- Date: 13th century
- 1 a : the shape and structure of something as distinguished from its material b : a body (as of a person) especially in its external appearance or as distinguished from the face : figure c archaic : beauty
- 2 : the essential nature of a thing as distinguished from its matter: as a : idea 1a b : the component of a thing that determines its kind
- 3 a : established method of expression or proceeding : procedure according to rule or rote; also : a standard or expectation based on past experience : precedent <true to form, the champions won again> b : a prescribed and set order of words : formula <the form of the marriage service>
- 4 : a printed or typed document with blank spaces for insertion of required or requested information <tax forms>
- 5 a (1) : conduct regulated by extraneous controls (as of custom or etiquette) : ceremony (2) : show without substance
- b : manner or conduct as tested by a prescribed or accepted standard <rudeness is simply bad form>
- c : manner or style of performing or accomplishing according to recognized standards of technique <a strong swimmer but weak on form>
- 6 a : the resting place or nest of a hare
- b : a long seat : bench
- 7 a : a supporting frame model of the human figure or part (as the torso) of the human figure usually used for displaying apparel :
- b : a proportioned and often adjustable model for fitting clothes
- c : a mold in which concrete is placed to set
8 : the printing type or other matter arranged and secured in a chase ready for printing 9 a : one of the different modes of existence, action, or manifestation of a particular thing or substance : kind <one form of respiratory disorder> <a form of art>
- b : a distinguishable group of organisms
- c : linguistic form
- d : one of the different aspects a word may take as a result of inflection or change of spelling or pronunciation <verbal forms>
- e : a mathematical expression of a particular type <a bilinear form> <a polynomial form>
- 10 a (1) : orderly method of arrangement (as in the presentation of ideas) : manner of coordinating elements (as of an artistic production or course of reasoning) (2) : a particular kind or instance of such arrangement <the sonnet is a poetical form>
- b : pattern, schema <arguments of the same logical form>
- c : the structural element, plan, or design of a work of art — compare content 2c
- d : a visible and measurable unit defined by a contour : a bounded surface or volume
- 11 : a grade in a British school or in some American private schools
- 12 a (1) : the past performance of a race horse (2) : racing form
- b : known ability to perform <a singer at the top of her form>
- c : condition suitable for performing (as in athletic competition) <back on form>
The term musical form is often loosely used to refer to particular musical genres or styles, which may be determined by factors such as harmonic language, typical rhythms, types of musical instrument used as well as historical and geographical origins. In the vocabulary of art-music, however, it has a more extended meaning, referring to the type of "architectural" structure on which the music is built. Scholes (1977) explained musical form as a series of strategies designed to find a successful mean between the opposite extremes of unrelieved repetition and unrelieved alteration.
Middleton (p. 145) also describes form, presumably after Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (1968, translated 1994), through repetition and difference. Difference is the distance moved from a repeat, a repeat being the smallest difference. Difference is quantitative and qualitative — how far different and what type of difference.
Musical form may be contrasted with content (the parts) or with surface (the detail), but there is no clear line dividing them. "Form covers the shape or structure of the work, content its substance, meaning, ideas, or expressive effects" (Middleton 1999). In many cases form depends on statement and restatement, unity and variety, contrast and connection.
- DeLone et al. (Eds.) (1975). Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.
- Lerdahl, Fred (1992). "Cognitive Constraints on Compositional Systems", Contemporary Music Review 6 (2), pp. 97-121.
- Richard Middleton. "Form", in Horner, Bruce and Swiss, Thomas, eds. (1999) Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture. Malden, Massachusetts. ISBN 0-631-21263-9.
- Stewart Macpherson. Form in Music (New and Revised Edition, 1930, Joseph Williams, London).
- Percy A. Scholes (1977). The Oxford Companion to Music, 10th Edition, OUP. Article: Form.
- Alfred Mann (1958). The Study of Fugue, W.W.Norton and Co. Inc.