B10 | Sonata Form

The term sonata has two meanings in music:

  1. A piece to be played (rather than sung). The term originates from Latin; ‘sonare’ means the opposite to ‘cantare’ which means music that is sung.
  2. A form that’s divided into three parts: exposition, development and recapitulation and which is usually used as the basis for the first movements in string quartets, symphonies and instrumental pieces (sonata – definition 1 above).

In this component, we will focus on the second definition, i.e. sonata form.

At the turn of the Classical period, composers showed increasing interest in homophonic textures at the expense of counterpoint. The sonata form grew out of the binary form of the Baroque period. Contrary to binary form, the sonata form develops material in more organic fashion.

It is a flexible form that is used in a number of different ways by composers. That said, there are common features to those works that use the form. Here is a plan of the main sections of the sonata form:

Exposition Development Recapitulation

1st Subject

Bridge (modulation)

2nd Subject (related key)

Developing material from the exposition (numerous keys)

1st Subject


2nd Subject (tonic key)


B10 Exercises

Composition task

B10 Composition task