Phrases and Phrasing

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†††† Musical phrasing is an entirely different concept. It has more to do with how a melodic phrase is played or sung. Itís very similar to spoken phrasing where certain words are emphasized in order to define the intent of the speaker. Jazz improvisation depends heavily upon it to lend a distinctive style to a piece by a performer.


†††† Simply put, itís the altering of the timing and lengths of notes in order to change the melody slightly (or not so slightly) in addition to inserting articulations to move from one note to the next. There are many different techniques for accomplishing this including but not limited to staccato, legato, jumping on notes, waiting on notes, sliding from note to note and in the case of guitar and some brass instruments, bends.


†††† Any of the above techniques can be boring if used continuously for the entire melody but carefully and judiciously applied, they can add interest and life to an otherwise ordinary melody.


†††† Staccato phrasing involves playing or singing the notes with an abrupt end that leaves a small rest before the next note. It really helps to define the rhythm of the melody as the notes are typically right on the beat.


†††† Legato phrasing involves allowing the notes to blend one into another so that there is not a discernable beginning or end to the notes. Guitarists use 1) Hammer-ons (fretting one note with the index, middle or ring finger and then pressing on a higher fret while the first note rings out), 2) Pull-offs (playing a note fretted with the middle, ring or pinkie while simultaneously fretting a lower note on the same string with either the index, middle or ring finger and then pulling the finger off of the first note while it is ringing out to allow the lower note to sound) 3) sliding and 4) bending.


††††† Jumping on a note means playing it a little before the beat while waiting on a note means playing it a little after the beat. In both cases, the notes can either be played with the original value (eighth, quarter, etc) or can be shortened or lengthened accordingly. If the note is played with its original time value, it can lead to either a rest (sometimes preferable) before the next note or two notes running into one another (not desirable or even possible in most cases)


†††† In addition, notes can be shortened or lengthened without changing their starting times to change the rhythm and feel of a melody. It can be subtle or very apparent depending on what the performer wants the melody to sound like.


†††† I took a very familiar melody and used some of the techniques above to illustrate what can be accomplished. Listen here. Being aware of phrasing when performing or recording as it is invaluable in creating a particular style or mood in a piece.




††††† Musical phrases and phrasing are two completely different concepts. As commonly defined, a phrase is a section of notes which can be thought of complete. This is kind of nebulous but I think I can clear things up.


†††† A complete phrase is like a complete thought. When itís finished youíre not left wanting. For instance, a 4th or 7th can lead the listener to anticipate the next note be it the one above or below it. 2nds, 3rds, 5ths and 6ths tend to satisfy the listener.