Phrase (music)
In music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

 and music theory
Music theory
Music theory is the study of how music works. It examines the language and notation of music. It seeks to identify patterns and structures in composers' techniques across or within genres, styles, or historical periods...

, phrase and phrasing are concepts and practices related to grouping consecutive melodic note
In music, the term note has two primary meanings:#A sign used in musical notation to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound;#A pitched sound itself....

s, both in their composition
Musical composition
Musical composition can refer to an original piece of music, the structure of a musical piece, or the process of creating a new piece of music. People who practice composition are called composers.- Musical compositions :...

 and performance
A performance, in performing arts, generally comprises an event in which a performer or group of performers behave in a particular way for another group of people, the audience. Choral music and ballet are examples. Usually the performers participate in rehearsals beforehand. Afterwards audience...

. A musical work is typically made up of a melody
A melody , also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity...

 that consists of numerous consecutive phrases.

Musical phrase (theoretical concept)

A music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

al phrase ' onMouseout='HidePop("75749")' href="/topics/Strophe">strophe
A strophe forms the first part of the ode in Ancient Greek tragedy, followed by the antistrophe and epode. In its original Greek setting, "strophe, antistrophe and epode were a kind of stanza framed only for the music," as John Milton wrote in the preface to Samson Agonistes, with the strophe...

) is a unit of musical meter
Meter (music)
Meter or metre is a term that music has inherited from the rhythmic element of poetry where it means the number of lines in a verse, the number of syllables in each line and the arrangement of those syllables as long or short, accented or unaccented...

 that has a complete musical sense of its own, built from figures
Figure (music)
A musical figure is the shortest idea in music, a short succession of notes, often recurring. It may have melodic pitch, harmonic progression and rhythmic . The 1964 Grove's Dictionary defines the figure as "the exact counterpart of the German 'motiv' and the French 'motif'": it produces a "single...

, motifs
Motif (music)
In music, a motif or motive is a short musical idea, a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition....

, and cell
Cell (music)
The 1957 Encyclopédie Larousse defines a cell in music as a "small rhythmic and melodic design that can be isolated, or can make up one part of a thematic context." The cell may be distinguished from the figure or motif:...

s and combining to form melodies
A melody , also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity...

, period
Period (music)
In music, a period is a group of phrases consisting usually of at least one antecedent phrase and one consequent phrase totaling about 8 measures in length . Generally, the antecedent ends in a weaker and the consequent in a stronger cadence; often, the antecedent ends in a half cadence while the...

s and larger sections
Section (music)
In music, a section is "a complete, but not independent musical idea". Types of sections include the introduction or intro, exposition, recapitulation, verse, chorus or refrain, conclusion, coda or outro, fadeout, bridge or interlude...

; or the length in which a singer or instrumentalist can play in one breath.

The term, like sentence, verse etc., has been adopted into the vocabulary of music from linguistic syntax. Though the analogy between the musical and the linguistic phrase
In everyday speech, a phrase may refer to any group of words. In linguistics, a phrase is a group of words which form a constituent and so function as a single unit in the syntax of a sentence. A phrase is lower on the grammatical hierarchy than a clause....

 is often made, still the term "is one of the most ambiguous in music....there is no consistency in applying these terms nor can there be...only with melodies of a very simple type, especially those of some dances, can the terms be used with some consistency."

Edward Cone
Edward T. Cone
Edward Toner Cone was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, and philanthropist.Cone studied composition under Roger Sessions at Princeton University, receiving his bachelor's in 1939...

 analyses the "typical musical phrase" as consisting of an "initial downbeat, a period of motion, and a point of arrival marked by a cadential downbeat". Charles Burkhart
Charles Burkhart
Charles Burkhart is a retired musicologist, theorist, composer, and pianist. He is a scholar in Schenkerian analysis.-Bibliography:*Burkhart, Charles and Rothstein, William . Anthology for Musical Analysis. ISBN 9780495916079....

 defines a phrase as "Any group of measures (including a group of one, or possibly even a fraction of one) that has some degree of structural completeness. What counts is the sense of completeness we hear in the pitches not the notation on the page. To be complete such a group must have an ending of some kind … . Phrases are delineated by the tonal functions of pitch. They are not created by slur
Slur (music)
A slur is a symbol in Western musical notation indicating that the notes it embraces are to be played without separation. This implies legato articulation, and in music for bowed string instruments, it also indicates the notes should be played in one bow; and in music for wind instruments, that the...

 or by legato
In musical notation the Italian word legato indicates that musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. That is, in transitioning from note to note, there should be no intervening silence...

 performance … . A phrase is not pitches only but also has a rhythmic dimension, and further, each phrase in a work contributes to that work's large rhythmic organization."
In common practice phrases are often four bar
Bar (music)
In musical notation, a bar is a segment of time defined by a given number of beats of a given duration. Typically, a piece consists of several bars of the same length, and in modern musical notation the number of beats in each bar is specified at the beginning of the score by the top number of a...

s or measures long culminating in a more or less definite cadence
Cadence (music)
In Western musical theory, a cadence is, "a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of repose or resolution [finality or pause]." A harmonic cadence is a progression of two chords that concludes a phrase, section, or piece of music...

. A phrase will end with a weaker or stronger cadence, depending on whether it is an antecedent phrase or a consequent phrase.

Phrase rhythm is the rhythmic aspect of phrase construction and the relationships between phrases, and "is not at all a cut-and-dried affair, but the very lifeblood of music and capable of infinite variety. Discovering a work's phrase rhythm is a gateway to its understanding and to effective performance." The term was popularized by William Rothstein's Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music. Techniques include overlap, lead-in, extension, expansion, reinterpretation and elision.

The act of shaping a phrase during performance is called musical phrasing and considered an art.

Musical phrasing

Phrasing refers to an expressive shaping of music, and relates to the shaping of notes in time. Phrasing relates to the manner of playing the individual notes of a particular group of consecutive notes; and the way they are weighted and shaped relative to one another. It does not refer to the idealised note values/durations
Note value
In music notation, a note value indicates the relative duration of a note, using the color or shape of the note head, the presence or absence of a stem, and the presence or absence of flags/beams/hooks/tails....

 as represented in sheet music; but to the multitude of deviations that the performer needs to make from sheetmusic, if a performance is to be expressive, in a particular style and culturally aware. An example may be an acceleration of a group of notes, but there are many more. This shaping of notes is creatively performed by the musician with the aim of expressing (feelings), and can be distinguished by the listener - not only factually, but in music, as emotional expression.

Being an expressive activity of creative musicians, this questions of how to shape a group of notes in time, cannot be (and is not) exactly specified. Giuseppe Cambini's
Giuseppe Cambini
Giuseppe Maria Gioacchino Cambini was an Italian composer and violinist.Born in Livorno, it is likely that Cambini studied violin with Filippo Manfredi; the only evidence for this is however Cambini's own unreliable account, which also claims inaccurately that he worked with Luigi Boccherini and...

 wrote about violin playing:

The shaping of notes in time, can generally be said to be such, that meaning ("affections of the soul") is expressed. In general particular musical thoughts appear in a group of notes following each other, forming a phrase: a particular part of a melody. These notes belong together and the melodic phrase is then shaped expressively: tension can be built up by accelerating; particular expressive pivot points or emphasis can shaped by holding notes longer (fermata); slowing down can be used to end phrases; rubato, etc.

Phrasing is sometimes also taken to include aspects of musical shaping, other than the timing of melodies, such as articulation
Articulation (music)
In music, articulation refers to the musical direction performance technique which affects the transition or continuity on a single note or between multiple notes or sounds.- Types of articulations :...

 and dynamics
Dynamics (music)
In music, dynamics normally refers to the volume of a sound or note, but can also refer to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic or functional . The term is also applied to the written or printed musical notation used to indicate dynamics...

, etc.

It can also be influenced by lyrics on the song in relation to the piece of musical phrase in sheet music.

Intuitive versus analytical approach to phrase/phrasing

There are two ways/manners in which phrase/phrasing can be approached: intuitive, or analytical.

Often the analytical method is more theoretical and related to the term phrase (analysing a phrase), while the intuitive approach is more related to the term phrasing.

Problems linked with an analytical approach to phrase, occur particularly when the analytical approach is based only on the search for objective information, or (as is often the case) only concerned with the score:

External links

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