A phrase is a substantial musical thought usually ending with a harmonic, melodic, and/or rhythmic cadence. The presence of a cadence distinguishes a phrase from a motive (or motif — a short melodic or rhythmic figure that recurs in a composition; a theme). Phrases are frequently four measures long, but may be longer or shorter; however, it must present a complete (but perhaps dependent) musical thought.

Two phrases may form a period — a beginning, continuation, and ending to a musical thought.

Source: Music in Theory and Practice (book)

Phrase (?), n. [F., fr. L. phrasis diction, phraseology, Gr. , fr. to speak.]

1.

A brief expression, sometimes a single word, but usually two or more words forming an expression by themselves, or being a portion of a sentence; as, an adverbial phrase.

"Convey" the wise it call. "Steal!" foh! a fico for the phrase. Shak.

2.

A short, pithy expression; especially, one which is often employed; a peculiar or idiomatic turn of speech; as, to err is human.

3.

A mode or form of speech; the manner or style in which any one expreses himself; diction; expression.

"Phrases of the hearth."

Tennyson.

Thou speak'st In better phrase and matter than thou didst. Shak.

4. Mus.

A short clause or portion of a period.

⇒ A composition consists first of sentences, or periods; these are subdivided into sections, and these into phrases.

Phrase book, a book of idiomatic phrases.

J. S. Blackie.

 

© Webster 1913.


Phrase, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Phrased (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Phrasing.] [Cf. F. phraser.]

To express in words, or in peculiar words; to call; to style.

"These suns -- for so they phrase 'em."

Shak.

 

© Webster 1913.


Phrase, v. i.

1.

To use proper or fine phrases.

[R.]

2. Mus.

To group notes into phrases; as, he phrases well. See Phrase, n., 4.

 

© Webster 1913.

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