Call and response (music)

In music, a call and response is a succession of two distinct phrases usually played by different musicians, where the second phrase is heard as a direct commentary on or response to the first. It corresponds to the call-and-response pattern in human communication and is found in many traditions.

In West African cultures, call and response is a pervasive pattern of democratic participation -- in public gatherings in the discussion of civic affairs, in religious rituals, as well as in vocal and instrumental musical expression. It is this tradition that African bondsmen and women brought with them to the New World and which has been transmitted over the centuries in various forms of cultural expression -- in religious observance; public gatherings; even in children's rhymes; and, most notably, in African-American music in its myriad forms and descendents including: gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, jazz and jazz extensions.

Call and response is likewise widely present in other parts of the Americas touched by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Known under the Spanish term coro-pregon, it can be found in Afro-Latin music based on religious chants.


Folk music

It is common in folk traditions of choral singing of many peoples.

Classical music

In classical European music it is known as antiphony.

Popular music

The phenomenon of call and response is pervasive in modern Western popular music, as well, largely because Western music has been so heavily shaped by African-American contributions. Cross-over rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, and rock music exhibit call-and-response characteristics, as well. One example is "My Generation":

Missing image
"My Generation" vocal melody with response

Where call and response is most apparent in the secular music arena is in traditional and electric blues, where the most common 12-bar form is an AA'B pattern where the AA' is the call (repeated once with slight variation), and B is the response. But, each A and B part may itself consist of a short call and a short response, and those 2-bar calls and response may also be divided into 1-bar-each call-response pairs.

To make an attempt at diagraming it:

  • A: 4-bar CALL
    • (2-bar vocal CALL
      • [1-bar CALL, 1-bar RESPONSE]
    • 2-bar instrumental RESPONSE
      • [1-bar CALL, 1-bar RESPONSE])
  • A': 4-bar CALL (repeated with slight variation)
    • (2-bar vocal CALL
      • [1-bar CALL, 1-bar RESPONSE]
    • 2-bar instrumental RESPONSE
      • [1-bar CALL, 1-bar RESPONSE])
  • B: 4-bar RESPONSE (repeated)
    • (2-bar vocal CALL
      • [1-bar CALL, 1-bar RESPONSE]
    • 2-bar instrumental RESPONSE/turnaround
      • [1-bar CALL, 1-bar RESPONSE])

Note that each turnaround can be considered a call which the next A section is the response to.

Leader/Chorus call and response

A single leader makes a musical statement, and then the chorus responds together. African-American bluesman Bo Diddley utilizes call and response in his "I'm A Man," which is almost entirely Leader/Chorus call and response:

  • CALL: Diddley's vocals: "Now when I was a little boy"
  • RESPONSE: (Harmonica/rhythm section riff)
  • CALL: Diddley: "At the age of 5"
  • RESPONSE: (Harmonica/rhythm section riff)

Question/Answer call and response

Part of the band poses a musical "question", or a phrase that feels unfinished, and another part of the band "answers" (finishes) it. In the blues, the B section often has a question-and-answer pattern (dominant-to-tonic).

External link

  • History of Gospel Music ( - with references to call and response in black gospel music

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