3. Back Phrasing

After watching the video - see Activity Ideas below!

Back Phrasing / Activity Ideas

  • Choose a jazz standard from the Great American Songbook. Find a copy of the song in a fake book or online, and learn the melody as it was notated on the original leadsheet. Then, find and analyze a recorded version by a jazz singer who interprets songs well (check the listening resources in this course!). Can you identify any areas in which the artist used back phrasing? What effect do you think it had? Explore other artists singing the same song!
  • For a “restrictive” back phrasing exercise, give yourself a formula to follow. For example, singing with a play-along of the chord changes, challenge yourself to wait 1 second before singing each line, then “catch up” somewhere later in the phrase. Then try the exercise again, waiting 2 seconds. The “catching up” will have to be a bit quicker. Then try it with 3 seconds, then 4. For some phrases, it will be impossible to catch up starting 4 seconds late. For others, with a finessed approach, it will create a very conversational delivery. 

          Variation 1: Try incorporating the back phrasing idea on every other phrase. Sing one line straight (as written on the lead sheet), then the next line with some space at the start. Sing the entire song with this restriction. Then try it again, switching the order of the formula. 

         Variation 2: Try the previous exercise, but use a 2 to 1 formula (two lines back phrased, one line straight) or something similar. 

  • Find a recording you love by a singer who incorporates back phrasing (refer to the Resources section below for ideas). Find a lead sheet or sheet music for this song and learn to sing the melody straight (exactly as notated on the sheet music). Then, sing along with the recording: you sing the melody straight while the singer on the recording back phrases against you. Record this process so you can listen back and analyze.

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