The prelude is ternary and homophonic in nature. The "A" section (measures 1–13) introduces the first theme, section "B" (13–30) introduces a new set of variations, and measures 30–41 mark an altered return to the original "A" theme. Each of the larger ternary sections contains its set of "micro-variations" marked by changes in note values, dynamics, and rhythm. For instance, the "A" theme, introduced in measures 1 and 2, is varied in measure 8.
A "hidden" chromatic sequence in the "A" section occurs in the bass line on the second beat of measure 1 and the first beat of measures 2–6. This sequence is later revealed as the basis for the "B" theme, first introduced transitorily as a modulation between the "A" and "B" sections. Compare measures 6 and 24:
- Norris, Geoffrey, Rachmaninoff, Schirmer Books, 1993 (pg. 170).