Teaching Antecedent and Consequent Phrase Structure in Music

2011Symposium_1_2One of the musical structures we must teach our students is that of phrasing, or what Lerdahl & Jackendoff refer to as grouping. Basic to musical phrases is the concept of antecedent and consequent phrases. Antecedent phrases are complete phrases that end on a pitch of relative instability or tension, resulting in the listener expecting continuation, even after the performer takes a brief pause or breath. Consequent phrases are also complete phrases, but they end on a pitch of relative stability or relaxation, resulting in the listener recognizing the conclusion of the musical thought. Themes, sections, movements and works end on consequent phrases. Very often, consequent phrases end on the tonic, and antecedent phrases end on the dominant. Because antecedent or consequent phrases are defined primarily by the harmonic function of the last note, they are most effectively taught by holding rhythm constant while giving students creative license with pitch. The only stipulation is that the consequent phrase must end on the tonic. It is also possible that students can use elaborative notes in the consequent phrase. Take the melody “Mary Had A Little Lamb” as an example.


Structurally, the first line is a reduction of the second. The quarter notes on beats 3 and 4 of the second measure of the second line reduce to one half note in the first line, and the quarter note on beat 3 of the third measure in the second line is an upper neighbor tone that is omitted in the reduction, in which a half note on D occurs. The last measure of the first line could be reduced further to a whole note on G, the dominant. In its reduced form, the second line is identical to the first except for the last note; the antecedent ends on the dominant and the consequent ends on the tonic. Students can be given the first line, with the further reduced last measure, and then asked to write a consequent phrase ending on the tonic pitch. They would be at liberty to write any diatonic pitches, but to maintain the rhythm of the first line exactly. One possible solution is given below.


Prior learning will include voice leading, analysis of stylistic elements, and skill at audiating so that students do not write down random notes, or notes that are stylistically incompatible with the antecedent phrase provided. Doing this activity with antecedent phrases of different styles and genres provides the opportunity for students to learn about and compare each style or genre represented. Assessment would include ending on the tonic, maintaining the same rhythm  preserving the same style, using diatonic pitches, and observing good voice leading. If student work is handwritten, assessment could also include accurate forming of note heads, stems, measures, clef, and time signature, and the correct number of beats in each measure. Students who do the work on music notation software should nevertheless be asked to demonstrate understanding of notation conventions such as correct length and direction of note stems, and of the metrical arrangement of notes within measures. Technology should never allow students to bypass the learning of concepts.

A great deal of learning can result form this one activity. Phrase structure, style, genre, and notation are all closely related issues in music. This activity fosters an efficient use of time because all of these can be addressed at once in a practical, relevant way; students need to know about and apply their knowledge of style, genre and music notation in order to gain a deep understanding of the target concept, that of antecedent and consequent phrases.



Why Do Students Need Teachers?

2011Symposium_1_2As I watched this afternoon’s Sprint Cup race from Pocono Speedway, I saw an advertisement for a web site parents could visit where certified teachers deliver course content for free. Children can use the site lieu of attending a traditional public school. It reminded me of a conversation that has been taking place on social media debating whether or not a music teacher is necessary for learning a musical instrument. These two encounters caused me to realize that we really must have a good answer as to why teachers are necessary. There is no shortage of online resources and “how-to” videos and books. What does a teacher add that cannot be replicated in these other educational models?

The first consideration is the importance of interaction with other people. I am currently working toward a doctorate in an online program. During the course work of the program, online interaction with professors, facilitators, and other students was essential. At times, I needed this interaction to understand the material, while at other times, I would have missed out on wonderful ideas and contributions other made if I had been doing all the work on my own, in isolation. There are very few human endeavors, if indeed there are any at all, that can truly succeed in isolation. Education succeeds in an environment where ideas can be freely exchanged, tried out, refined, and even challenged. Sometimes this happens in groups of people, sometimes one-on-one with one teacher and one student.

Bandura, in describing Social Cognitive Theory, wrote that in order to put plans into action, people must believe that they are capable of doing so. This “belief classroomin one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations” is essential to a constructive self-image. Self-efficacy is developed from mastery experiences, social modeling, social persuasion, and psychological responses. Frequently, we are able to gain a limited competency at something on our own, but need expert guidance from a teacher to achieve mastery. Once mastery is experienced, our belief in our ability to master other things drives us to further successes.

Frequently, teachers and others in a group or community will model skills and behaviors for us to learn from. Without others to provide the model, we are hard-pressed to learn. Seeing how the skill will look when done with excellence helps us know how to do it, and how to know when we have succeeded in learning it. Teachers make excellent modelers, and can be trusted to have learned the skill correctly. Others may also practice the skill, but less competently and with errors they may not even be aware of, or they may be masters of the skill, but not understand how they learned it or how to teach it to others.

Everyone benefits from social persuasion—the positive and encouraging words of others that keep us going during times of tough learning, and reward us at times of breakthrough or culminating performances. There can only be social persuasion where others are with us during the learning, and there at the end to celebrate accomplishment. A person learning on his or her own does not have the benefit of social persuasion.

Psychological responses are our own responses and emotional reactions to situations. These can include moods, physical reactions, stress levels, and emotional states. Responses such as extreme nervousness can weaken self-efficacy, and block potential learning from taking place. Being with others can help ease negative emotional and physical reactions, which enables us to learn more efficiently, and perform at a higher level. While it is possible to learn many things on our own, the best and most satisfying learning will always be that done with others and with a teacher physically present. That is how human relations work best, and education is and must be first and foremost about relationships.

Now, if you, like I, am a teacher, then sit back, take a deep breath, and watch this video. Every word of it is true, and if you get chills up your back like I did,  you’ll realize how much you needed to hear those words, especially at this time of year.