Pitch-based motives proliferate in many styles of music and are routinely covered in undergraduate instruction. The treatment motives receive, however, is usually cursory. Tonal theory instructors have many reasons for skimming the motivic analysis unit, among them time pressures, underestimating the topic’s complexity, and the influence of textbook design. This standard rushed approach yields poor outcomes in which students are unable to reliably identify recurrences of a small set of motives over any musical span. They are as likely to apply brackets and labels indiscriminately to too many (trivial) events as they are to under-analyze large stretches of motivically-significant events.

This article offers a detailed methodology to combat such results, which manifests at its core as a set of graduated, restrictive guidelines for both students and teachers. The rules are cast in negative valence—e.g., “endeavor to not do this or that”— to counter the outcomes that result from classes being afforded too many freedoms in technique too early in their development. Such unrestricted analyses—which highlight phenomenally-dubious shapes, over- or under-analyze long stretches of music, and inconsistently relate ideas to each other—often fail to communicate a clear view of pieces. The utility of the method is supported by critiques of fabricated student analysis and teacher assignments centering on pieces by Fanny Hensel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Edvard Grieg.