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Common practice period

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Common practice period

Classical music era | Romantic music

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Eras of European art music
Ancient music 1500 BCE - 476 CE
Early music 476 - 1600
Common practice period 1600 - 1900
20th century classical music 1900 - 2000

In music the common practice period is a long period in western musical history spanning from well before the classical era (as identified in much modern history of music), dated, on the outside, as 1600-1900. It is most often contrasted with contemporary music. Most common practice music shares many traits, and is tonal as opposed to modal or atonal. It includes most of so-called "classical" and popular music. Despite the emergence of many new styles and techniques common practice music may still be the dominant European-influenced music.

Walter Piston, among others, uses the term in his book Harmony (ISBN 0393954803) to refer to the bulk of the material with which he dealt.

Rhythmically, common practice music metric structures generally include:

  1. Clearly enunciated or implied pulse at all levels, with the fastest levels rarely being extreme.
  2. Meters, or pulse groups, in two-pulse or three-pulse groups, most often two.
  3. Once established the meter and pulse groups rarely change throughout a section or composition.
  4. Synchronous pulse groups on all levels: all pulses on slower levels coincide with strong pulses on faster levels.
  5. Consistent tempo throughout a composition or section.
  6. Tempo, beat length, and measure length chosen to allow one time signature throughout piece.
(DeLone et al. (Eds.), 1975, chap. 3)

Durational patterns typically include:

  1. Small or moderate duration complement and range, with one duration (or pulse) predominating the duration hierarchy, being heard as the basic unit throughout a composition. Exceptions are most frequently extremely long, such as pedal tones, or if short generally occurring as the rapidly alternating or transient components of trills, tremolos, or other ornaments.
  2. Rhythmic units based on metric or intrametric patterns, though specific contrametric or extrametric patterns are signatures of certain styles or composers. Triplets and other extrametric patterns are usually heard on levels higher than the basic durational unit or pulse.
  3. Rhythmic gestures of a limited number of rhythmic units, sometimes based on a single or alternating pair.
  4. Thetic, anacrustic, and initial rest rhythmic gestures are used, with anacrustic beginnings and strong endings possibly most frequent and upbeat endings most rare.
  5. Rhythmic gestures repeated exactly or in variation after contrasting gestures. There may be one rhythmic gesture almost exclusively throughout an entire composition; but complete avoidance of repetition is rare.
  6. Composite rhythms which confirm the meter, often in metric or even note patterns identical to the pulse on specific metric level.
(DeLone et al. (Eds.), 1975, chap. 3)

Patterns of pitch and duration are of primary importance in common practice melody while quality is of secondary importance. Durations recur and are often periodic; pitches are generally diatonic. (DeLone et al. (Eds.), 1975, chap. 4)

Many people have proposed that a "new" common practice period is now discernible in 20th century classical music. George Perle (1990) has labeled this "Tradition in 20th Century Music", the most significant of which he considers the "shared premise of the harmonic equivalence of inversionally symmetrical pitch-class relations," among composers such as Edgard Varčse, Alban Berg, Béla Bartók, Arnold Schoenberg, Alexander Scriabin, Igor Stravinsky, Anton Webern, and himself. John Harbison refers to symmetry as the "'new tonality'."


  • DeLone et al. (Eds.) (1975). Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0130493465.
  • Perle, George (1990). The Listening Composer, pp. 46-47. California: University of California Press. ISBN 0520069919.
  • Harbison, John (1992). Symmetries and the "New Tonality". Contemporary Music Review 6 (2), 71-80

External links

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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