Why Song Analysis is Critical (Part 1)

When I look at a piece of music, I start to analyze the song right away. I used to do this even in college when looking at classical pieces.

I was always getting distracted while playing Bach chorales because I was so enthralled with the harmonies and wanted to analyze and improvise around them!

So why analyze music right away?

Well, analyzing music helps you:

  1. memorize songs faster
  2. know what’s coming next (like mind-reading chords)
  3. helps focus your improvisation (because you know what is coming next)

Let’s use the song L-O-V-E as an example. Below is the A section of the song (just chords):

L O V E song analysis

First, let’s put aside if these are the “right” chord changes or not. See, many musicians play different chord progressions for songs and will quickly tell you that the changes of a particular song are wrong. Let’s not deal with that right now and only use this A section as an example, OK?

What Do I See When Analyzing Music?

When I look at this section of music, I first notice that the song is likely in the key of G (due in part to the first chord being a G and also due to the chords that follow. Son analysis also helps you quickly determine the key of music).

Next I notice that it is 16-measures long. It is important to start to see sections of music and think in terms of 4-, 8-, 16-bar sections. This makes it a lot easier for you to recall a piece of music later.

Last, I notice that the chords are moving (for the most part) between the I, IV and V chords. Yes, there are other chords in there, but right now I want to get the “big picture” so in a pinch I can have at least a fighting chance of being able to recall the main sections of music.

For example, if I were cooking a recipe, this process would be akin to get the “main” ingredients and leaving the spices for later inclusion. In other words, if I was going to make a chicken coupon, I know I need to boil at least chicken and water, right? The carrots, celery, noodles, etc can come later. However, if all I had was chicken and water, albeit bland, would still render me a basic chicken soup.

This is what we want to achieve when looking at a piece of music (especially for the first time). Try to attain a quick overview of the song.

How quick you ask?

You should be able to get a basic overview of a song within 5-10 seconds. At first you’ll want to spend a lot more time trying to ‘figure it all out.’ However, with practice, you’ll learn to pick out only the important parts.

Now you try…

Body And Soul Analysis

Now it’s your turn. Try QUICKLY analyzing the jazz standard Body And Soul. I am purposefully going to make the image small, but when you click on it, you’ll open a new page with a larger image. This way you can read the directions below before “peeking” at the music.


I want you to look for (3) pieces of information:

  1. What key is this song in?
  2. How many measures long is this first A section? There are actually 2 right answers for this.
  3. What are the MAIN chords? See any chord patterns?

If you don’t get all answers correct the first time around…that’s OK! Be patient with yourself. If you can, try to time yourself and see how long it takes you. Here’s a free online timer.

Post your times and comments below. I’ll be posting a part 2 to this article in a few days.

Click on the image below to open a larger view:

analyze jazz standards body and soul

Next Steps…

I’ll be teaching a LIVE lesson on Critical Song Analysis Saturday, June 20th at 7:30am ET.

Check out part 2 of this article along with answers to the Body And Soul analysis.

Want to take the Song Analysis Challenge? Check it out in our forum.

Please be sure to leave your comments below and I’ll respond.

author avatar
Willie President
Willie Myette is a pianist, serial entrepreneur and author of over a dozen books on piano and music education. He received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in under 4 years. Willie is the creator and president of online piano instruction sites Jazzedge® Academy, Jazz Piano Lessons and HomeSchool Piano.

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