Duration of phrase

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faith

Duration of phrase

Post by faith » Sat Aug 16, 2014 11:26 pm

Anny comments on the concept of how long a phrase should last? How does the is the duration matter?

This probably could raise some ires -- Truth -- as longs as necessary to communicate the message...

Thoughts???

Max Karios

Re: Duration of phrase

Post by Max Karios » Sun Aug 17, 2014 6:54 am

Here is what Arnold Schönberg had to say about the length of phrases in his book "Fundamentals of Musical Composition":
The smallest structural unit is the phrase, a kind of musical molecule consisting of a number of integrated musical events, possessing a certain completeness, and well adapted to combination with other similar units. The term phrase means, structurally, a unit approximating to what one could sing in a single breath. Its ending suggests a form of punctuation such as a comma. Often some features appear more than once within a phrase. [...]

The length of a phrase may vary within wide limits. Metre and tempo have a great deal to do with phrase-length. In compound meters a length of two measures may be considered average; in simple meters a length of four measures is normal. But in very slow tempos the phrase may be reduced to half a measure; and in very rapid tempos eight measures or more may consitute a single phrase.

The phrase is seldom an exact multiple of the measure length; it usually varies by a beat or more. And nearly always the phrase crosses the metrical subdivisions, rather than filling the measures completely. There is no intrinsic reason for a phrase to be restricted to an even number.
The first paragraph might be the most useful one. In the case of language you make sure a clause or a phrase represents a single thought. I've never thought about how many words or syllables a phrase should consist of. It is not a reliable metric to look after, unless you're targeting a particular audience. Italian newspapers might be one end of the scale, Marcel Proust the other one.

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Denian Arcoleo
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Re: Duration of phrase

Post by Denian Arcoleo » Sun Aug 17, 2014 7:44 am

Max Karios wrote: The term phrase means, structurally, a unit approximating to what one could sing in a single breath. Its ending suggests a form of punctuation such as a comma.
This quote from Schoenberg is essentially the view that performing musicians take. The first instrument must have been the voice; music springs from the voice and therefore the phrase is what a singer sings in a single breath - a musical thought, a phrase in fact.

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Alicia
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Re: Duration of phrase

Post by Alicia » Sun Aug 17, 2014 7:53 am

In the simplest music the phrases might all be the same lengh. They might all be four bars long. Like a nursery rhyme.

If I take a quote from the first post above...

"Truth - as long as necessary to communicate the message"

....then that is an example of what would musically make two great phrases - one short and stark (Truth), and the next expanding and explaining the first.
_..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__..--''(__

drew p

Re: Duration of phrase

Post by drew p » Tue Aug 26, 2014 6:05 am

I think it just kind of depends on what you wanna go for... I mean it's YOUR composition so I don't think you should look for textbook answers, because those answers were usually written by people explaining the work of others, and if they explain their own work... of course they're going to be biased and say that their way is the "right" way. On top of that, different phrase lengths at times in history lent themselves more/less to a certain country's musical stylings. For example, I bet Debussy and Satie would completely disagree with Mr. Schoenberg.

One thing we can take from each school of thought, though, is that short phrases are great for very catchy melodies which can be elaborated and mutated to your heart's content, and long phrases can, even without a lot of notes, convey a very complex message and overall feeling. It's kind of your choice whether you wanna be distinct and punctuated, or epic

delayedMusician

Re: Duration of phrase

Post by delayedMusician » Mon Sep 01, 2014 10:05 am

drew p wrote: I mean it's YOUR composition so I don't think you should look for textbook answers, because those answers were usually written by people explaining the work of others
That's just like saying: 'Why bothering asking any questions at all? I know everything and I don't need to learn anything'.

Bof
Last edited by delayedMusician on Mon Sep 01, 2014 10:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

delayedMusician

Re: Duration of phrase

Post by delayedMusician » Mon Sep 01, 2014 10:28 am

drew p wrote: I bet Debussy and Satie would completely disagree with Mr. Schoenberg.
why pretending that you would know what Debussy and Satie would disagree with Schoenberg about ? the concept of 'phrase' is in fact a universal concept that most composers agree with. The basic phrase is 4 and 8 bars long, and deviations of that are additions or subtractions, for example 6 bar phrases, 10 bar phrases, etc. Schoenberg did not give a personal interpretation of what a phrase is, he gave an explanation of what a phrase is as used in standard tonal music, and Debussy ain't that. Debussy desn't fall into the standard minor-major pattern, but you can bet he was very familiar with standard phrases, because if you can't understand music at a tonal level, you can't understand all the rest. That's my own opinion. And that's why Schoenberg, when someone said he wanted to learn his 'system' he always said that first Bach and Mozart should be studied.

The concept of 'phrase' is related to tonal harmony with very clear cadential patterns. Debussy's music doesn't have that as a main feature. Schoenberg wasn't explaining the phrases of Debussy, he was explaining the concept of phrase as used in standard tonal music. There's absolutely nothing subjective in what he said, he's dead on, and actually there's a lot in what he said, if you dig deep into 'breath' and 'comma' you'll truly understand what's a phrase.

drew p

Re: Duration of phrase

Post by drew p » Mon Sep 01, 2014 3:23 pm

sssssssssssssqqqqqqqqqqqqquuuuuuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeee

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Lawler
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Re: Duration of phrase

Post by Lawler » Mon Sep 01, 2014 4:39 pm

The only thing we really know about phrase structure is that, just like everything on the analytical side of music, any discussion about it will eventually turn into a fight! :lol: This one's just simmering so far though. :)

Singing the lines of what you play helps get a good sense of the phrasing. Listen for the places where, when you take a breath, the musical line makes the most sense. Mark the print music with a comma at the breath points. You might discover later that you were hearing phrase sections rather than full phrases, but it's still an important step in developing a clear sense of what's really happening in the musical line. 4 and 8 bar lengths are common, but this varies a lot. This approach doesn't work with all music but it does with most, IME, even if the only singable line is a bass line below a torrent of arpeggios. The formal/traditional approach to phrase structure defines phrases as ending in certain harmonic ways (cadence) and that approach fits well with some of the repertoire.

Edit: I see that this is in the Composer's Workshop. What I already said is obviously from a performer's perspective but some applies to the composition process also. From a composer's perspective phrase lengths depend completely on your own sense of structure, balance, etc. I think music that's intended for focused listening - hard listening - is conducive to less predictable phrase lengths, whereas music intended for casual listening by a less sophisticated listening audience will likely be heard as simply sounding "weird" if the phrases are too surprising - similar to listener reactions to polytonality, atonality, even chromaticism.

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