In its ordinary, normal condition the phrase is a musical

sentence four measures in length. But this rule has its necessary

exceptions; necessary because, as we have learned, the principle of

Variety is quite as vital as that of Unity or symmetry. The phrase is

not always regular; by various means and for various reasons, it

occasionally assumes an irregular form. When such irregular phrases

are encountered (phrases
of less or more than four measures) the

student will best distinguish them by defining their extremities, their

beginning and ending--as beginning and ending, without reference to

their length. This should not be attended with any serious difficulty;

at least not to the observant student who reads his musical page

thoughtfully, and attaches some meaning to the figures and motives of

the melody; who endeavors to recognize the extent to which the

successive tones appear to cling together (like the letters in a word)

and constitute an unbroken melodic number,--and, in so doing, also

recognizes the points where this continuity is broken, and a new number

is announced. Much assistance may be derived from the fact--striking

in its simplicity--that the ending of one phrase defines, at the same

time, the beginning of the next, and vice versa. The locating of

one, therefore, serves to locate the other. There is, usually,

something sufficiently indicative about a beginning, to render it

noticeable to a careful observer, and the same is true of an ending.

This is illustrated in the following:

No. 1 is from the pianoforte sonata, op. 10, No. 3, second movement;

see the original. This phrase exhibits an ending, unmistakably, in the

fifth measure, and not in the fourth. Its form is therefore


In No. 2 (from the first pianoforte sonata), the first phrase ends with

the fourth measure, obviously, for the evidence of a new beginning in

the following measure is perfectly clear; the phrase is therefore

regular. But the next phrase runs on to the sixth measure from this

point (the tenth from the beginning of the whole), because there is no

earlier evidence of an ending. Observe that the first phrase has a

preliminary quarter-note, the second phrase none. Turning to

Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, the very first (introductory) phrase

of No. 3 is five measures in length; the first one in No. 35 also

contains five measures; the first one in No. 16, and in No. 9, contains

three measures. The irregular phrase will be again considered (in a

different aspect) in a later chapter.

The recognition of these syntactic traits of the melodic sentence is of

great moment to the player, for they constitute the information upon

which conscious, intelligent, effective phrasing depends; and without

intelligent phrasing, without a clear exposition of the formation and

arrangement of the members and phrases, full comprehension and adequate

enjoyment of a musical composition is impossible.

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