ELI5: What’s the difference between sonata, concerto, symphony etc. in classical music?

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Symphony: Full orchestra piece not centred on one instrument. Concerto: Solo instrument accompanied by an orchestra. Sonata: Solo instrument usually accompanied by piano (or another keyboard instrument). Can also be a solo keyboard piece.


Sonata is a musical form, meaning that the way the music is arranged is in a certain order. (Exposition, Development, Recapitulation) It’s a way for a composer to fully explore musical themes and show off their compositional skills. Sonata can also refer to a group of pieces (usually 3 movements), the 1st movement being in Sonata form, the 2nd movement usually being slower shorter piece, and the 3rd movement being in some sort of Rondo form. Throughout these 3 movements there can be re-accuring themes and harmonic progressions linking all 3 movements together. Symphony is in reference to the full orchestra, not to be confused with symphonia which is also a musical form. Concerto is a style of composition that involves a symphony, but emphasizes one or two specific instruments which are the “soloists”


And what about the differences between Minuette, Bolero, Requiem, Nocturne, Serenade, etc?


Sonata is a long solo. It gets performed by a soloist. Concerto is piece for a soloist and an orchestra. Symphony is a piece for an orchestra.