Super Simple.  Use an Analysis Square Bracket to mark the phrases.

Again, a "phrase" may be marked with a slur (to indicate playing legato) or a bracket (to indicate a "part", a coherent musical phrase unit).

Why should we use an Analysis Square Bracket?  Well, let's take a look at the following Example.  This melody is a Parallel Period example.  Can you do what So-La Says?

Analysis Square Bracket Question

Analysis Square Bracket - What it Looks Like with a Slur

When music has a lot of articulation marks, and we add yet another "slur" when doing the Harmonic Analysis, it creates confusion.

I like to have my students play their Analysis Questions twice.  First they play it before they add the "phrase marks" to define the music into analyzed sections, and then they play it after they have finished their Harmonic Analysis.

Pretend that you are a student.  Play the Analysis Square Bracket Question above first.  It's pretty easy to follow the articulation - it is obvious which notes are smooth and which are staccato.

Now, here below is one possible answer using a curved slur to analyze the phrases.  Play it.  Is it easy to follow the articulation or does that extra slur make it tricky?

Analysis Square Bracket Possible Answer 1

Analysis Square Bracket - Using the Analysis Square Bracket

The following possible answer uses the Analysis Square Bracket.  Compare Possible Answer #2 below with Possible Answer #1 above.  Which is easier to read?

Analysis Square Bracket Possible Answer 2

Analysis Square Bracket - Curved Slur or Square Bracket

When the music being analyzed does not have any articulation markings, students can use a curved slur to analyse the music into phrases.  The curved slur mark then has a duo purpose: to show the legato music sentence (phrase) and to show the structural form of the analyzed "phrases".

When the music being analyzed does have a lot of articulation markings (including slurs), students can use an analysis square bracket to analyse the music into structured  form"phrases".

By definition, a phrase can be marked with a curved line or a square bracket.  Therefore, it is acceptable to use whichever follows the KISS rule - Keep It Super Simple for our Students!

Learn How to Analyze Properly

Form and Analysis in the LEVEL 5 Supplemental Workbook uses slurs to analyze the simple melodies (written without articulation).

In the LEVEL 6 Supplemental Workbook, Binary Form and Ternary Form are introduced.  In these more complex examples of analysis, the Square Analysis Bracket is introduced.

Whether you use a Curved Line Slur or a Square Analysis Bracket, remember the following:

  • a Curved Line Slur can be part OF the music - an articulation sign indicating to play the music legato (smooth).
  • a Curved Line Slur can be part of the ANALYSIS of the music - an analytical sign indicating a section of music that forms an analyzed "part" (phrase "a", "a1" or "b" OR Binary Form Parts A and B, etc.).
  • a Square Bracket is not used as part OF the music.  It is not an articulation sign.  A Square Analysis Bracket is only used as an analytical sign to indicate a section of music that forms an analyzed "part" (phrase "a", "a1" or "b" OR Binary Form Parts A and B, etc.).

Whether you use a Curved Slur or a Square Bracket, remember to follow the rules for analyzing music properly!

Teach the UMT Supplemental Series Course

Teach the UMT Supplemental Series Course - 10 Video Sessions on how to simplify complex concepts from the 2016 RCM Theory Syllabus in the UMT Supplemental Series.

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Keep on Learning... With a Smile and a Song!

Shelagh McKibbon-U'Ren


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