Becoming a More Musical Performer Part 3

The Construction of Musical Phrases

A musical phrase is similar to a sentence in a story. Both are part of a larger whole and is important in effectively telling of the story. By themselves, each will have little impact but when combined with other sentences or musical phrases, the story becomes complete. Too often when players approach a solo, they only consider getting from the first note to the last with the least amount of errors. What true artists strive for is to carefully construct a dialog of information which will comprehensively inform the listener of the complete musical story.

How is a musical phrase constructed?

Just as a complete sentence has to have proportionate and supportive sections, so is the case for musical phrases.

Below I will illustrate this condition with a well known song which includes four phrases. I will try to demonstrate the function and relationship of each part to the final song.

Download example sheet here Part 3 Phrases

The form of most musical compositions can easily be recognized by the construction of their musical phrases. A song is most often written in an AABA form which represents four sections made up of two basic melodic ideas. The first phrase, labeled A,  is stated and then repeated to form an AA combination. Then new material is added (B) which then forms an AAB structure. Finally the first A material is added again to complete the AABA structure. Most traditional music is constructed in a similar fashion and once you are able to recognize the form or structure of a composition, you will more easily understand how each section relates to the others. Knowing this relationship will increase your musical ability to perform your music more effectively.

Here are some suggestions on how to make your performance more musical by utilizing musical form.

  • When repeating a phrase, never play the second time through the same as the first time.
  • You can add interest to your repeated sections through the use of contrasting tempi and /or dynamics.
  • Usually the contrasting section will stand out as a contrast to the other phrases.
  • When we play higher, we most often play faster and when we play lower, we play slower.
  • When we play soft, we generally will play slower and when playing loud, we tend to play faster.
  • When playing phrases, think of the end of the phrase as ending with a comma rather than a period. This will tend to connect your phrases more musically.

With this information you will now need to spend some time looking over your last exercise sheet for it contains much information to absorb. Your final example includes both intensity as well as tempo information. Following one line will not be difficult but trying to

follow both may be more difficult. My final suggestion to you would be this, “Concentrate on the small stuff and have fun.”

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.