You may be familiar with phrasing in your language class. Yet, when it comes to music, you might feel a bit confused with musical phrasing. Musical phrasing, of course, is how a musician shapes and colors the note sequence in a music passage. He does this to relay an impression or emotion. He achieves this stylistic deviation from the sheet music by changing the tempo, tone, articulation dynamics, and other characteristics.
Phrasing can be done by a musician using his instrument or his voice. If you are a singer, you engage in phrasing when you pause, stop or breathe. It refers to how you separate words or string them together to convey your style or meaning. Your style of phrasing usually sets you apart from the rest of the singers.
If you listen, for example, to Frank Sinatra or Pavarotti, you’ll notice they have a way of phrasing songs. Their manner of phrasing the music lines makes them stand out.
Instrumentalists can also engage in phrasing. A guitar player, for example, can present their licks and notes differently from other guitarists. Musical phrases, of course, for guitarists are short notes and licks that they separate by space. The way they render these notes and licks with dynamism and emotion distinguish them from other guitarists.
Definition of Phrase in Music
The phrase, in music, refers to a short section of musical composition into which the vocal or instrumental appears to fall naturally. The most common phrases are 4 measures. Yet, you can find longer or shorter phrases, likewise.
A phrase may be expressed in one breath. Sometimes, it may be indicated by sub-divisions. You will also find phrase-marks in the forms of slurs that are placed under or over the notes. These slurs function as hints on how you should phrase a section of music in a performance.
Phrasing, of course, is more often instinctive. Thus, different artists phrase a song or a section of music differently. These variations in phrasing differentiate one artist from another. It also shows how inspired an artist is as compared to other artists when singing the same section of music.
Different Techniques of Musical Phrasing in Music
There are various techniques of musical phrasing. As a musician, you can make use of these techniques to enhance the way you phrase a musical composition. Here are the different techniques that you can employ:
There is a similarity between storytelling and phrasing. If you read, for example, the four gospels, you will discover that Mark narrates his gospel seldom pause. Yet, Matthew and Luke are more calculating in their narrations. Similarly, musical phrasing entails emphasizing some words. It also involves the dynamism of slowing down when stressing something. It also includes speeding up when gliding over unimportant parts.
Musical phrasing makes use of emphasis in the same manner as that of storytelling. You decide on when to breathe or pause when you sing. You also choose how slow or fast you will glide through a musical section. In doing so, you enable yourself to communicate your emotions and the meaning of a song to your listeners.
Composers, of course, have specific emotions when they write their compositions. So, they usually write musical terms on their music sheet. They do this to guide the singers on how to phrase their composition. These musical terms are generally written in Italian.
2) Conversing with the Audience
Another technique that you can use is to think of your singing as a conversation with your audience. When you converse, you liaise some words and emphasize the content words. You also alter your intonation and refrain from sounding monotonous. You do this to keep your audience enthralled and interested.
Similarly, when you do your rendition of a composition or a song, you don’t use the same monotonous voice. You also don’t play all its notes without shaping them. You often stay creative by adding nuances along the way. You also shape the music by altering the timing and by varying your pitches.
You add your personality to it. You also infuse your character into the rendition of the composition. You do this by infusing your distinctive way of phrasing.
We’ve already skimmed the concept of storytelling and how it is related to musical phrasing. When you tell a story, for example, you usually follow the punctuation. You pause when you see a comma, and you come to a complete stop when you reach the period. When storytelling, you need to study the story and the sentences that you would narrate. You also get the hang of the flow of the story before you can perfectly narrate it to your listeners.
Similarly, phrasing allows you to give a music section a new dynamism. It lets you narrate the meaning of the song via dynamics, tempo variation, articulation, and vibrato. Yet, you can’t phrase well a section of music if you have not yet analyzed the song well. You should analyze the harmony and the contour of the music line. You should also analyze the important note structures: melodic turns, and the context and stylistic tendencies embedded in a composition.
4) Tempo Changes
Tempo, as we all know, is the pace of speed of a given music piece. You can vary your tempo to enhance your phrasing. You can do it by employing rubatos and accelerandos. With the use of these two, you can enhance the intensity of your rendition.
Your listeners or audience will also pick up the changes in your tempo. These changes in tempo draw and engage the attention of your listeners. Changing the tempo, of course, is a technique commonly practiced in opera and vocal music.
The phrasing enhances the tensions in your rendition of music composition. You can create tensions by employing methods like changes in timing and pauses. Without tensions, the listeners become bored and lose interest.
Yet, if you want to engage your audience, you need to create tensions. Tensions are like mentally teasing your audience to think and get engaged. So, the element of tension is important to how you would phrase a section of a musical composition.
Phrasing on Different Types of Musical Instruments
Phrasing in music is essential, whether you are singing or playing instruments. A musical phrase, of course, refers to how you order the notes in a song. Notes, of course, serve as the syllables and words in a sentence. Thus, you can engage in phrasing as singer, pianists or guitarist:
Phrasing for Singers
You engage in phrasing as a singer when you pause, stop, and breathe. In so doing, you usually separate syllables and words. You also string together syllables and words to convey the style or the meaning of the song. Tom Jones, for example, has an uncanny way of phrasing lines and words. Frank Sinatra also has his way of phrasing. Thus, we can say that no two artists phrase a line or song in the same way.
Singers, however, should differentiate dynamics from phrasing. Dynamics may encompass phrasing. But dynamics often refer to emphasis and the loudness or softness aspects. Yet, phrasing is more subjective. It is an artist’s way of shaping the notes of a section of a music piece.
Phrasing in Piano
Feelings matter in piano playing. The phrasing in piano has largely to do with the emotion involved in a specific piece of music. Phrasing affects the way you play scale. If you change the way you phrase the section, you end up altering the shape and rendition of the scale. So, phrasing, in some way, distinguishes one piano player from another.
Musical phrasing in piano playing does not deal with the note duration or even the note’s value. It often refers to how the pianist shapes the consecutive notes in the piece.
Phrasing in Guitar Playing
Guitar playing is different from piano playing. When you play the guitar, you usually present your licks and notes differently from other guitarists. This manner of presenting licks and notes refers to the phrasing in guitar playing. Musical phrases are composed of short notes and licks. Each of these notes and licks has gaps or space in between.
How guitarists shape their notes and licks, determine how they would phrase a song or music. Moreover, phrases are formed not only by licks and notes. They are also colored by the spaces in between those licks and notes. How a guitarist pace his notes, licks, and spaces shows how he does his phrasing.
Advantages of Unique Phrasing
I have listened to many singers sing songs. However, I can easily count those singers whose song renditions made a mark on me. What makes a particular singer impressive is his/her manner of phrasing a song.
Phrasing may be the missing factor in the rendition of many singers or musicians who do not excel. Phrasing may be the factor that differentiates real artists from the average ones. So, if you want to excel, you should develop your unique way of phrasing notes.
The phrasing is a very subjective factor that can distinguish you from other artists. It is a personal style or way of shaping the notes of a song. It is how you order and shape the notes that you sing. Hence, it is very personal and unique. The way you shape and order your notes makes you stand out above the rest. It may also be the missing factor among the average singers and instrumentalists. So, if you want to stand out among others, you should develop your own unique way of phrasing.