Composing: Call and Response

Composing: Call and Response

Hello, I’ve heard a few people on my previous discussions about composing mention Call and Response, and I was wondering what this is. I know it has something to do with the A part and B part of a tune but don’t really understand it fully. I feel this discussion will really help improve my compositions as a whole if I can get a basic understanding of this topic in particular. Who knows maybe this discussion will give me a new way to look at composition.

All replies are appreciated!!

Thanks! 🙂

Re: Composing: Call and Response

A phrase or snippet that sets the tone, and one that matches/contrast/resolves the first part. I don’t view this as an A and B part thing, but more of a phrase by phrase thing, or even just a few notes at a time.

This can be a writing/artistic thing, but can also be a fundamental music theory thing. Look up tension and resolution. Any good theory material will explain how to create tension to make a melody interesting and how to resolve it.

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

Have you considered taking a course in basic music theory? It’s very helpful for getting a strong foundation that you need to compose.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

I’ll read up on it.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Take a standard tune, e.g. Drowsy Maggie ( https://thesession.org/tunes/27 ):
A part - |:E2BE dEBE|E2BE AFDF|E2BE dEBE|BABc dAFD:|

Bars 1 and 3 are identical, and on a micro-level you could say that those ask the questions (or question, since it’s the same phrase), while bars 2 and 4 are the responses. Incidentally, that’s also where there’s (new) movement. (As well as new chords, if you want.)

See what I mean?

Here’s another tune, like the Maid Behind the Bar ( https://thesession.org/tunes/64 ):
|:FAAB AFED|FAAB ABde|fBBA Bcde|fBBA BcdA|
FAAB AFED|FAAB ABde|fBBA BcdB|AFEF D4:|

Not only is the part longer (it’s twice as long), but also the phrases are longer. Bars 1+2 and 5+6 make up the same phrase, and 3+4 and 7+8 make up two slightly different responses.

There are minimalistic tunes with very little melodic material (Fraher’s), and there are epic tunes without a single repeated bar, at least in one of the parts (Maudabawn Chapel), but they still have phrases which give the tunes a feeling of when you’re "home" and when you’re "away".

Re: Composing: Call and Response

A big part of music is about creating tension and resolving it. To begin with, instead of trying to compose, try listening to good tunes. See if you can find the idea that a part of a tune may (metaphorically speaking) "ask a question", and then provide an "answer".

Tunes often do this by giving you a phrase, but instead of resolving the phrase back to the root of the key, they resolve it to a note that is still providing some tension (like the 2 or the 5), then they’ll give you basically the same phrase, but resolve it back to the 1. This gives you the question/answer or call/response feel.

If you’re not sure what I mean about tension, here are a couple of exercises to illustrate the point. Try playing a D scale, but stop on the 7 (C sharp). You can really feel the fact that you’re left hanging until you play the 1 again (the D at the top of the scale).

Each note in a scale, when played against the root of the key (like a tune in D played against the drones of pipes) will provide varying amounts of tension. There’s a physical reason for this, having to do with how well the wave forms of the notes line up against each other, and whether there are "beats" where the wave forms don’t match up, and end up conflicting with each other.

So another exercise is to record yourself playing a D note for about a minute (don’t worry about having to breathe, just take a breath, and then keep playing a D). Then, as you’re playing back that recording, try playing each note in the D scale, and feel how much tension there is between the note you’re playing and the D on the recording. You’ll find that some notes sound good (harmony), and some notes sound worse (tension).

Tunes all play around with creating that tension and then bringing you back home with some resolution. But not all tunes do it with a formulaic call and response model like I described above. And there really is no magic formula for doing this without sounding contrived, and that’s where the really good composers come in.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

I see, thanks for your long and detailed response Reverend.

Thanks Jeff and Aaron as well.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Sort of like this? |1st 6 phrases = tension| Last 2 phrases = Resolution|

A very simple melody I wrote to try to understand, but I think I get it.

X:2
T:Gan Ainm
R:Jig
M:6/8
L:1/8
K:Gmaj
|:~G3 Bde | ged B2A | ~B3 dBG | ABA BGA |
~G3 Bde | ged B2d | BAG EDE | GBA GFG :|

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Kellie, call & response is at the root of so much music. Keep pursuing it because I think you’re onto something grand.
https://vimeo.com/119660747

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

I do have one question though in order to create a "resolution" do I end on the base note in the 1st octave or the 2nd octave, or will it still create a "resolution" if I end on either?

Thanks AB!!! Irish music is pretty much all I need though.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Kellie, you have to be willing to look past the differences you perceive in order to find the similarities.
That is call & response.

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

So, it doesn’t matter got it. Thanks AB!

Re: Composing: Call and Response

You’re welcome! 🙂
Except I was responding to your tag, "Irish music is pretty much all I need though." right after I posted
Beyoncé’s cover of "Fingertips".

Oh well… seems like we’re communicating on our usual mustard par.

Cheers!

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

I do have one question though in order to create a "resolution" do I end on the base note in the 1st octave or the 2nd octave, or will it still create a "resolution" if I end on either?

This is a repost so I can get an answer. AB I will say however that your post sounded like it could be an answer to either statement.

Also, Cheers!

Re: Composing: Call and Response

there are no rules

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Look up antecedent & consequence.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Um. Call and response is only one way of verbalizing what is happening in a traditional tune, Another way
of conceptualizing the music is to to compare a tune to a stave or stanza of poetry. It will have both a metric and a rhythmic component. Jigs in particular exhibit great regularity in these two elements. Sometimes this will be coupled up to a repetitive frame work, much like a simple rhyme scheme: ABABCA. Hornpipes in particular exhibit the regularity, as do polkas. Reels break away from this regularity, with some of the most striking reels ‘playing’ with and against this regularity. In poetry, and in particular Gaelic Poetry, you have strong metric structures coupled to VERY strong alliteration. Words that share strong sound associations, and often strikingly opposite meanings. I find this analytic lens quite helpful.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

To expand a little more on the similarities between poetry, particularly Bardic poetry, and ITM, I would invite you to consider some of the most remarkable human achievements of pre-literate societies. Often, poems like the Vedas, the Oddysiad, and the Sagas, ran to thousands of lines. They could be memorized and correctly recited
because their rhyming, scansion, alliteration, and metric structure make each line nearly inevitable in form, and when they break from this regularity, then they are often even more memorable.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

It’s a term I would associate more with singing: as in the example on that video above,and also very commonly used in Gospel singing.
Also in Breton music where the bagpipes or biniou might play a phrase, and then the bombardes play the SAME phrase back again.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

"I do have one question though in order to create a "resolution" do I end on the base note in the 1st octave or the 2nd octave, or will it still create a "resolution" if I end on either?"

The octave of the "tonic" (not "base") note does not matter. Not many things in music theory are octave dependent. For that matter, there’s not really a "first" or "second" octave, although I’m pretty sure what you meant.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Kellie-based on your newest jig I think you get it, or at least are starting to get it.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Kellie, taking your tune snippet above, I rewrote it to show you more of a call/response idea:

X:3
T:Gan Ainm
R:Jig
M:6/8
L:1/8
K:Gmaj
|:GFG GBd|ege dBA|~B3 dBG|ABA AGE|
|GFG GBd|ege dBA|BAB dBG|E2F G2D:|

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Check out the A part of the Wise Maid; that’s call and responses.
Maybe you need to look at more tunes to hear what you should be including?
If you can figure out harmonics and underlying chords you could check out cadences.

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

Thanks 5string! I think Reverend’s post showed me the light so to speak.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Ok so maybe I don’t get it as well as I thought but I sort of understand.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Just for giggles, I finished the tune that I started from your snippet. I don’t consider myself a particularly good composer. There are a few things that I did in this tune that are somewhat common, but almost always sound contrived to me when I try to do it, including echoing the middle part in both the A and B parts, using a call/response theme in both parts, and finishing with the same basic phrase, but up an octave. Anyway, this points out to me once again, that the tunes I write are often boring. 😉

Enjoy anyway:

X:3
T:Kellie’s Favorite Son
R:Jig
M:6/8
L:1/8
K:Gmaj
|:GFG GBd|ege dBA|~B3 dBG|ABA AGE|
|GFG GBd|ege dBA|BAB dBG|1 E2F G2D:|2 E2F G2B|
|:def g2g|fgf edc|~B3 dBG|ABA ABc|
|def g2g|fgf edc|BAB dBg|1 e2f g2B:|2 g/f/ef g2d|

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Reverend Thanks I might make some changes and learn it if it’s ok with you, and you ARE a good composer.

AB no I can’t say I’ve ever heard that one before. Thanks for sharing!

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Kellie I just want to thank you for posting threads like these, you always have something I wouldn’t even know to ask, and I’m starting to learn a lot from them.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Interesting thread.
Many of the early music tunes are deeply into question and answer mostly about love (death, desire, you name it!): 2 bars deeply pessimistic question followed by 2 bars of unhelpful answer, 2 bars of irritable repeat of the question, 2 bars resolution - everything will be alright (probably)!

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Kellie, I agree Reverend has it.

All that I’ll add is my own perspective. As I’m playing - or listening - I hear questions and answers in any number of ways. Typically you notice it every two measures or so. But then those two measures you just heard - they now form a larger question, which is answered by the next four measures.

Which takes us to, say, the B-part. And the B part is now the answer to the question presented by the A part. But while this is going on, there are still smaller questions and answers within the B part.

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

Hey Shane, glad other people can get use out of my posts.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

trish santer mentioned call and response in Breton music, the same thing can be
heard in French Canadian music
as many of the settlers came from Brittany-listen to almost any song by
La Bottine Souriante or Vent du Nord
and you’ll hear it

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Ergo is spot on. It’s what I referred to on another similar thread as the internal logic of a jig. I still think the best way to understand this is to learn a boatload of jigs-osmosis first, then analysis.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

"But then those two measures you just heard - they now form a larger question, which is answered by the next four measures…."

What I meant to say here was the two-measure question is answered by the next two measures, not four. Sorry if this confused anyone. I think the first place to look for questions and answers is in sections that are the same size, so if two bars is the question, then the next two bars are the answer. Generally, not always.

You can even look at sets this way, if you want. Look at the tune you’re playing as the question, and think of the next tune, or at least the start of the new tune, as an answer. Not "the" answer, of course.

I’m realizing all this is subjective, and I can’t promise that all the questions and answers won’t eventually bring you to hearing voices.

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

Ergo- I think you got it right the first time- the larger question is 4 bars answered by another four bar phrase which itself might contain a question and answer. And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby.

Re: Composing: Call and Response

Thanks, 5String - I confuse myself a lot. Then the voices start.

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

Voices, choices, new Rolls-Royces…

Re:Call and Response

I realised I needed to clear my brain a bit to respond to how your question(s) were entering the old grey matter, Kellie. I know you’re eager to compose and I’m not. But I also know you’re asking about the basic form of tunes. I can appreciate that because I love learning tunes. So I’ll attempt to respond to the second part of your question about call & response.

I cannot emphasis enough the fact how much call & response is intertwined in almost all, if not all music. It’s in the building blocks of the tunes, the smaller & larger phrases, constantly interacting. It’s subtle and obvious at the same time when music is well played. Learn the tunes, continue learning how to hear their different ways of asking a question and answering, of making a statement and responding, keep your ears open and you will hear the call and response everywhere.

Enough pontificating! I cannot help you with composing because it’s not anything I focus on. It’s grand that you do. Point is you are asking about call and response in the basic structure of a jig. So if you don’t mind I’ll limit this response to the simplest example I can come up with the intention of a starting point for illustrating call & response. I’m not tossing out Reverend’s contribution. Pete is great & he can help you with your questions about composing.

Take it with a grain of salt. This is only my example, not a full tune (just 1 A part w/out any 2nd repeat) & only using the first little bit from your and Reverend’s compositions. It’s still a jig though I put it together with a different rhythmic & melodic structure because I needed to in order to process my personal way of illustrating a ‘basic example’ of call and response.

X:4
T:Call & Response
M:6/8
K:G
D|GDG B2 d|ege d2 A|BdB G2 d|dBG A2D|
GDG B2 d|ege d2 A|GBG BdB|dBG A3|

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Re: Composing: Call and Response

Thanks AB!!