Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Phrase is by analogy with language, a unit of musical syntax, usually forming part of a larger, more complete unit sometimes termed a period. A phrase is the product, in varying degrees, of melody, harmony, and rhythm and concludes with a moment of relative tonal and/or rhythimic tablility such as is produced by a cadence. Phrases may also be defined by the repetition of a rhythmic pattern or melodic contour. A term I recently defined, ostinato, is actually a musical phrase repeated over and over in a piece or composition. When a phrase is made to need a response or resolution by a following phrase, the two are said to be antecedent and consequent phrases. A way I think of a phrase in music is like a sentence when we write words. In a sentence it is a group of words towards the same idea, ended with a period. Then a new sentence starts. In a musical phrase you have the melody or group of notes played in a certain pattern, or same idea, and soon you end it and start a new one. Another way to put it is that a phrase is a short musical passage, and it can vary in length but is usually two to four messure.

(The Harvard Dictionary of Music : Randel, Don)