Phrasing

Phrasing involves the , but it is more: how the music is written to accomplish the composer ‘s objectives and how the music is played, interpreted. Phrasing is inherent in the written music. The key (major or minor), melodic shape and rhythms and harmonies accomplish that. Sometimes composers/arrangers very specifically indicate other elements of phrasing with dynamic markings, accents, etc., indicating how the notes are to be played.

An important quality in tango phrasing is something called Question and Answer, or Call and Response. It’s a very common feeling in tango music. Basically, there is a statement, the Question/Call, which sounds somewhat aggressive and unresolved, followed by another, the Answer/Response, which is more restrained, with a resolution. These elements, and others, are the baseline of phrasing written into the music.

Phrasing is also how music is interpreted, or shaped, when being played. Think of phrasing in this case as a verb, taking place in real time. Performers phrase music in an astounding number of ways. A couple examples: when the melody is rising, ie, the pitches are getting higher, often musicians gradually play louder (called a crescendo); when the notes decline, musicians will often play softer (called decrescendo). may be or or anything in between. Questions might be played more boldly, louder, more emphatic. Answers more held back.  

Musicians, including composers, arrangers and orquesta leaders, bring their own interpretation, their personal phrasing and style, to the notes on the page, within the general shape and guidelines written by the composer.

A short section of music with a clear start and end quality, with a consistent or complementary musical character. Generally, the character is different from what comes after or precedes it, anywhere from subtly to very obvious. more...

The way the notes are played and connected to one another: anywhere from gently played to heavily attacked; held for the full duration of the note value or clipped short; smoothly connected to the notes before and after, or continuously separated.

There are many technical terms for these differences, but for tango we mostly need to be aware of two broad kinds of articulation, the extreme ends of the spectrum: a connected legato, which often creates a lyrical quality, and an accented, clipped short marcato. Generally, the strings and singers have a legato articulation, while the bandoneons have a marcato one.

Marcato is Italian for marked, meaning the notes are to be accented and emphasized. In tango the notes are also played clipped or cut shorter than the note value as written. That is called staccato. The performance style, the articulation, combines marcato and staccato. And that gives the music a crisp and bold character. When I use the term marcato those are the qualities I mean.

Tango uses marcato style playing very often, especially in the accompanying instruments, frequently the bandoneons but others as well.

Legato is Italian for tied together, meaning the notes are played in a connected way; there is no separation or space between them. Legato playing is part of the quality of lyricism, that is lyrical music.

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