Analysis is an activity most often engaged in by musicologists and most often applied to western classical music, although music of non-western cultures and that of an oral, rather than written, tradition is also often analysed. An analysis can be conducted on a single piece of music, on a portion or element of a piece or on a collection of pieces.
The process of analysis often involves breaking the piece down into relatively simpler and smaller parts. Often, the way these parts fit together and interact with each other is then examined.
Some analysts, such as Donald Francis Tovey (whose Essays in Musical Analysis are among the most accessible musical analyses) have presented their analyses in prose. Others, such as Hans Keller (who devised a technique he called functional analysis) used no prose commentary at all in some of their work.
There have been many notable analysts other than Tovey and Keller. One of the best known and most influential was Heinrich Schenker, who developed Schenkerian analysis, a method which seeks to reduce all tonal classical works to a simple contrapuntal sequence. Rudolph Réti is notable for tracing the development of small melodic motifs through a work, while Nicolas Ruwet's analysis amounts to a kind of musical semiology.
Musicologists associated with the new musicology often use musical analysis (traditional or not) along with or to support their examinations of the performance practice and social situations in which music is produced and which produce music, and vice versus. The insights gained from the social considerations may then yield insight into the methods of analysis, and vice versus.