How do I show that a group of notes should be played as a phrase? Am I meant to make this marking with literally every phrase in the piece, or just be more selective about it?

Any other phrase marking tips? First time using them.

  • I'm not sure what you are asking. Do you already know what a phrase mark looks like? You can use phrase marks as much as you want - it's up to you. Normally one would have read a fair number of scores before one would be writing one, so typcially you would follow the conventions used in the scores you're used to reading. Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 17:24
  • 3
    The most common use for slurs in string parts is to show bowing, not phrasing. "Long" slurs (e.g. over a complete 4 bar phrase in a moderate tempo) are fairly meaningless to a string player, unless they really are bowing marks and the dynamics are ppp. If you know nothing about string playing technique, writing nothing and letting the players figure it out for themselves can be less confusing than writing something that doesn't produce the result you intended, or isn't even playable as written.
    – user19146
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 18:42
  • @alephzero I think most players would recognise the 'unplayable' slur mark as phrasing, however I agree it's not the greatest convention! But definitely better than nothing if the composer really wants to highlight a phrase. Perhaps it would be best to use phrasing marks for the first couple of times and then the rest would be implied? Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 21:00

1 Answer 1


Phrase marks are usually indicated by a curved line similar to a tie or slur: From the Ars Nova website

As mentioned in the comments to your question, using this symbol could lead to confusion as it is used as a bowing mark in string music:

From the Ars Nova website

However, the convention of using the curved phrase mark is well-known and if the phrase mark is 'not logical' as a bowing mark, then it will be assumed by the players to be a phrase mark.

If you have a phrase that is often repeated, you may wish to only use phrase marks the first few times the phrase appears. The players will assume all further appearances should be phrased in the same way.

If you are not familiar with writing for strings, you may wish to consult this page on writing for strings, particularly section 2.2.1 on the difference between slurs and phrasing.

  • 1
    Nice answer - wanted to clarify that whichever way you use the curved line (for bowing or for phrases), you must be consistent throughout and only use it for one of the options. By and large, string players will always know bowings better than you ever will, so it's usually best just to indicate the phrasing you want and let them work out the bowing for themselves. Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 23:29
  • @jjmusicnotes Thank you, and agreed! Although of course, sadly there are plenty of scores where you do see such inconsistent notation... Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 8:46

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