How to Phrase Like a Pro! - Houghton Horns

How to Phrase Like a Pro!

Ever have a lesson where your teacher tells you to play more musically?  What does that mean, and how do you do it?  Read below for some quick pointers on the basics of phrasing.

1.  The music is always coming from somewhere or going to somewhere.  Music is rarely static. Look at your music and decide where the notes are going.  Where is the high point of the phrase?  Which note do you want to bring out, whether through dynamics or timbre?  After you identify where the notes are going to, you can identify the notes that are coming away.  A basic strategy is to crescendo to the high point of the phrase and to decrescendo away from the high point of the phrase. 

2. Sing the phrase! When you do this, you will automatically add in phrasing without knowing it.  Pay attention to how you want to sing it, and see if you can duplicate this in your playing.  You don’t have to be a world-class singer  — there’s a reason we play a brass instrument!  Singing is a great way to find the natural phrasing in music; find the high and low points of your music.

3.  All those times your teacher asked you what key you were in actually mattered!  If you know what key you are in, you can make informed phrasing decisions.  If you are in the key of C-Major, you know that the leading tone is B.  A leading tone is simply a note that leads to the tonic of the scale.  Try playing your C-Major scale, but stop on B!  It should feel unsettling, and perhaps will annoy your neighbor in band class.  Where does this note want to go?  In this case, it wants to resolve to C, which feels and sounds complete.  One easy way to phrase is to locate your leading tones.  Don’t be afraid to lean into leading tones and make the listener feel unsettled- – just remember to resolve!


Keep listening to musical players and how they phrase.  Remember, there is not a wrong way to phrase, but some phrasing decisions are more correct than others.  Don’t be afraid to experiment in your efforts to find the best phrasing. Happy horn playing!

–Dr. Sally Podrebarac

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