Free Lesson #2 - Question & Answer Phrasing

Now you are going to use a common method for creating longer musical phrases called Question and Answer phrasing. Composers of popular melodies use this technique all of the time, but you are going to do it in real time as you improvise, without the benefit of hindsight to edit your ideas. 

So far, all of the melodies you have improvised have been 2 bars long. Now you are going to combine two of those phrases to make a 4 bar musical sentence

 

 

Use the relevant minor pentatonic scale below to improvise your Question and Answer phrases. The audio file is provided to check you are in the correct key. 

 

  • Minor Pentatonic Scale
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Question Phrases 

When you speak, and you ask a question you usually raise your voice at the end of the phrase to indicate that you haven't finished what you are saying. We are going to do the same with our musical “Question” phrases, but rather than go up in pitch we are simply just going to avoid playing scale note 1 (the tonic) at the end of the phrase. In music, we refer to this as “unresolved”. So for the next exercise, we are going to practice some “Question” phrases. You can play any other note at the end of your phrase, but don’t finish on 1 (the tonic). 

 

On the audio track you will hear a four-beat count in, then a two-bar Question phrase followed by two bars rest. You should play during the two bars rest. Try to copy the Question exactly and keep in time with the rhythm section. Repeat this for each of the eight different phrases on the track. ​

 

  • Question Phrases
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Answer Phrases

When you speak, and you answer a question you usually lower your voice at the end of the phrase to indicate that you have finished what you are saying. In music, we refer to this as “resolved”. We are going to do the same with our musical “Answer” phrase, but rather than go down in pitch we are simply going to play scale note 1 (the tonic). So for the next exercise, we are going to practice some “Answer” phrases. Make sure you end your phrase on a 1. 

 

On the audio track you will hear a four-beat count in, then a two-bar Answer phrase followed by two bars rest. You should play during the two bars rest. Try to copy the Answer exactly and keep in time with the rhythm section.

Repeat this for each of the eight different phrases on the track. ​

 

  • Answer Phrases
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The musical “Sentence”

The final step is to put the “Question” and “Answer” phrases together, but they have to sound like they belong together and the whole sentence makes sense. You need to avoid the musical version of... 

 

 

 “What time is it?”... “There were 11 of us”.

 

 

That is a question and answer, but they do not belong together. If you use a similar rhythm for both the “Question” and “Answer” phrases you will resolve this issue.

 

The following example shows a two bar question and a two-bar answer that belong together. Adding a few “pick up” notes makes the melody extend across the bar line and creates a bit more rhythmic interest. 

 

 

  • Question & Answer phrase
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  • Unknown Artist
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This lesson is an extract from "An Introduction To Improvising" by Buster Birch, which is part of the "How To Learn To Improvise" series of interactive digital books. The book includes a complete step-by-step approach for anyone new to improvising, with all of the material written in concert, Bb, Eb and bass clef, making it suitable for virtually any instrument. As with all of the books in the series, the audio examples are embedded and immediately available at the touch of a screen, making them extremely convenient to play along with. ​

 

Please click HERE to download a free sample or purchase the full version.