The basic musical phrase structure is explained in Chapter 1.

The internal extensions: the dominant prolongation and the static coda are explained in Chapter 5.

The following is a summary of further ways of extending the structure. These are: embedding - where additional branches are included in the phrase structure; conjoining where complete and incomplete structures are connected together to create larger structures and overlapping, where the cadence of one phrase overlaps with the start of the next phrase.

In order to understand these extended structures it is first necessary to explain the types of incomplete phrase structures that are possible.

Incomplete Versions of the Basic Structure

Incomplete versions of the basic structure can be used simply as shortened forms of the basic structure, but are more commonly use in combination to create longer range structures.

Pieces composed of brief repeating structures such as: cannons, rounds, and some chaconnes, etc, or single lines of songs, sometimes have phrases made up totally of dynamic harmony followed by a cadence or sometimes static harmony followed directly by a cadence. This is because the phrase here is too short (often two or four bars only) to accommodate the full structure and a cadence is required at the end of each short section. These shortened structures can be referred to as the dynamic phrase and the static phrase. In some popular songs the whole verse or whole chorus is a single dynamic or static phrase.

The other important type of incomplete phrase structure is the phrases with the final tonic chord missing, the imperfect phase. This is so named because it ends on an imperfect cadence.

These incomplete structures are most commonly used as components that are joined with other complete and/or incomplete structures to make up larger structures. They are thus very important in building form. The three main types of incomplete structures are thus as follows:

a) The "Dynamic Phrase" (or "Closing Section")

This incomplete phrase structure has no static harmony component and therefore is just a closing section. It is similar to a "subordinate phrase" in language.

Schubert's song: "Rose Among the Heather" is made up totally of brief dynamic phrases. The first phrase is as follows:


This phrase is made up of the following chord progression:

I - II - V - I .

Each of these chords fills a whole bar so no priority is given to any chord over any other, other than the fact that the tonic chord starts and ends the progression. There is no prolongation of the initial tonic so the phrase is composed only of dynamic harmony made up of one rising second and two rising 4th progressions. The phrase ends on a V - I perfect cadence. Note, the inversions of both cadence chords (V and I) suggests that this phrase is to be followed by another phrase with a stronger V - I cadence with root position chords.

A longer example is the first prelude of Bach's Forty Eight Preludes and Fugues. The whole 35 bar prelude is composed of dynamic harmony (elaborated with a linear progression at bars 11 to 15) plus a perfect cadence. Both the dominant and tonic chords of the cadence are prolonged into a Dominant Prolongation and a Static Coda. See Chapter 5. The Dominant Prolongation is from bar 24 to bar 31 and the static coda from bar 32 to 35. These prolongations balance out the lack of static harmony at the start of the phrase.

Many popular songs use Dynamic Phrases either as the whole verse or whole chorus. Common patterns are: I - II- V- I and I - VI - II - V - I but other examples are common such as I - IV - bVII - V - I . (The Beatles "Michelle", Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour".) etc. I may add a section on these progression in the popular music section if time permits.

However, the closing section is frequently used either embedded in a complete phrase or conjoining with other complete and/or incomplete phrases, creating larger overall structures (see later).


b) The "Static Phrase"

This incomplete phrase has no dynamic harmony. The static harmony is followed immediately by the cadence. The double line indicates the absence of the dynamic harmony. An example is the first sung phrase of the "Hallelujah" Chorus from Handel's Messiah, as follows:

The first 3 bars are all static harmony using chord IV as the auxiliary chord. Chord IV is frequently used as an auxiliary chord in religious works and contributes in this way to the style of the music. This static harmony is immediately followed by a (briefly prolonged) dominant chord which resolves onto the tonic. The cadence thus follows the static harmony without any dynamic harmony. The brief prolongation of the dominant chord highlights the fact that we have arrived at the cadence. The ensuing phrase ends with a brief dynamic harmony so that this incomplete phrase is paired up with a complete phrase. A further example is the first line of the first song from Schubert's Winterreise Song Cycle. The first 3 1/2 bars are static harmony followed immediately by a V - I cadence. The Cadential Chord V is elaborated by cadential 6 4 chord which emphasises that this is a cadential dominant chord. See example in Chapter 2.

Sometimes, because of the absence of dynamic harmony, the cadence is preceded by a brief chromatic chord such as a diminished 7th chord or augmented 6th chord to indicate the arrival of the cadence. This is the case in Mozart Sonata K 331 in bars 9 to 12 of the theme.

A good example of a static phrase from popular music is the Beatles song: "Hey Jude". The first 8 bar phrase of the verse is made up totally of static harmony plus cadence, as follows:

I - [V] - I - [IV] - I - [V] - I

After a repeat of this 8 bar static phrase the chorus balances it with a dynamic phrase as follows:

I - VI - II - V -I (repeated).

Although each is a phrase in its own right, they form a larger unit (which contains both static and dynamic harmony) but separated by a cadence.


c) The "Imperfect Phrase".

The imperfect phrase is the basic phrase with the final tonic missing. It ends with an imperfect cadence and is frequently paired up with a complete phrase in order to create a larger structure. It is very common and varies in length. Following is a short example:

This phrase has static harmony using chord V as the auxiliary chord and therefore has a more secular feel than the previous example. It is followed by brief dynamic harmony leading to the dominant chord. The phrase thus ends on an imperfect cadence. This phrase is followed by a phrase which ends on a perfect cadence so that the two phrases balance. For more on conjoining see later.

This example and the previous examples of incomplete phrases are chosen as short examples with minimal voice leading complications. Longer, more complex examples will be included in the Full Analyses Chapter.


The terms "embedding" "conjoining" and "overlapping" will be used in the following sections to describe the various ways that complete and incomplete structures can be joined together to make larger units that create musical form. It should not be assumed that slotting phrases into these categories (in a "normative" way) is an end in itself, nor that this is an exact science. The terms are used here, and in the Full Analyses Chapter, as a way of describing the grouping of smaller units into larger units. The full analyses explain how the combining of complete and incomplete phrases relates to: key structures, melodic structures and how they help to create formal structures. I will include some examples of embedding below but conjoining and overlapping phrases occur in larger structures, so for these, I will refer to examples in the Full Analysis Chapter where the relationship between larger structures and overall form can be more fully explained.


This term is useful to describe a situation where the standard structure has additional branches that are created by the insertion of an incomplete phrase (usually a closing section - like a subordinate clause in language) within the main structure. This forms an integral part of the structure of the phrase, forming an essential part of the melodic structure of the phrase. The embedded phrase does not have an independent cadence. It extends the basic structure rather than creating a separate structure. These structures are not as common as other ways of extending structures but are used by composers occasionally.

In the first type, a closing section structure is embedded in the opening section of the phrase and precedes the static harmony, so that the opening section now has two branches. This can be described as a "Dynamic Introduction", as the phrase starts with dynamic harmony prior to the opening section static harmony. Whereas the Dominant Prolongation and Static Coda (see previous chapter) are extensions involving just prolongation of a single chord of the cadence, the Dynamic Introduction involves the introduction of: part of, or the whole of, a closing section into an existing structure.

a) Closing Section Embedded in the Opening Section (Dynamic Introduction)



The content of the Dynamic Introduction can be varied. In its fullest form, it contains the Dynamic Harmony and the cadential dominant chord expanded to form a Dominant Prolongation. In its simplest form, it contains just the dominant chord or it can contain just a Dominant Prolongation leading into the Static Harmony. Even in the full form, the final tonic chord overlaps with the first tonic chord of the static harmony . If it has its own full cadence, then it is not an integral part of the main phrase and is not an embedded phrase.

This is a kind of extended upbeat or lead-in to the static harmony. It can be present in the first phrase of a piece of music or any subsequent phrase. All the techniques explained in Chapter 2 for creating dynamic harmony can be applied.

The first subject of the Beethoven Piano Sonata, Opus 31 No. 3. starts with a dynamic introduction:



This dynamic introduction is based on a simple II - V - I progression. This is elaborated by a cadential 6 4 appoggiatura chord and a passing dominant leading **** bar numbers, sequence *** diminished seventh chord. After an ascending scale passage, the dynamic introduction repeats and the static harmony starts at bar 17 and continues to bar 27 where the dynamic harmony of the closing section starts. The dynamic introduction belongs to the same phrase as the static harmony as both syntactic elements contain similar motivic material and are both part of the first subject.

To avoid any confusion it should be made clear that there is no relationship between a dynamic introduction and a formal introduction. A dynamic introduction is a syntactic element and performs a syntactic function in a musical phrase. The only purpose of the expression dynamic introduction is to explain the structure of the musical phrase. It can exist in any phrase in a piece of music not necessarily the first phrase. A formal introduction may itself contain whole syntactic phrases.

Sometimes a dynamic introduction may precede a phrase without being integrated within the phrase. This is an example of conjoining and is explained below.

Demo 3 is an example of a full phrase containing a dynamic introduction although the dynamic introduction here consists of only a single dominant chord extended over two bars.

A good example from popular music, is the Bob Dylan song "Mr Tambourine Man". The opening section static harmony is preceded by a IV - V - I progression which is an integral part of the phrase.


b) Closing Section or Complete Phrase Embedded after the Cadence

Sometimes a short closing section or short complete phrase is tagged on to the main phrase after the cadence as follows:.


These are normally brief and their purpose is to extend the phrase. These are not as common as other forms of cadential extension such as the dominant prolongation or static coda (see previous chapter) but are used sometimes, particularly at the end of a movement. I've included this type of extension under "embedding" where the extension is an integral part of the musical phrase. The following is a brief example:

This is the end of the theme from the first movement which is a theme and variations. The preceding part of the theme is made up of four bar phrases but the final phrase is extended to 6 bars by the brief two bar extension which is based on the cadential pattern from the first phrase. If we consider the brief prolongation of the tonic in bar 17 to be long enough to be Opening Section Static Harmony, then this is a complete (albeit short) phrase that is tagged on to the end of the main phrase. Note that the cadence in the main phrase at bar 16 is weakened by the melody ending on the third degree of the scale. This fact propels the phrase forward into the extension where the melody ends on the tonic. The static harmony in the main phrase consists of a I - V - I static pattern but the V - I movement is elaborated by auxiliary note movement in the bass and melody moving in 10ths. In fact, this movement in 10ths extends throughout the static harmony between the top a bottom parts. The voice leading here is thus a combination of an auxiliary chord, arpeggiatioin and auxiliary notes. The chord at the start of bar 15 is thus the result of auxiliary movement against the sustained E's which are present from the start to the end of the static harmony. If this were a structural chord, the E would be dissonance and resolve downward. Also there is no 5th present above the bass F# which also suggests the voice leading origins of this note combination.

Extensions of this type sometimes follow an interrupted cadence. However, where an interrupted cadence is followed immediately by more dynamic harmony, this just extends the dynamic harmony rather than embedding a new phrase.



Whereas "embedding" involves the inclusion of an incomplete or complete phrase as an essential part of another phrase, "conjoining" involves the connection of complete and incomplete phrases in a looser way to create a larger unit. In this situation the incomplete phrase retains some identity as a separate phrase, with its own cadence, often with a different melodic content. A series of complete structures, one after another, would create a fragmented overall effect and so composers avoid doing this. Rather, a single or series of incomplete structures prior to a complete structure creates more tension and a sense of moving forward but without a sense of completion until the final complete phrase structure is arrived at.

Because these examples are longer than the previous examples, in this section I will reference examples in Chapter 8: Example Analyses where the longer examples can be dealt with in the context of a full analysis. As time permits, I will include further examples in the analysis chapter.

Two common patterns are as follows:

Imperfect Phrase + Complete Phrase

Here a single imperfect phrase structure ends without its final tonic. This is followed by a phrase with a complete cadence. Often the two phrases are melodically similar, the first remains unfinished and is complete when repeated as phrase 2. This structure is demonstrated in the Full Analysis Chapter in the Brahms - St Antoni Variations. This is a very common structure.


The "Dynamic Phrase" (or "Closing Section") + Complete Phrase


Here a single dynamic phrase (or "closing section") ends with a complete V - I cadence but contains only dynamic harmony. The phrase therefore has the feel of moving forward but without being complete. This feeling of incompleteness is resolved by its being followed by a complete phrase structure. Whilst there may be motivic connections between the two phrases, they are often different melodically. Often the dynamic phrase is a connector between two complete phrases. This structure is demonstrated in the Full Analysis Chapter in the Schumann - Kinderszenen No 1.


The "Static Phrase" + Complete Phrase

Similar conjoining can be made using a static phrase + a complete phrase (although this is less common) or more commonly by a string of incomplete structures ending in a complete structure. I'll include examples of these in the Full Analyses Chapter, in the book.

Overlapping Phrases

In the section on embedding above, I showed how incomplete phrase structures can be embedded into larger structures by an overlapping cadence. However, in those examples the overlapping phrase is short and forms an integral part of the melodic structure of the overall phrase. Sometimes longer complete or incomplete phrases have cadences that overlap with other complete or incomplete phrases but nevertheless are melodically separate. These ways of joining phrases are more similar to conjoined phrases and are a further important way of creating larger scale structures. These larger units should be examined against the overall key movement, melodic development in order to examine the way they contribute to the overall form of the music.

I will include examples of these in the Full Analysis Chapter of the book.

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