Musical timing and phrasing are two elements within music that occasionally overlap to fulfill a common goal. Musicians must have a solid understanding of both of these elements to fully understand, interpret and appreciate musical works. Phrasing and musical timing both help to determine the tempo, pace and intelligibility of the musical line.
Musical timing deals with rhythms, tempo and how the music is performed in combination with other performers. When a musician reads music, he has to be able to keep a steady beat in his mind to play in time with the ensemble. The timing of the music may change between movements and sections. The conductor is responsible for ensuring that he provides a tempo that suits the music and is playable by the performer.
Pacing is relevant to both phrasing and musical timing. Without proper pacing, the music may seem dull or lifeless. Finding the right pace, or speed, for phrases and individual rhythms that make up musical time requires the ability to perceive the music as the audience does. Often, musicians will get caught up in the moment of a particular chord or melody and want to prolong it to make the moment last longer. Meanwhile, the audience may see this lack of insight into pacing as unnecessary and gratuitous. This is the one aspect of music where timing and pacing overlap.
Phrasing has less to do with musical timing and more to do with how a particular melody or theme is interpreted. Think of phrasing as the natural inflections, rise and fall of speech. It would sound weird to end every sentence on a rising inflection. The same phenomenon occurs within music. In music, a phrase ends at a certain point and the performer has to know how to taper off and interpret the phrase to sound complete.
Consequent and Antecedent Phrases
The standard classical phrase structure consists of four bars, or 16 beats of music, followed by another four bars or 16 beats. In this construction, the first four bars are called an antecedent phrase and the next four bars are called the consequent phrase. Think of these two elements like a compound sentence. The first part introduces an idea and the second part completes the idea. Neither part can stand alone and both are required for a complete thought.
- "The Elements of Music"; Kevin Ure; 2010