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Post Date:
March 18, 2022

What Is A Musical Phrase?


Understanding how music is structured will create the strong foundation for you to become a musical badass. A musical badass is someone who can handle the awareness of leading and following while also understanding the intricacies of the musical elements at hand. More on the connection trifecta of awareness later in this blog!

Once you understand that patterns of musical composition you will understand the flow of the songs you love even more and also you will be able to predict changes in the music more accurately for songs that you are new to.

A phrase is a term of musical composition used to identify a group of beats.

To keep things simple we are going to focus on 4/4 music. 4/4 is a type of time signature. Time signatures are one of the most important indications in notated music. We use them to help organize and measure music. They help us divide music into phrases and make it easier to memorize and understand more complex passages and songs. Without them, measures in notated music would run on forever, much like a sentence without any sort of punctuation.

The phrasing helps understand the where different parts of a song (from the intro, verses, hooks, choruses, and outros) begin and enc. Across these different phrases you will realize certain musical elements that are present or not to help each phrase sound unique. Later in the course I’m building I will show a digital audio workstation (DAW) that song producers use to layer musical elements on top of one another.

A screenshot of Logic Pro X, a digital audio workstation. Notice the layers of music, how many can you count?

It all starts with one beat that marks the pulse or main rhythm of the song. The speed of how fast these beats occur is measured by the BPM (beats per minute). The range of BPMs in music is also very similar to the range of BPM we have with our hearts. With this in mind it makes sense when we refer to music being alive and having a pulse.

For dancers, we count in groups of 8, so 8 beats will give us a dancer’s 8-count bar. I’m sure most of you have have been to a dance class where the instructor counts in 5, 6, 7, 8 and we start dancing on the 1. There’s a whole system of numbers when it comes to teaching when we think about the counts of the music, the sequence of a particular step, and also how long a movement can last. For now, we will keep things simple and just focus on the 8 count.

The first musical phrase to know is the 16 count phrase. You will notice many sections of a song will differ from one another every 16 count phrase. If you listen closely you’ll notice certain musical elements that get added or removed when the end of the phrase is not obvious.

The second musical phrase to know is the 32 count phrase. Many verses, choruses, and bridges/hooks of a lot of songs are typically four 8 counts or 32 counts long. You can test this out right now but listening to any popular song right now on Spotify or the radio, most of the music we listen to in Western society is 4/4 music. When a chorus or verse starts, starting counting to 8 and count 4 sets of 8 and you will notice a change into another section of the song 9 times out of 10!

Taking time to study individual songs will help you start to map out the phrasing on each song you are listening to as you are dancing. From here, you will be able to identify the differences and similarities of musical elements from phrase to phrase. There are three main spheres of awareness while we are partner dancing, yourself, your partner, and the music. I call this trio of awareness the connection trifecta. You can even take this idea further across the left and right brain hemispheres across the connection trifecta that go over in in this blog.

We all are at different points in our dance journey, and our experience level in dance will help us balance our awareness across the connection trifecta while we are dancing. As an instructor with almost a decade of experience one thing I notice is usually them awareness of the music gets the short end of the stick because we are so focused on ourselves and the leading and following. It’s like trying to juggle 3 balls at the same time.

One type of practice I always recommended is solo practice by yourself! This gives you time to “juggle only two balls” and give your brain more mental space to focus on the nuances of the music. An even better practice would be to practice listening and studying the music without dancing, dedicating all your mental focus to listen to a song.

This idea is what has motivated me to starting building the Ultimate Musicality Course for Dancers so we can really level up our musicality and train our ears to then express ourselves even more authentically on the dance floor. You can support the completion of this course by purchasing a pre-sale course and/or filling out a survey as I’m building the course!

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