Analytical Techniques


Lecture:  Schenkerian Analysis







Tech Help






Theory Help




Macro Analysis

This is the BIG picture!


Notation Guide


Note:  As you are reading, you may notice that some of the vocabulary associated with Schenkerian analysis is in German.  It would be a great idea to start a short glossary.  That way all of the German words that start with a "U" will not confuse you as you learn their definitions.

First, take a read through the Oxford Music Online article about

Heinrich Schenker

If this link does not work for you, go to the database list on the Tarleton library web page, Oxford Music Online, and search for Heinrich Schenker

Second,   follow this link to learn more about this form of analysis.  You have to scroll about halfway down the page to the paragraph that begins with "In 1906 Heinrich Schenker had published . . ."  You can stop reading when the topic shifts to Schoenberg.

Analysis History

If this link does not work for you, go to the database list on the Tarleton library web page, Oxford Music Online, and search for Heinrich Schenker


Also read this explanation of Schenkerian analysis

Shhhhhhhh - I know it's Wikipedia, but it is a pretty good concise overview!

Third, let's be clear that there is no way    we can cover Schenkerian analysis in 1 or 2 weeks.  Our objective here is to scratch the surface of this form of analysis and to add to our consciousness a new way of looking at, listening to, learning, and teaching a piece of music.

Schenker intended his analysis to be for use by the performer, to teach a greater understanding of the work as a whole.



Schenker applied his analytic technique only to the music that he considered to be the best - Western art tonal music from Bach to Brahms.  He considered other music to be sub-standard or primitive or developmental.


The composers whose music Schenker deemed worthy to analyze included

Handel, Bach, Scarlatti, C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, and Brahms

mostly Germanic and all European

However, others have applied this analysis to works outside this limited time/place/style.


This type of analysis identifies:

Foreground (surface structure)

Middleground (intermediate structure)

Background (deep structure)


If we were to do that with a sentence, it may make more sense.

Here's the sentence:

The Egyptian mummy danced a jig.

First we would take out the least important words

Egyptian mummy danced jig. (remember Tonto?)

Then we would strip it down to the most basic

Mummy danced.

This is a very crude illustration of foreground, middleground, background.


Think of it as the opposite of writing counterpoint over a cantus firmus (look that up if your memory is fuzzy!)


The cantus firmus would be a kind of background - the deep structure of the piece.  The counterpoint might be viewed as the middle ground.  The foreground might include the decorative pitches or ornamentation.  That is a very general metaphor, but might help you see the compositional process.


When considering middleground, for example, you should be aware that not all chords in a progression are structural.  Some are passing chords, some are neighboring chords, etc. - just like decorative pitches, there are decorative chords. 


Since we have very little time to become familiar with the basics of Schenkerian analysis, Tom Pankhurst's site entitled


will be perfect!!

Go through the Panic Guide step by step and you will get the basics.

Make some notes - you will need them later


Here are some basic principles of Schenkerian Analysis:


Schenker assumed that every structural harmony must be a consonant chord


He proposed that the entire composition is derived from the original tonic triad


The fundamental structure of the background of Schenkerian analysis shows a clear motion from the beginning to the end of the piece that can be illustrated by a 2-part contrapuntal structure (Ursatz)

  • the fundamental line (Urlinie) begins on scale degree 8, 5, 3, or 1 and descends to the root showing the basic melodic dimension of the piece.

  • the bass line  (Bassbrechung) arpeggiates from tonic, to dominant, and back to tonic and shows the harmonic dimension of the piece.


It focuses on these two dimensions (harmony and voice-leading)  and often considers other musical elements (rhythm, for example) to be surface events.




Below is an example of the Urlinie moving from scale degree 5 in the key of Eb.  This is just a short excerpt. 

If it were to continue, it would go on to the tonic and complete the descent.


Here is a Schenkerian analysis of the background of Bach's "Prelude in C Major," WTC I


Here is an example of the 3 layers of a piece. 

Also included is a foreground reduction (this will not be required for your assignment), which just means simplifying the foreground in preparation for exposing the next layer (middleground).

For more practice on this, go to the Assignment section at the bottom of this page:

You can work through any or all of these assignments (answers are included to help you work through them) to get the hang of the process.


Here is an example of a Schenker analysis in real-time as you listen to the piece (be sure to listen all the way to the end).  This is very helpful to visualize what notes are most important as you listen.

Traumerei by Schumann


Created and maintained by Vicky V. Johnson