The rate at which (and the way in which) phrases
(and thus cadences) succeed
In a way, a composition's phrase rhythm determines the rate at
which (and the way in which) it breathes.
Consider the following Bach chorale setting, which exhibits a very
simple kind of phrase rhythm:
- Of the setting's six fermatas, only the last
five signal real cadences -- the fermata in m. 1 is a
- The phrase rhythm is regular, since
there is one cadence every two measures.
- Every phrase in this setting ends in the same
way, with a clean break and pause. (Some choral conductors take
fermatas in Bach's chorale settings to mean "breathe here" rather
than "come to a full stop".) This can result in a somewhat
monotonous phrase rhythm unless other musical elements intervene
to add interest: a good performance of this chorale would probably
make mm. 1-4 into a single unit, making more of each successive
fermata -- the first two fermatas shouuld be underplayed so that
the third fermata sounds like a real point of arrival.
Composers often add variety to a piece's phrase
rhythm by using one or more of the techniques of phrase rhythm
development listed below:
- A bar or two of accompaniment prior to the start of the phrase
itself (in pop music, a "vamp")
- A few chords that establish the harmonic context and mood
prior to the start of the phrase itself.
A chordal or melodic figure that joins the end of one phrase with
the start of the next. Here is an example of a melodic link:
[Mozart, Adagio to K. 576, mm. 15-17]
The addition of extra material at the cadence.
The interpolation of extra material prior to the cadence of a
phrase. Clearly this is only possible in the consequent phrase of a
period, or during the restatement of a phrase heard previously.
The last note of one phrase is also the first note of the
While one phrase ends in one voice, the next phrase begins in