Music TheoryForm

What Is A Medley In Music?

Written by Samuel Chase

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Form in music can look and sound like many different things. In our main post on Musical Form which is another way of describing the structure of a piece of music, we identified nine common forms that include the majority of the songs you hear on the radio and at home. 

In this post, we’ll look at one of those specific forms, Medley Form. But first, we need to remember what musical form is.

Musical Form 

Musical form is essentially how a song or piece of music is structured.

It deals with how certain organizational units like bars (or measures), phrases, passages, and movements are set up, if they repeat and how often, and how the piece flows from one of them to the next. 

In sectional forms, which is when a song has specific sections that we can label and analyze (e.g. verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) we can apply letters (A, B, C, D…) to the sections.

This allows us to differentiate between the forms by giving them different combinations of letters.

Definition Of A Medley

A Medley is a type of song that takes multiple different songs and plays them altogether, one after the other.

There are usually three songs mashed up, but there can be more.

Medleys are often seen in a musical overture that plays at the beginning of a film or a musical theater production. 

A piece of music with Medley Form is one of constant variation.

Essentially, the song starts off with one idea (A), and then it moves on to another (B), never to come back to A.

It then continues through ideas (C – D, etc.) until it ends.

It can be notated as ABCD… form. 

Examples of medleys include musicians playing ‘mashups’ or combinations of other songs.

This “Four Chord Song” by the Axis of Awesome is a medley of many, many songs:

Axis Of Awesome – 4 Chord Song

Now, the chords and harmony of the song all stay the same throughout, but because the lyrics and melodies change we can consider each new song a new letter.

Another medley example is this “Beach Boys Medley” by The Beach Boys.

It has more distinct sections, in that each new song has a different harmony as well as melody, making it easier to recognize the new section and letter.

“Beach Boys Medley” – The Beach Boys

In Summary

Musical pieces with Medley Form are ones that never revisit or repeat an earlier, previously-left section.

They have letter structures of ABCD… or some sort of iteration around that (like AABBCCDD or similar).

They’re not particularly common to hear on the radio or around the house, but neither are they very rare, and there are some famous examples that should help you get acquainted with them.

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Samuel Chase has been playing music since he was 5 years old, and teaching music since he was 13. He has a PhD in Music from the University of Surrey, and he has composed music that has been played in three different countries. He is currently working as a film composer and writing a book on film music.