SHMRG in detail

In his Guidelines for Style Analysis, Jan C LaRue has come up with a very useful set of categories for helping us listen to music in a consistent, articulate, and therefore comparative way. This is not the only way to listen to music, but it is very helpful for purposes of studying and remembering specific pieces.
The five categories LaRue proposes are as follows.
  • Sound
  • Harmony
  • Melody
  • Rhythm
  • Growth

Together, we can remember these categories using the acronym SHMRG. The five SHMRG parameters can be considered at a very minute level (note-by-note, beat-by-beat, or chord-by-chord) or at a very major level (over the entire course of a multi-movement work, for example).

In this sample assignment, please organize your comments, as you would in your listening journal, according to these categories.
Here are some of the considerations included under each of the above category.
  • Sound

Texture, timbre and dynamics:
  • How many parts are present? Is the texture a single line of melody ("monophonic"), multiple lines of melody moving separately from one another ("polyphonic"), multiple voices all moving together rhythmically ("homophonic"), or multiple voices playing roughly the same melody but with some separate variations ("heterophonic")?
  • Is the texture overall in the high, middle, or low range of audible sound? Are individual parts in the high, middle or low range?
  • What is the orchestration? What instruments or voices are sounding? Are they being played/sung in conventional ways, or in extremely high or low ranges? Are special techniques being used to create unusual sound quality? Are instruments being combined; if so, how?
  • What is the dynamic (loudness to softness)? Does the sound exploit dynamic contrast, or is the overall dynamic rather consistent?
  • Contrast: does the piece employ contrasting textures which are juxtaposed, overlapped, or abruptly change? Is this done for structural, textual or other reasons?
  • Language: if the piece is texted, what does the text tell us about the music?
  • Harmony

All observations about the "vertical" aspect of the sound; in other words, how simultaneous notes are combined to yield specific effects:
  • If the texture is polyphonic or homophonic, how many different parts are sounding simultaneously? Are they creating 3- or more-note chords? Are those chords triads (e.g., stacked up in 3rds, as expected in common-practice harmony) or are they based on other intervals (fourths, dissonant intervals, etc)?
  • Is the piece
    • diatonic (e.g., based on the conventional major or relative minor scale)
    • modal (e.g., based on modes)
    • pentatonic or gapped-mode (e.g., based on a scale of fewer than 7 notes to the octave)
    • atonal (e.g., without a tonal center)
    • chromatic (e.g., employing more than 7 notes to the octave, including the half-step "chromatics")?
  • How do sonorities (e.g., vertical combinations of simultaneous notes) move from one to the next? Do they follow conventional root motion (e.g., by fourths, fifths, or diatonic steps) or is the motion from one sonority to the next unpredictable?
  • Cadences: do cadences (motion from I-IV, I-V, IV-I, or V-I) appear in expected places (e.g., the ends of phrases)? Does the piece contrast "half"-cadences (e.g., I-IV, IV-V, I-V) with "full"-cadences (V-I)? If not, specifically what sorts of unexpected cadential motion are employed?
  • Seventh chords: are dominant sevenths used in cadences? Do they or do they not resolve as expected?
  • Dissonance: Is dissonance present? If so, is it "prepared" (e.g., following the rules of voice-leading) or "unprepared" (e.g., not following the rules of voice-leading)? Does it appear where expected at cadences, or does it appear in other places?
  • Tonality: is the piece in a major or minor scale? What does the effect of a scale's major or minor nature have on the chords built upon the scale?
  • What about key area? Does the piece stay all in one key, or does it modulate? If it modulates, does it modulate to expected relative keys (dominant, tonic, relative major or minor) or to distant or unexpected keys?
  • Modulations: if modulation is present, how is it prepared and resolved?
  • Overall key schemes: if the piece uses multiple key areas, how are those key areas deployed or combined? Does the overall key scheme help create an overall sense of organization to the piece as a whole?

· Melody
All aspects of the "horizontal" motion of a sequence of pitches through time:
  • Motion: does a given melody move predominantly in conjunct ("stepwise") or disjunct ("by leap") motion?
  • What is the compass of the melody (e.g., wide or narrow total range)? What is the tessitura of the melody (e.g., is it in a high, middle, or low register for that voice-type or instrument)?
  • Shape: does the melody move in smooth directions or are there many changes of direction? Does the melody outline chords/arpeggios? Does the melody have a predominant overall shape (arch, dip, "sinuous", etc)?
  • Is the melody diatonic (major or minor), modal, or chromatic?

· Rhythm
All aspects of rhythm (musical divisions of time) from minute (beat-by-beat) to macro (over the whole piece) levels:
  • At the level of the beat: is there a predominant subdivision to the beat? Is it duple, triple, or otherwise?
  • Beat groupings: are beats grouped together in regular, consistent, or repetitive ways (in other words, is there some kind of rhythmic meter? If so, is that meter symmetrical (e.g., divisible by 2 or 3) or asymmetrical (e.g, grouped in 5's, 7's, 9's, etc); in other words, is it an odd-meter?
  • Does the piece employ characteristic rhythms, especially those associated with certain types of dances? In contrast, is the piece performed a tempo, parlando, or rubato (e.g., without specific rhythm or meter)? Does the piece employ speech-like rhythms?
  • Layered rhythm: if the piece employs multiple musical parts, are those parts moving in a rhythmic unison (e.g., is a homophonic texture) or are the parts moving with some degree of rhythmic independence (e.g., is it a more polyphonic texture)?
  • Polyrhythm or polymeter: if the piece employs multiple musical parts, are those separate parts moving in separate, but consistent, rhythms or meters?
  • Rhythmic contrast: does the piece juxtapose, overlap, or combine contrasting rhythms? If so, does it do this for structural purposes?

· Growth
All aspects of structure, form or musical organization of the piece as it unfolds over time:
  • At the micro level: what is the typical phrase length? Is it symmetrical (e.g., repetitive or predictable) or asymmetrical? Is the phrase length built of even-length groupings of beats, or odd-length?
  • Are phrases repeated, varied, or contrasted? Are sections repeated, varied, or contrasted?
  • How is growth defined or signaled to the listener: by repetition, by placement of cadences, by change of harmony, by modulation?
  • Is the form (of whatever length or complexity) one you recognize? Is the composer employing a familiar form because of its familiarity? If so, what associations is the composer trying to evoke?
  • Does the piece completely follow, partially vary, or completely ignore the structural expectations of the form being employed? If so, why does the composer do this? In your opinion, does it work, and if so, why?

All of the above types of considerations are valid and valuable ways of organizing both your listening, your note-taking, entries in your listening journal, and your responses to listening-ID's on quizzes and exams. By regularly employing and practicing with the SHMRG categories, you can enormously increase your ability to listen to music analytically, compare it logically, and remember it accurately.