32- and 48-Beat Phrases

West Coast Swing Online Musicality 2 Comments

The last post in this series compared the chord progressions in blues music with pop music in order to explain why some songs are built with 32-beat paragraphs, or major phrases, and other songs have 48-beat phrases. The next step is to practice listening to songs in order to determine what kind of major phrase they have.

The Drill: Put on a playlist of WCS songs and start counting sets of 8. In every musical paragraph, pay special attention to what happens during the fourth set of eight. If you hear a build of tension that resolves in the next 1, you are looking at 32-beat major phrases. If there is not a contrast between the fourth and fifth set of 8, you have a 48-beat phrase.

If you need a starter playlist, try: The Blues is My Business by Etta James, Sure Hope You Mean It by Raphael Saadiq, I Got the Blues by Brother Yusef, Everett Bradley’s Cool Cool Thing, The Itch by Keb’ Mo’, and B.B. King’s Better Not Look Down.

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that contemporary music is 32 beats while blues music is 48 beats. Lots of blues artists also use 32-beat phrases—for example, Better Not Look Down (in fact, most of B.B. King’s music) is built from 32-beat phrase. Contemporary music is trickier because there are often an extra set of beats (sometimes 4, 8, or even 16) tagged onto the core 32-beat progression.

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Comments 2

    1. Post

      Thanks Andy!
      Check out the ‘Musicality’ section in the member videos…

      The video titles “Understanding Contemporary Music Phrasing”

      That video does a visual walk through of phrasing. Not sure if you’ve seen it.

      Hope the dancing is going well!

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