Analysis Question with Sample Responses 1: Bye Bye Blackbird

Analysis Question with Sample Responses 1: Bye Bye Blackbird


First 1 minute 34 seconds

First 1 minute 34 seconds (then fade)


Thank you, anonymous,  for this response and permission to publish it! 

Question: How has the treatment of improvisation/ornamentation/ embellishment and phrasing resulted in different expressive outcomes in the following works?


Character of A (Frank Sinatra) : Energetic and jovial

Character of B (Etta Jones) : Playful and carefree


A: B:
·       Piece A opens with an improvisatory, upbeat tune from the horn section that immediately establishes a bright and jovial atmosphere. While there is an improvisatory nature to it, particularly emphasised by the heavy swing, the unity between the multiple horns helps the opening of the piece feel more cheerful instead of chaotic.


Jenn Gillan: A great start! Clear comparison of character.  More needed on what makes the piece seem improvisatory.  We just can’t take your word for it unfortunately!


·       The horns and the clarinet play short, improvisatory lines throughout the vocalist’s first verse. In these lines they frequently employ vibrato, which allows them to inject another layer of energy into the piece. While the heavy swing rhythms and slight variation between the horns’ improvised tunes allow these lines to feel improvisatory, the vibrato and articulation is repetitive and almost predictable, which allows it to carry a sense of stability and structure. This in turn contributes to a more unified and driven energy that helps to form the vigour of the piece.


Jenn Gillan: As above.  More needed on what makes it improvisatory but some strong points in other areas. Just make sure you’re answering the question.


·       The vocalist in piece A seems to use little embellishment as they sing apart from minimal use of vibrato.

Jenn Gillan: There is use of some slides, playing around with the tempo etc. here.  Maybe a little bit of a cop out.

·       The piano, similarly to the horns in piece A, opens with a short, solo improvisatory section. However, while interaction with the drums and bass lend it a sense of stability, the lone piano has a sense of freedom that the horns do not possess in piece A, allowing it to take on a more carefree attitude.


Jenn Gillan: You are so close to a great response! WHAT makes it seem improvisatory? WHAT creates the freedom you speak of? It’s the what that creates the analysis.


·       The flute, similar to the horns and the clarinet in piece A, play short, improvisatory lines throughout the vocalist’s first verse. The flute relies on syncopation and flurries of short notes to establish its improvised nature.


Jenn Gillan: This is more like it! You’ve given a more detailed and convincing reason why this section is improvised. Rhythm and melody, as well as ornamentation, are worth discussing to make your point.


·       The very varied use of these and other techniques allows the flute’s improvisation to feel much more original and natural than the horn lines in piece A, contributing to a much more impulsive character.


Jenn Gillan: Try not to cop out by saying “and other techniques”. Name them! That’s where the points lie.


·       Unlike the vocalist in piece A, the vocalist in piece B makes frequent use of vibrato and scoops to embellish her words. This adds a layer of complexity and improvisation that communicates a sense of playfulness to the listener.


Jenn Gillan:  The listener is a pet hate of mine! Try not to bring him/her/it up.  There are many other ways of expressing your ideas without using this fictional character.


Jenn Gillan: Overall some strong points! More needed in terms of relating the two columns to each other. Remember you’re answering a comparison question. More needed in terms of describing improvisation but you got better as you went along.


A: B:
·       Clearly defined, predictable phrases of the vocalist with an organic beginning and ending set up a relaxed atmosphere where the listener is able to latch onto the predictability of the vocalist with ease.


·       The phrasing of the improvisatory horn lines in the midst of the vocalist’s first verse is of irregular length, much like the phrasing of the flute in piece B. Both of these instruments in both pieces therefore seem to be injecting a sense of free-spirited liveliness into the song.


Jenn Gillan: Some things to consider to flesh this out – What are the shapes of the phrases?  Are there any short interjecting phrases? Maybe talk more of the function of these phrases and the trends – do they tend to be higher in pitch?


·       Unpredictable phrasing from the vocalist and flute leaves the listener in constant anticipation of the next note; however, the chordal foundation of the bass and piano provides a sense of security to the listener, preventing the piece from becoming chaotic instead of playful.


Jenn Gillan: That dang listener!! What makes the phrasing unpredictable? Again, we can’t just take your word for it.


·       The length of phrases by the vocalist is much more inconsistent and irregular than A; in some places they seem to be drawn out and other times they seem to cut off quite suddenly. The vocalist’s relationship with phrasing therefore comes across as very nonchalant and playful.


Jenn Gillan: Try to give more specific examples and mention trends and patterns.  For example, the phrases tend to be longer leading towards a climax. Phrases are cut off after an extended phrase, which is balanced by a few shorter phrases. Also consider using lyrics or list what’s happening in the music (eg. before the trumpet solo, after the main climax, at the start of the excerpt) to pinpoint what you’re talking about.


Jenn Gillan: Overall –  Think about the shape of phrases, use lyrics to give more specific examples and consider the purpose of phrases.  Remember to compare all along as this is a comparison question.  Some solid work here. The format works well for you.