Sarah Setting the Terms: Defining Phrase in Popular Music

Robin Attas

KEYWORDS: form, phrase, phrase rhythm, song structure, Sarah McLachlan, popular music analysis, functional introduction

ABSTRACT: Studies of phrase rhythm in popular music often leave the definition of “phrase” implicit, and those scholars who do define the term often emphasize the role of breath, ignoring the many other musical features that help create a phrase. By defining a pop music phrase as a musical unit with goal-directed motion towards a clear conclusion, clear analysis of phrase rhythm and song structure becomes possible. Analyses of three songs by contemporary singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan demonstrate typical ways of creating phrases in popular music, and explore some common modifications to phrase rhythm and song structure that can be applied to the work of numerous other musicians.

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Received February 2011
Volume 17, Number 3, October 2011
Copyright © 2011 Society for Music Theory