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Phrasing Marks versus Slurs


Abracadabra
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In another thread were discussing the difference between phrasing marks and slurs. I thought I’d start this thread to get more feedback on how people view these terms.

PLEASE NOTE: It is not my intent to start an argument over these semantics, but rather to just get a feel for how different composers might view these terms and how they actually use these symbols in practice.

I’m new at composing, however I did have some feel for the difference between a slur and a phrasing mark from just having played from sheet music. My concerns now as a composer turn to the issue of the proper use of these markings and how often they are employed by other composers.

An online music dictionary (Dolmetsch Online) give the following definitions for a slur and a phrasing mark:

a mark used to show where two or more notes are played either under a single bow stroke, or on a wind instrument without retonguing or when singing, in one breath, one word or one syllable, so that the notes move smoothly (i.e. legato) one to the other with no perceptible break

on the piano, a slur over a pair of notes means that the first should be given extra emphasis while the second is made slighter and shorter then would have otherwise been the case

the 'tie' mark came into use during the early part of the 16th-century. The mark used as a 'slur' came later, during the first half of the 17th-century, and initially only as a legato mark

Phrase Mark - a long curved line that connects the notes of a phrase;

the term is often applied to slurs although often slurs which are less extensive are to be found under phrase marks but never the other way round.

The blue highlighting to emphasis the comments is used by the dictionary.

It appears that this dictionary makes a distinction between a slur and a phrasing mark (especially in the definition of the phrasing mark where they suggest that slurs can be found under phrasing marks but never the other way round).

So they are clearly advocating a difference between a slur and a phrasing mark. Yet these two music notations are conveying different concepts.

One (the phrasing mark) seems to merely be grouping notes and/or chords into a single “phrase” whilst the other (the slur) quite literally implies that the notes or chords under the slur should be slurred (or melded) together into an almost contiguous flowing set of sounds.

The questions I’m mainly interested in are the following:

1. Do you ever used phasing marks and slurs in the same piece? If so how do you distinguish between them?

2. Do you ever used phrasing marks over phrases that contain slurs? Is this practice commonplace or is it frowned?

3. Do you ever make a visual attempt to distinguish a phrasing mark and a slur (such as making one a bolder arc than the other?). Or do you feel that any difference should be apparent in the context of the how it is being used?

4. Finally, would you ever use a phrasing mark over as little as two notes? Or would that almost always been seen as a slur?

These question may seem a bit nit-picky, but I’m just starting out writing music so I’d very much appreciate everyone’s thoughts and/or experience on this.

Again, I’m not seeking to start any arguments. If various people have differnet views I think that’s cool and it may well be somewhat subjective. This is part of what I would like to get a feel for. Precisely how much consensus is there with respect to the difference and usages of phrasing marks versus slurs.

Below are links the Dolmetsch definitions that I quoted above:

Search for 'slur'

Search for 'phrase mark'

Thank you for your input on this topic.

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Guest QcCowboy

I'm not really sure what the "discussion" here is supposed to be.

Slurs and phrase markings serve two different purposes - albeit very similar purposes. The difference being a matter of scale.

Some composers use phrase markings extensively in their music. Some use nearly none.

All composers use slurs. You cannot write music without them.

In my newer scores I tend to differentiate between phrase markings and slurs by using "dashed" lines for phrases, and the traditional solid lines for slurs. And even then, I only use phrase markings if there is a real need for it: a musical arch that might be ambiguous; music that has very few pauses; a phrase that happens to incorporate a rest which could otherwise confuse a performer into thinking there were multiple shorter phrases; or non-traditionally divided rhythmic figures.

If I examine one of my orchestral scores, for example, I'll notice that in long musical phrases the woodwinds and brass tend to have "phrase markings", while the strings generally only have their bowing indications (slurs).

In music of a shorter, more rythmic nature, all instruments eschew the longer phrase markings in favour of detailed slurs.

I don't know, I hope this may have helped you a bit to understand the use of the two forms of notation. As I said, there is no real "discussion" here. It's like asking writers about the difference between colons and semi-colons. Both have their place, both are similar in use, but each have distinct uses.

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I'm not really sure what the "discussion" here is supposed to be.

Well, this is actually a question from someone just starting out. I suppose to experienced musicians and composers there many not seem to be any confusion between the notation for the two.

I mean, I don’t think I have any problem understanding the difference between a phrase and a slur. Where the problem seems to lie is that the same symbol is used for both, so it seems to me that if the notation symbol can be used for to mean differnet things this gives rise to some possible ambiguity in the notation.

In my newer scores I tend to differentiate between phrase markings and slurs by using "dashed" lines for phrases, and the traditional solid lines for slurs.

This is precisely the kind of thing I was looking for. To see how other people might handle this. You tend to visually make the phrase markings appear different form the slur markings thus removing any possible ambiguity.

This is why I started this thread. To see how other people distinguish between the two.

I was thinking of making phrasing markings significantly bolder or possibly thinner than the slurs to differentiate between them. I also feel that if phrase markings had a little tiny scroll or curl at each end that would be sufficient to set them apart, but I wouldn’t want to do that if no one else ever writes them that way.

If I examine one of my orchestral scores, for example, I'll notice that in long musical phrases the woodwinds and brass tend to have "phrase markings", while the strings generally only have their bowing indications (slurs).

This is the other issue that, as a beginner, I was wondering about. I wrote a duet for flute and guitar. I feel like it may be helpful to write in phrasing marks for the flute, but if I wrote in phrasing marks for the guitar that might confuse a guitarist who might think they mean to slur everything together as hammer-ons.

Or as you say, a violinist might think I mean to use a single bow stroke for the entire phrase where that wasn’t my intent at all.

So they are more likely to be used for wind instruments than for other types of instruments then? That makes sense, but then raises the question of whether phrasing marks are ever used for other instruments and if so, how do they distinguish between a phrasing mark and a slur of several notes?

Also, in wind instruments is it common to see phrasing markings with slurs under them? In the piece I wrote I actually have slurs within phrases so this is why I’m asking.

I don't know, I hope this may have helped you a bit to understand the use of the two forms of notation. As I said, there is no real "discussion" here. It's like asking writers about the difference between colons and semi-colons. Both have their place, both are similar in use, but each have distinct uses.

Yes but a colon and a semi-colon are visually different, no ambiguity there. A phrase marking and a slur use the same symbol. And that’s my point. How to be sure they aren’t confused by the reader of the score?

You use a dashed line for phrases. Problem solved I guess. That's what I was thinking of doing, somehow making the symbols appear slightly different. I'm just wondering why there wasn't a standard made up, like phrase marking have a little loop at the ends or something like that. Then no ambiguity.

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Guest QcCowboy
Yes but a colon and a semi-colon are visually different, no ambiguity there. A phrase marking and a slur use the same symbol. And that
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  • 14 years later...

I have always felt a phrase bar to be a musical sentence.  With that thought in mind, that would be where the melody is being played.  That would explain way the flute would have the phrase bar playing the melody and not the violins who are only playing accompaniment.  

The slur, as was stated, makes the notes played together without a breath or in choral without a breath.  

Clarity is still needed to know if both can be used.  I would think so but I am not an expert.

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