Improvising a sentence with galant schemata

The classical sentence lends itself well to galant schemata. In fact, we have labeled many of the schemata on our summary page as “presentation” or “continuation” schemata. Many four-stage schemata tend to appear with the melodic configuration common to the presentation phrase: a basic idea and its varied repetition.

Take the opening theme from Haydn’s Piano Sonata in G Major, Hob. XVI:27, third movement.

Public domain score excerpted from IMSLP. Click image to enlarge.

Bars 1–4 (the presentation phrase) give an embellishment of the Meyer schema. Note the two-bar basic idea that is repeated in mm. 3–4, transposed up a step (for the most part).

Bars 5–6 (beginning the continuation phrase) give an embellishment of the modulating Passo Indietro schema. This is followed by a II6 V7 I cadence in the key of the dominant. (Of course, it goes by so fast, it can easily sound like a half cadence in the home key.)

Our beginning improvisations will not be nearly as elaborate as Haydn’s composition, but note a few features that are helpful to mimic:

  • The Meyer’s typical melody notes come on each downbeat (stage 1 – bar 1, etc.).
  • The Meyer’s typical melody notes for stages 1 and 3 also come at the end of the bar, immediately preceding their counterparts in bars 2 and 4.
  • Though the harmonic rhythm remains the same, the switch from presentation schema to continuation schema is matched by a change from two-bar melodic “chunks” to one-bar melodic chunks. (This is the fragmentation that is common to continuation phrases.)
  • The continuation phrase follows well from the presentation phrase rhythmically and harmonically, but there is no obvious motivic connection between the two phrases.
  • The cadence is relatively formulaic.

In those ways, this theme is a model example for our simple improvisations: highlight the schema’s typical melody notes on the downbeats and/or across the barline between mm. 1 and 2, mm. 3 and 4; use a more original melodic idea at the beginning and get more formulaic as you progress towards the final cadence; etc.

Following is a video that goes into more detail about tricky situations and specific techniques that may come up when using these schemata to improvise a sentence. This video focuses on the presentation phrase, using schemata like the Meyer or the Jupiter.

Improvising a presentation phrase on Vimeo.

Putting it together

The simplest way to build an entire sentence is to begin with one of the four-stage presentation schemata above, and then follow it with either a 5-stage Prinner (which ends on an IAC) or some kind of continuation–cadence combination. Following are a few examples. You can use these as skeletons upon which to base an improvisation, or you can embellish these interactive examples to try out composing a simple sentence. (See the Using Trinket page for details.)

Presentation – 5-phase Prinner

The following framework begins with a Meyer and follows with a 5-stage Prinner. Note that stages 3 and 4 of the Prinner are compressed into a single bar in order to line up with the common 8-bar sentence length. Also note that any presentation schema can be substituted for the Meyer.

Presentation – Passo Indietro – Cadence

Often classical composers would begin a Prinner, and then truncate it to make room for the final cadence. The following example does this, beginning with a Jupiter and progressing through a Passo Indietro (a half-Prinner) to a Compound HC.

By compressing the last two bars into a single bar, we can convert this into a PAC-ending sentence. (And combined, the two versions could form a 16-bar compound theme.)

Presentation – Fast Prinner – Cadence

Instead of a Passo Indietro (half of a Prinner), we could use a full Prinner, but twice as fast. This allows the melody to move more in the latter half of the sentence, accomplishing the fragmentation and acceleration of melodic and harmonic rhythm that are common to continuation phrases.

Following is a sentence formed by Sol-Fa-Mi – Prinner – Fa-Fi-Sol HC.

And the same, but ending with a simple PAC.


To practice improvising using these schemata, you can play along with the mp3 audio files below, created by Mark Arnett. Each recording is in C major, simple quadruple meter, and contains an Alberti-bass left hand with the melodic skeleton in the right hand.

Individual schemata

Sentential schema chains