Minute Clinic – Phrasing

I have spent a lot of time in a lot of band rooms and on practice fields this fall, and one of the things that I have to work on the most with every group I rehearse is phrasing. More specifically the end of the phrase, but I’ll get to that in a moment. When I refer to phrasing I am talking about the natural connection of the music into groups of notes and measures; similar to phrases and sentences in the written word or in speech. Too often the students do not make this connection. They play in very short segments that I won’t even call phrases and consequently the music doesn’t make any sense to the listener. It would be similar to me speaking the following – one, word, at, a, time, with, no, connection, of, any, kind, to, the, words. It doesn’t make sense in speech or in prose and it doesn’t make sense in music.

First of all let’s work with our students and get them to phrase in larger groups of notes in 4 measure phrases at the least. Let’s also get them to stop breathing whenever they feel like it and breathe in places that make musical sense. Get them to understand that the best music is made over the barline and barlines are not necessarily places to breathe.

Now on to the end of the phrase. Quite often even if I work with a group that does play in longer phrases of 4 or 8 bars in length, they will usually still clip the last note of the phrase. This is a systemic problem that I even have to remind professionals about when I am producing the Carl Fischer recordings. It never fails that players will shorten up the last note of a phrase and ruin what in other ways might be a well-played phrase of music. I teach students to think open releases of notes, and that I don’t want them to stop the notes with the tongue. Force your students to think of lengthening the last note of the phrase rather that clipping it. It’s easy to clip the ends of phrases, but it is not correct or musical and it is hard work to play with an open release. The students will have to work at that, but I cannot stress to you enough that this is probably the single weakest thing I hear groups of all ability levels do around the country. Take some time and focus on the end of things so that the phrase finishes with the beauty of sound that we expect.