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Introduction to galant schemata

Schemata (pl. of schema) are "stock musical phrases employed in conventional sequences" (Gjerdingen 2007, p. 6). We can apply the term schema in three specific ways. First, a schema is a prototype—an idealized version of a common pattern. Second, a schema can be an exemplar—a single pattern that resembles the prototype. Third, a schema can be a theory—an explanation of a commonly occurring musical event. All of these ideas go into how we understand schemata. We understand an individual pattern (exemplar) as a version of an ideal general pattern (prototype), and that relationship helps us understand how that pattern is functioning within a particular passage of music (theory).

That latter point is significant. Like harmonic functions and formal functions, schemata have both internal defining characteristics and normative placements within a series of musical events. Just as identifying and interpreting the function of a particular chord involves taking an inventory of its internal characteristics (the scale degrees present) and its location in the phrase, identifying and interpreting a particular schema will involve noting both its internal characteristics and what comes before and after it. And just like a chord can project a particular harmonic function without containing every scale degree associated with that function, a phrase or sub-phrase can project the identity and function of a particular schema without possessing every defining characteristic of the schema. (In other words, not every exemplar could stand as a prototype.)

The remainder of this article provides the defining characteristics of a number of schemata common to galant, or Classical, music of eighteenth-century European court life, as well as their typical placement in "conventional sequences." The names and descriptions of the schemata follow Gjerdingen's names and descriptions, which were often, in turn, based on the work of theorists like Joseph Riepel. I also frequently connect Gjerdingen's descriptions to formal functions from William Caplin's Classical Form. For more detail or examples, please consult those two sources.


The Prinner is incredibly common in galant music, and it is typically a response to an opening schema. It often occurs in a sentence or a hybrid theme type as the continuation phrase.

The Prinner has four parts corresponding to four bass notes: fami/meredo. The skeleton of the Prinner's melody typically accompanies the bass in parallel tenths: la/lesolfami/me. Harmonically, the fa and do bass notes tend to take chords of the fifth, and the two middle bass notes, mi/me and re, tend to take chords of the sixth. Often the re's chord is embellished by a 7–6 suspension in an inner voice.

Some Prinner exemplars insert a sol bass note before the last chord, resulting in an authentic cadence: D5–T1. Non-modulating Prinners that operate as continuation phrases often contain this move in order to end the sentence or hybrid theme satisfactorily.

Non-modulating Prinners imply modulating Prinners. Indeed, the Prinner pattern is often found transposed up a fifth in order to effect a modulation to the dominant of the original key. This modulation is accomplished by a simple transposition. When transposed up a fifth, the first stage of the Prinner (chord of the fifth on fa) is the tonic of the home key (chord of the fifth, now on do), making a smooth transition. These modulating Prinners are used in sentence or hybrid themes either to modulate to the dominant key or to effect a strong half cadence. They also commonly appear at the beginning of the Transition (TR) zone in a sonata movement, effecting the same move to the dominant.


A Fonte (It. for "fountain" or "well"—think going down) is a common pattern to begin the contrasting middle of a small ternary form. In other words, it follows the double-bar in a minuet, minuet trio, or rounded-binary theme. A Fonte is a model/sequence schema: a two-bar pattern is immediately repeated one step lower than the original.

Harmonically, the first two-bar unit (the model) contains two chords, one per bar: an applied dominant chord, and the tonicized chord to which the applied dominant points. The most common chord pattern for the Fonte's model is D7/II T1/II of the home key, with the D7 being a chord of the sixth and the T1 being a chord of the fifth. (Other "inversions" are possible, such as D4/II T3/II.) When the model composes out D7/II II, the sequence will transpose it down to tonic: D7 T1 of the home key.

As an example, the functional-bass analysis of a typical Fonte in a small ternary whose home key is G major looks like:

Haydn, Piano Sonata in G Major, Hob.XVI:27, III., mm. 9–12.

Note the non-cadential progressions, D7–T1. Normally such progressions would need to be interpreted as prolonging a tonal function (i.e., tonic function), which would be difficult to interpret here. Schemata often contain such progressions. Simply analyze the chords individually and label the schema, rather than trying to interpret these progressions as prolongational. (Indeed, they are not.)

A common model for a minuet containing a Fonte is as follows:

||: EXPOSITION ending with V:PAC :||: Fonte - phrase ending with I:HC – RECAPITULATION :||

The Fonte is a quick and easy way for a composer to transition from the key of the dominant (where a major-key minuet's exposition cadences immediately before the double-bar) to the key of the tonic. It will usually be followed by a phrase that stands on or moves to the dominant of the home key. The half cadence or dominant arrival at the end of that phrase will prepare for the return to the opening material in the home key, the recapitulation of the minuet or small ternary.


A Monte (It. for "mountain"—think going up) functions similarly to a Fonte. It typically occurs as part of the contrasting middle section of a minuet or other small ternary, it is a model/sequence schema, and it involves an applied chord resolving to a tonicized chord—typically a D7 T1 pattern. The difference is that where a Fonte goes down (D7/II T1/II D7 T1), a Monte goes up (D7/IV T1/IV D7/V T1/V). And where a Fonte is almost exclusively four bars long (one model followed by one transposed repetition), a Monte sometimes extends to six or more bars (one model followed by one or more transposed repetitions).


A Ponte (It. for "bridge") was another common schema for the contrasting middle of a minuet. Unlike the Fonte and the Monte, the Ponte need not be a model/sequence schema. It effects delay rather than motion. A Ponte typically functions like what Caplin calls standing on the dominant. The exposition of the major-key minuet will end with a PAC in the dominant of the home key. When a Ponte follows that cadence, it holds onto that T1/V, heightens tension melodically, and often adds a seventh to the chord (making it D5 of the home key). A passage built on a Ponte does not have a cadence, since there is no harmonic progression, but instead ends with a punctuated dominant chord in the home key, which Caplin calls a dominant arrival rather than a half cadence. This dominant arrival prepares the return of the home key and the opening basic idea that come at the minuet's recapitulation.

[lots more schemas coming in time]


Caplin, William. Classical Form. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Gjerdingen, Robert O. Music in the Galant Style. Oxford University Press, 2007.