Creating Phrases

If you wish to compose expressive and lyrical tonal works you must learn how to use motives to build phrases. The most common phrase lengths are two and four measures but this is by no means an ironclad rule when writing phrases. In this chapter, you will explore two-bar phrasing. Again, harmony will not be applied here. Instead, you will focus all of your attention on single melodic lines.

Figure 7-14 shows a pair of two-measure phrases. In this case, a slur marking demarcates each phrase. Notice how the phrases end. In this example, the phrases end on beat four. Phrase endings must contain a musical breath or pause. Without this breath, the ear cannot detect phrasing and your music will sound like a mishmash of run-on sentences.

In Figure 7-15, a faulty phrase has been created. Here, the melodic line ends unexpectedly and quite haphazardly. This poorly composed phrase is included in this chapter to show you what to avoid. Unlike Figure 7-15, proper phrases should contain a beginning (usually a chord tone) followed by a middle section (ascending or descending notes) and an ending that offers a musical breath. In Figure 7-15, the end of the phrase has been thwarted or left hanging.

FIGURE 7-14: A pair of two measure phrases

Rhythm plays a critical role when beginning and ending phrases. As a novice composer, you should avoid beginning and ending phrases on “e's” and “ah's” as denoted by sixteenth notes. Instead, begin and end your phrase on a downbeat.

If you're brand new at composing, begin each phrase on beat one and end each phrase on beat four (like Figure 7-14). You may also begin each phrase on beat four and end each phrase on beat three. In this case, beat four acts as a pickup beat. Another common pickup can be written on the and (+) of beat four.

FIGURE 7-15: A faulty pair of phrases with no resolution

Beginners should avoid ending or beginning a phrase on beat two, as this is an unstable beat and therefore an unsteady point of departure. Also, unless you're composing the final phrase of a song, avoid ending phrases on beat one. If you do this, your next phrase will begin on beat two, which again, you will want to avoid. If you do find yourself in this predicament, you may use rests so that your next phrase begins on a strong beat. However, you should first to learn how to create phrases without breaks or rests in the music.

  1. Home
  2. Music Composition
  3. Basic Melodic Construction
  4. Creating Phrases
Visit other About.com sites: