Recently i've become more and more interested in phrasing for melodic instruments, and how one could develop a strong sense for making interesting arrangements, particularly when you work with three or more voicings.

Comparing with theories of polyphonic harmony, would you say there is a similarly systematic theory for rhythmical phrasing (for non percussive instruments) and how they fit together, or is it one of those things that only can be developed through listening and practice?


2 Answers 2


Comparing with theories of polyphonic harmony, would you say there is an similarly systematic theory for rhythmical phrasing

In general it seems difficult to divide things with your bright line - harmony and rhythm are intrinsically bound to one another. How can you apply harmony correctly if you don't know the timing and rhythm of a piece of music? How can you study more than simple rhythms that aren't purely percussive, if you're not playing melodies with harmonies?

Having said, that I believe that your question can be answered by taking a look at this syllabus and other resources on the Berklee Site. Here's a good place to start:

Berkee College of Music -Jazz Arranging

Syllabus Lesson 1: Rhythm Section and One Solo Instrument: Smooth Jazz Jazz Arranging: Understanding the Writing (Arranging) Process Focus Levels, Melodic, Rhythmic, and Harmonic Functions Comping Functions Writing for the Drum Set Arrangement Considerations in the Smooth Jazz-Funk Style Front-Line Solo Instrument Characteristics

Lesson 2: Bebop and Hard Bop Bop and Hard Bop Jazz Arrangement Analysis Two-Part Writing Techniques Voicings and Intervals Introductions/Endings

Lesson 3: Solis and Working with Vocalists Historical Perspective Two-Horns and use of Pads Punches and Counter Melodies Vocal Ranges Melodic Manipulation Writing Solis

Lesson 4: Big Band Historical Combinations Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Focus Levels Cross Sectional Possibilities Open- and Close-Position Chord Voicings Spread Voicings Upper Structure Triad Voicings Unison Arrangements

Lesson 5: Writing for Large Jazz Ensemble Choosing the Soloists Solo Feature Combo Within the Big Band Open Solo Sections Background Figures

Lesson 6: Writing for Large Jazz Ensemble (Part 2) The Saxophone Soli Writing the Soli Coupling The Sax Section Endings

Lesson 7: Writing for Three Horns and Rhythm Section History of the Three-Horn Front Line Unison-Octave Splits Independent Lead with Two-Voice Background Three-Part Harmonization The Harmonization Process Highlighting the Melody Cluster Voicing Secondary Focus Beyond the Head

Lesson 8: Three Horns and Rhythm Section; Funk and Fusion Modal Characteristics The Music of The Crusaders The Music of The Brecker Brothers Role Model Composition

Lesson 9: Writing for Five Horns 5-Part Voicings Close Position Double Lead Voicing Guidelines Substitute Double Lead 5-Part Passing Chords Latin Influences: Brazilian Latin Influences: Afro-Cuban

Lesson 10: Final Project: Large Ensemble Arrangement Arrangement Planning Hooks Working With Clients Conceptualizing the Arrangement The Music of Sammy Nestico The Music of Rob McConnell The Music of Thad Jones "Variable" Instrumentation

Lesson 11: Final Project: Large Ensemble Arrangement (Part 2) Building to a Climax The Music of Mark Harris Large Ensemble Arrangement Analysis The Music of Bob Mintzer

Lesson 12: Large Ensemble Arrangement (Part 3) Treating the Recapitulation Score Analysis Color Reharmonization The Music of Bob Brookmeyer The Music of Maria Schneider Conceptualizing the Whole Arrangement

Requirements Prerequisites Completion of Arranging: Advanced Horn Writing or equivalent knowledge and experience in basic arranging concepts, such as instrument ranges, chord spelling, voicing, and harmonization is required. You should also know modes and related chord scales. Knowledge of basic reharmonization techniques is helpful, but not required. Recommended experience in a DAW of choice.


The short answer is that it is one of those things that is normally developed through listening and practice.

Experience record producers and recording engineers will, however, stress that there are specific, separate sound frequencies that must be identified (more so than rhythmic phrasing) and layered accordingly in the mix. Vocals, guitar leads, or certain keyboard frequencies that are very close to each other will nearly cancel each other out in the end, if not separated stereophonically, or massaged with EQ.

To your original question, some say that recording artist Paul Simon brought the expression 'world music' to the Americas with the release of his 1980's album Graceland. While traveling around the globe earlier the year before recording that LP, he was exposed to exotic African rhythmic phrasing, textures, and odd time signatures. It was only by this exposure that the artist was able to open up his mind to such interesting arrangements, and it's doubtful that a folk artist (originally) would have dreamed up such rhythmic phrasing and layering on his own.

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    Jazz musicians were working with 'world music' by the 1940's. Dizzy Gillespie:Dizzy-Afro-Cuban music In the late 1940s, Gillespie was also involved in ...Afro-Cuban music, bringing Afro-Latin American music and elements to greater prominence in jazz and even pop music.... Gillespie was introduced to Chano Pozo in 1947 by Mario Bauza, a Latin jazz trumpet player. Chano Pozo became Gillespie's conga drummer for his band. Gillespie also worked with Mario Bauza ... Pop music and Paul Simon? Late arrivals to the scene.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 2:17
  • Almost all classical composers of note - people like Hadyn, Beethoven, Brahms.. have been culling themes and melodies from their own folk and indingenious traditions - dance music, popular tunes, church hymns... as long as there have been composers. See What are some influences from external cultures on the development of Western classical music? - Pop/rock claim to be "progressive", but in musical terms they are very conservative, narrow genres.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 11:43

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