Composing for Piano Using Small ABA Form

Edward Weiss

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One of the most daunting tasks for beginners is composing music. Just the thought of it creates scary scenarios that demand perfection. But what if you actually knew what you were doing? Instead of fear, joy and a spirit of adventure would guide you to a finished piece of music. Let's look at how we might compose a small ABA form for piano.

The first thing I do is draw out 8-bars on a piece of paper. Any paper will do. You don't have to have ruled sheet music paper to compose…at least not the way I teach it. The reason I tell students to begin with 8-bars is that it's a very good space to work in. In fact, 8-bars is quite enough to give you your first (A) section. As an example, look at the lesson piece “A Peaceful Path. "

Here we have 3-4 minutes of music. We use the art of repetition and contrast and a small ABA form is generated. If you listen to the piece, you'll hear where the (A) section ends and the (B) section begins. In fact, listening is very important. Most people listen to music as a complete aural experience and that's fine. But if you're interested in musical composition, you should also listen for the form of the piece. Most piano music is composed using sectional form.

For instance, here is the arrangement of the piece “A Peaceful Path" - 2A2BA. This is a shorthand way of notating the amount of repeating that goes on in the piece. The first (A) section, 8-bars, is repeated twice, then the (B) section gets repeated twice and finally, we end up back where we started. The reason ABA form works so well is that it gives the listener a complete musical experience. And it gives them a sense of finality.

Sadly, the music must end somewhere and composers have been working on different ways to do this via the form of the piece. Many innovative composers have tried to abolish form but the question you must ask yourself is “Is this music giving the listener an emotional experience?" There's a good reason ABA form has been around for hundreds of years. Because it works!

Edward Weiss is a pianist/composer and webmaster of Quiescence Music's online piano lessons . He has been helping students learn how to play piano in the New Age style for over 14 years and works with students in private, in groups, and now over the internet. Stop by now at for a FREE piano lesson!


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