Difference between Analysis and Description

Analyses of individual works for Classical Guitar and general discussions on analysis. Normal forum copyright rules apply.
dtoh
Posts: 191
Joined: Mon Jan 11, 2016 12:54 pm

Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by dtoh » Thu Jul 07, 2016 3:06 pm

Seems to me that a lot of what is passed off as analysis is just a description. Is there a difference between analysis and description. (Serious question.)

brooks
Posts: 1002
Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:11 am
Location: halifax, nova scotia

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by brooks » Thu Jul 07, 2016 3:15 pm

dtoh wrote:Seems to me that a lot of what is passed off as analysis is just a description. Is there a difference between analysis and description. (Serious question.)
Analysis should appeal to some principles to render whatever is being analysed more intelligible. not the same as a factual description

dtoh
Posts: 191
Joined: Mon Jan 11, 2016 12:54 pm

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by dtoh » Thu Jul 07, 2016 11:33 pm

brooks wrote:Analysis should appeal to some principles to render whatever is being analysed more intelligible. not the same as a factual description
What does that mean in practical terms? Showing fingerings, showing grid notations, showing chords, showing inversions, labeling each note with it's name.

brooks
Posts: 1002
Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:11 am
Location: halifax, nova scotia

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by brooks » Fri Jul 08, 2016 1:26 am

dtoh wrote:
brooks wrote:Analysis should appeal to some principles to render whatever is being analysed more intelligible. not the same as a factual description
What does that mean in practical terms? Showing fingerings, showing grid notations, showing chords, showing inversions, labeling each note with it's name.
Your question was general so my response had to be general. To take one of your more specific examples, simply providing fingering is not analysis. Explaining the fingering based on principles like economy of motion, consistency or intelligibility of voicings, ease of transitions, etc, is analysis. Labelling notes is not analysis, but if you point out that a given chord consists of certain harmonic intervals, and is therefore called, say, a diminished 7th chord, you have analyzed the chord based on principles of harmony within a given system.

Luis_Br
Posts: 2193
Joined: Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:50 pm
Location: Brazil

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by Luis_Br » Fri Jul 08, 2016 1:41 am

I think simply naming chords is not analysis, it is the same as naming notes, it is just a naming convention. Naming out the chords might help clarifying for developing the analysis, but it is not an analysis per se, I would classify it as simply description.
I think analysis is about identifying logical patterns to make it easier to understand. It is like trying to find out some logic behind the score. It might be harmonic progressions, melodic or counterpoint structures, motifs, phrasings, dynamic, orchestration patterns etc.

brooks
Posts: 1002
Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:11 am
Location: halifax, nova scotia

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by brooks » Fri Jul 08, 2016 1:50 am

Luis, I think you may have narrowed the generally accepted definition somewhat, as I have. Looking at the various dictionary meanings, the concepts analysis and description, while not interchangeable, do seem to partially overlap. Here's Merriam-Webster, fwiw:

Full Definition of analysis:

1
: separation of a whole into its component parts
2
a : the identification or separation of ingredients of a substance
b : a statement of the constituents of a mixture
3
a : proof of a mathematical proposition by assuming the result and deducing a valid statement by a series of reversible steps
b (1) : a branch of mathematics concerned mainly with limits, continuity, and infinite series (2) : calculus 1b
4
a : an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relations
b : a statement of such an analysis
5
a : a method in philosophy of resolving complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones
b : clarification of an expression by an elucidation of its use in discourse
6
: the use of function words instead of inflectional forms as a characteristic device of a language

stevel
Posts: 546
Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:15 pm

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by stevel » Fri Jul 08, 2016 2:06 am

Hmmm, I think a lot of people mis-understand what "music theory" is to begin with, so confusion amongst these terms can be compounded further than just their literal meanings.

Music theory is "about" if you like, comparative analysis.

We "describe" or "define" musical works using comparative analysis.

I see Music Theory as operating primarily on two *broad* levels:

1. Music Theory develops Terminology (descriptors) for stylistic elements.

2. Music Theory compares musical works (analyzes them) to see if they fit the style or not.

I think a lot of people mistakenly believe music theory is supposed to be used for, or designed to "tell you what to play" or "tell you what to write".

On some (even broader) level it is, but that's really a secondary result of the two aforementioned elements.

I agree there's a big difference between "naming a chord" and "identifying its function in a tonal construct".

C-E-G is a C Major Triad.

But "Tonic" (in C) or "Dominant" (in F), or "Borrowed Chord", or "Neapolitan", or "Secondary Dominant", or "Picardy Third" etc. all carry additional information beyond the "name" of the chord.

What analysis is, is a comparison of data.

By analyzing a piece, we can see what it "consists of". Obviously we give these things "names" (descriptors). I suppose we could call them "Factor 1a" and so on, but at some point you may still want to define what makes Factor 1a different from Factor 1b - and why it's important to do so.

Music Theory as we know it, takes those elements common to a large body of work - elements we've both "named" and found to be common through comparative analysis - and defines a "style".

For example, after analyzing a million pieces, we have found that it was uncommon for chords to move I-ii-viio-iii-vi-V-IV during a certain time period. Uncommon enough to consider it "stylistically inappropriate".

We also find during that same period, chords of C-Eb-G-B were non-existent.

So while, for example, the progression above may be uncommon in both Classical Music and Jazz, Jazz may use that chord while Classical will not.

So what we're able to do is "define" a style by finding commonalities within the style - "common practices".

It should be obvious on a surface level that a description may not be an analysis. For example a "Scherzo" is a description, but it's not really an analysis of anything.

But at other levels, the two may be much more closely related. For example, the "term" German Augmented Sixth not only describes the chord, but it carries with it some analytical weight because that name distinguishes it from aurally similar constructions (Dominant 7th chord) and describes its role and resolution, and it defines the style where it appears. (German +6 are not encountered in the Renaissance for example).

johnhall
Posts: 109
Joined: Sun May 15, 2011 4:17 pm
Location: Michigan

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by johnhall » Fri Jul 08, 2016 4:06 pm

Analysis on a practical level allows you to gain insight into the compositional practice. How do the great composers organize their music harmonically? What forms did they use? How has harmony progressed through time? What relationships exist between classical music and other forms of popular music composition? These and many other questions can be explored through musical analysis. As someone who is interested in composition, analysis allows me to find relationships, particularly harmonic, that I am sure I would not have stumbled upon on my own.

John

Luis_Br
Posts: 2193
Joined: Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:50 pm
Location: Brazil

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by Luis_Br » Fri Jul 08, 2016 7:51 pm

brooks wrote:Luis, I think you may have narrowed the generally accepted definition somewhat, as I have. Looking at the various dictionary meanings, the concepts analysis and description, while not interchangeable, do seem to partially overlap. Here's Merriam-Webster, fwiw:

Full Definition of analysis:

1
: separation of a whole into its component parts
2
a : the identification or separation of ingredients of a substance
b : a statement of the constituents of a mixture
3
a : proof of a mathematical proposition by assuming the result and deducing a valid statement by a series of reversible steps
b (1) : a branch of mathematics concerned mainly with limits, continuity, and infinite series (2) : calculus 1b
4
a : an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relations
b : a statement of such an analysis
5
a : a method in philosophy of resolving complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones
b : clarification of an expression by an elucidation of its use in discourse
6
: the use of function words instead of inflectional forms as a characteristic device of a language
I think the definition has several options because it needs to fit all the applications of the word. Number 2 and 3 certainly have nothing to do with musical analysis. I think in the musical context, number 4 is the right definition.

dtoh
Posts: 191
Joined: Mon Jan 11, 2016 12:54 pm

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by dtoh » Mon Jul 11, 2016 4:06 am

Thanks for all the good responses. A couple of things I would think should be in an analysis of a piece are:

1. Does the piece fit in a particular genre (more narrowly defined than CPP).
2. Why is it similar to other pieces in the genre.
3. How is it different.

Maybe this is outside the scope of analysis. I don't really know but it seems like something one (or at least I) would want to know about a piece when analyzing it.
Last edited by dtoh on Tue Jul 12, 2016 12:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

Lawler
Posts: 881
Joined: Sun Mar 31, 2013 12:36 am

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by Lawler » Mon Jul 11, 2016 5:15 am

An analysis is a description but a description isn't necessarily an analysis.

I might ask a student to outline the phrase structure of a piece they're studying or write the Roman numerals identifying harmonies. That's analysis - identifying elements in the particular piece using a commonly understood detailed descriptive/comparative method that applies not only to the piece but to music broadly. But I suppose any description that takes a piece apart is literally analysis. ...as opposed to synthesis. Most of the work we musicians do uses synthesis. Putting it together. Perhaps analysis is most helpful for keeping one's head straight about exactly what we're putting together.

User avatar
Tom Poore
Posts: 1005
Joined: Fri Aug 25, 2006 4:00 pm
Location: South Euclid, Ohio, USA

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by Tom Poore » Mon Jul 11, 2016 11:59 am

For me, the main purpose of analysis is to help decide how I’m going to play a piece. I try to figure out why the music is doing what it’s doing. I try to figure out its strengths, so I can put them across to a listener. Equally important—or perhaps more—I try to parse its weakness, in the hope that I can strengthen it with the right interpretive decisions.

Here’s an example. I’m currently working up the third movement rondo from Giuliani’s Op. 15. Its weakness, as I hear it, is the banal beginning to its main theme. One can boil it down to this: C (long)—B (short), C (long)—B (short), C (long)—B (short), C (long). That’s essentially it, and it ain’t much. Further, it recurs throughout the piece. (It’s a rondo, after all.) So we have a banal rondo theme that repeats ad nauseam. Okay, what’s to be done with it so it doesn’t wear out its welcome?

An obvious solution is to find different ways to play it each time it recurs. But I can’t do this willy-nilly. My changes must have an organic flow to them. The listener must sense a logic behind what I’m doing. So I conjured a narrative for this rondo theme:
  • • In its first appearance, I imagine a shy person who thinks she’s boring. She announces herself diffidently, sure that no one likes her, and just wants to get her first statement over with so she can sink back into the obscurity she richly deserves. In this light, I play the opening theme simply, with no attempt to make it interesting.

    • On the second appearance, this theme stumbles onto an interesting syncopation that happens immediately after the banal opening. (This isn’t explicitly written in the music, but its latent potential is there for anyone willing to look for it.) Our shy, boring person is surprised by this intriguing side of her personality, and she announces it timidly, afraid someone might shout her down. But it goes well, and she feels that here’s something that just might make her worthy of other people’s attention. Barely.

    • On the third appearance, she announces this interesting syncopation more clearly, and even takes it briefly into another key. Now she’s not only surprised to find herself saying something interesting, but she can elaborate on it in a way that holds other people’s attention. She’s beginning to realize she’s not boring.

    • On the fourth appearance, our shy theme is shy no longer, and announces herself with confidence.

    • On the fifth and final appearance, our theme now positively swaggers, even thumping out a bass ostinato as if to make fun of her supposed boringness.
Mind you, I don’t believe anyone would figure out the story behind the way I play this. (Assuming I haven’t told them.) But if I do it well, they’ll sense a narrative logic to what I’m doing. And that goes a long way toward shoring up the weakness of this banal theme. Indeed, it takes what at first appears to be a weakness and turns it into a strength.

Stepping back for a moment, this reminds me of an excellent theory teacher I had while at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Faced with a student who analyzed a piece by merely naming the chords, the teacher cut short the droning census with the question: “so what?” His point was that good analysis is more than a question of “what.” It also asks “why.”

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

stevel
Posts: 546
Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:15 pm

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by stevel » Sat Aug 13, 2016 12:55 am

dtoh wrote:Thanks for all the good responses. A couple of things I would think should be in an analysis of a piece are:

1. Does the piece fit in a particular genre (more narrowly defined than CPP).
2. Why is it similar to other pieces in the genre.
3. How is it different.

Maybe this is outside the scope of analysis. I don't really know but it seems like something one (or at least I) would want to know about a piece when analyzing it.
I don't think this is outside of the scope of analysis, but, it may not be apparent using typical analytical symbols/tools.

Music Theorists/Analysts/Historians do exactly what you describe. For example, you might run into someone who says "The Divertimento by Mozart is, for all intents and purposes, a Symphony, with reduced orchestral forces".

Or, for example, in comparing Haydn's String Quartets, it's important (IMHO) to trace the evolution from what is essentially a Baroque Suite for 4 string instruments to the later works which become the very definition of a "String Quartet".

Yes, simply analyzing chords, harmonic function, non-chord tones and the like within a single piece or even a couple of pieces from different periods in the composer's output may not tell us much about the things I've mentioned above.

But the idea of a "comprehensive analysis" on that level is not only something that would take years, but basically be a book (and many books are written like this).

In essence, we are usually taught (academically at least) to analyze from the miniscule to the majiscule, first focusing on naming chords, then on to harmonic function, cadences, modulations, phrase structure, form, and so on. At my university we have 4 semesters of theory (the last delving into 20th century techniques and pre-Tonal elements as well) but after that one takes a "Form and Analysis" class which prepares the student for a "broader scale analysis" like your 3 points.

And like I said a few posts back, it's "comparative analysis" - how's it the same, how's it different, does it fit the style, or any style, etc.

dtoh
Posts: 191
Joined: Mon Jan 11, 2016 12:54 pm

Re: Difference between Analysis and Description

Post by dtoh » Thu Aug 18, 2016 4:03 am

stevel wrote: Yes, simply analyzing chords, harmonic function, non-chord tones and the like within a single piece or even a couple of pieces from different periods in the composer's output may not tell us much about the things I've mentioned above.

But the idea of a "comprehensive analysis" on that level is not only something that would take years, but basically be a book (and many books are written like this).

In essence, we are usually taught (academically at least) to analyze from the miniscule to the majiscule, first focusing on naming chords, then on to harmonic function, cadences, modulations, phrase structure, form, and so on. At my university we have 4 semesters of theory (the last delving into 20th century techniques and pre-Tonal elements as well) but after that one takes a "Form and Analysis" class which prepares the student for a "broader scale analysis" like your 3 points.

And like I said a few posts back, it's "comparative analysis" - how's it the same, how's it different, does it fit the style, or any style, etc.
Tks for the response. Your many posts in this forum are great. Even though I sometimes have a hard time following all of them.

Return to “Analysis of Classical Guitar Works”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: CommonCrawl [Bot] and 1 guest