Call and Response in Music: Create Music Conversation

call and response in music

Melody’s ideas sometimes feel like they only come from random inspiration. Actually, many of the greatest lines follow a pattern that’s easy to recognize once you know how it works. I’m talking about a common figure known as Call and response. It’s a melodic technique you should use to generate ideas and add interest to your songwriting. In this article, I’ll explain what Call and response in music is, the way to recognize it, and where to use it in your own tracks.

Let’s get started.

What is Call and response?

Call and response is a musical pattern that consists of a ‘statement’ phrase and a contrasting ‘answer’ phrase delivered one after the other.

It’s a strong device in songwriting because it mimics the essential format of human communication.

Call and response can happen with almost any kind of music figure, however, it’s most commonly heard in melodic lines.

It’s generally used to give an instrument or melody its own character or persona as in a leitmotif.

Call and response melodies stick easily in your head because the familiar pattern makes them extra memorable and distinct.

Call and response is a musical pattern that consists of a ‘statement’ phrase and contrasting ‘answer’ phrase delivered one after the other.

What does Call and response sound like?

Call and response may be heard in any two-part melody with a statement and answer format.

You’ll be able to usually tell when a line or figure opens with a statement that feels incomplete. The reply that comes next either confirms or subverts your expectations using complementary or contrasting material.

Here are some basic examples that will help you hear how it sounds:

Where can you use Call and response?

Call and response may seem like an easy concept, however, there are lots of different places it can be used in a musical composition.

Here are some examples of specific situations where the technique shines:

1. Lead and backing vocals

One easy way to use Call and response is while writing backing vocals.

Backing vocals help emphasize and assist the lead vocalist’s performance. However, they will also become a part of the main melody.

They’re a natural choice for Call and response since they reinforce the conversational feel of the line.

Here’s a clear instance of this approach in action:

Call and Response in Gospel Music

2. Contrasting musical figures

Just because the track’s hook isn’t in the vocal line doesn’t mean you can’t use Call and response.

Actually, setting up contrasting melodies and figures with this pattern is one of the best strategies for writing catchy instrumental hooks.

Backing vocals help emphasize and support the lead vocalist’s performance. However they can also become part of the main melody.

If you ever stumble on a phrase that feels like it has a natural ‘second half,’ think about drawing attention to the Call and response like in this example:

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers - Moanin'

3. Similar lines in contrasting voices

Call and response aren’t limited to the melodic structure.

A response can come from a unique instrument or texture even if it shares the essential melodic outline

This is especially interesting when the response figure appears in a unique octave register or a very different instrumental voice.

4. Trading fours

A method to use Call and response while improvising is known as ‘trading fours.’

It’s a technique in jazz where soloists exchange short improvisations, typically lasting four bars each.

By listening to what the other musicians are playing, jazz players usually create contrasting or complementary lines that may act like Call and response figures between band members.

Trading Fours in Jazz

Melodic techniques

Call and response might be one of the oldest musical types still in use today.

Its strong connection to the human conversation makes it a strong tool in any savvy songwriter’s toolkit.

If you’ve made it via this article you’ll have a great start for using Call and response in your own tracks.

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