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Call & Response in Music: Definition, Songs & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Call & Response?
  • 0:47 Call & Response Songs
  • 2:07 Call & Response:…
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Chouiniere

Chris has taught music and has a master's degree in music education.

'I don't know, but I've been told; 'I don't know, but I've been told'; 'call and response is pretty old'; 'call and response is pretty old.' This lesson will look at call and response and provide a few examples.

What is Call & Response?

'When we say go, you say fight! Go!' 'Fight!' This well-known cheer is a form of call and response. Call and response is a musical form in which a melody is stated in a phrase that is then followed by a second phrase that completes the idea. The first phrase is presented like a question, prompting the second phrase - the reply.

The melodic phrase, a grouping of notes that completes a musical idea, like a sentence, can be lyrical, as in the previous example. It can also be strictly instrumental, or it may be a mixture of the two. The beauty of this style is in its simplicity and applicability. We can hear it in everything from classical music to rock and roll, and everything in between.

Call & Response Songs

Call and response can be found all over modern music, and it plays a particularly big role in rap music. Think of the song 'Hello Brooklyn' by Jay Z featuring Lil Wayne.

Call and response goes back further into the roots of modern rap music and beyond. Consider gospel songs, which are largely based on this musical form, so much so that you'd be hard-pressed to find one without call and response. Think of songs in which the pastor or song leader sings a line, then the congregation or choir sings a response.

Let's look back to early blues music for examples of call and response that mixes both vocals and instrumentals. B. B. King made a career out of it, starting a phrase with his voice and replying to it with his guitar. Louis Armstrong also utilized this technique, using his voice and trumpet. When you see a blues singer with a harmonica, that musician is probably performing call and response.

Solely instrumental call and response is frequently heard in guitar solos in rock music. It's also common in classical music, and it's a prominent feature of folk music around the world. A prime example of instrumental call and response is the 1955 bluegrass classic 'Dueling Banjos'. Additionally, Jimmy Page's guitar solos for Led Zeppelin also feature a lot of call and response, perhaps an effect of his blues and jazz background.

Call & Response: Examples of Form

So far in this lesson, we've looked at the most common form of call and response, which involves single phrases. However, there's a more formal call and response that involves entire sections, and it warrants its own examination.

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