Call and response (music)

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Call: "Shave and a Haircut", Response: "Two bits". About this sound Play .

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 as a basic element of musical form, such as verse-chorus form, in many traditions.

African Music[edit]

In Sub-Saharan 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.[1] 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; sporting events; even in children's rhymes; and, most notably, in African-American music in its myriad forms and descendants including: soul, gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, funk and hip hop. Call and response is widely present in parts of the Americas touched by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The tradition of call and response fosters dialogue and its legacy continues on today, as it is an important component of oral traditions. Both African-American Women Work Songs, African American work songs, and the Work song in general uses the call and response format often.

Indian Music[edit]

Call and response patterns between two musicians are common in Indian Classical Music, particularly in the style of Jugalbandi.

Cuban Music[edit]

It is extensively used in Cuban music, both in the secular rumba[2] and in the African religious ceremonies (Santería).[3]


In 1644, lining out – where one person sang a solo (a precentor) and others followed – is outlined by the Westminster Assembly for psalm singing in English churches.[4] It has influenced popular music singing styles.[4] Precenting the line was characterised by a slow, drawn-out heterophonic and often profusely ornamented melody, while a clerk or precentor (song leader) chanted the text line by line before it was sung by the congregation. Scottish Gaelic psalm-singing by precenting the line was the earliest form of congregational singing adopted by Africans in America.[5]

Folk music[edit]

It is common in folk traditions of choral singing of many people, especially in African musical cultures.[citation needed] In the West, it is most readily seen in the sea shanty, African-American work songs, African-American Women Work Songs, military cadences, Québecois folk songs, and the dance-songs of various European countries including France (particularly Brittany) and the Faroe Islands.

In Cuban music and other Latin music genres such as salsa, call and response between the lead singer and the coro (chorus) is termed coro-pregón.

The form is found in the military cadence or "Jody" which is used as an a cappella work song or to keep time when marching or running in formation.

Classical music[edit]

In Western classical music, call and response is known as antiphony.

Popular music[edit]

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 contributions. Cross-over rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll and rock music exhibit call-and-response characteristics, as well. Three examples are The Who's song "My Generation",[6] "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin,[citation needed] and The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York":[citation needed]. In Indian Film music, Ilaiyaraaja's songs largely exhibit call-and-response pattern.[7]

"My Generation" vocal melody with response.[6] About this sound Play 

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 diagramming it:[citation needed]

  • Twelve bars:
    • 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[edit]

A single leader makes a musical statement, and then the chorus responds together. American bluesman Muddy Waters utilizes call and response in one of his signature songs, "Mannish Boy" which is almost entirely leader/chorus call and response.

  • CALL: Waters' vocal: "Now when I was a young boy"
  • RESPONSE: (Harmonica/rhythm section riff)
  • CALL: Waters': "At the age of 5"
  • RESPONSE: (Harmonica/rhythm section riff)

Another example is from Chuck Berry's "School Day (Ring Ring Goes the Bell)".

  • CALL: Drop the coin right into the slot.
  • RESPONSE: (Guitar riff)
  • CALL: You gotta get something that's really hot.
  • RESPONSE: (Guitar riff)

A contemporary example is from Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe".

  • CALL: Hey I just met you
  • RESPONSE: (Violins)
  • CALL: And this is crazy
  • RESPONSE: (Violins)

This technique is utilized in Jepsen's song several times. While mostly in the chorus, it can also be heard in the breakdown (approximately 2:25) between the vocals ("It's hard to look right") and distorted guitar.

Question/answer call and response[edit]

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).

An example of this is the Christmas song "Must Be Santa":

CALL: Who laughs this way, ho ho ho?
RESPONSE: Santa laughs this way, ho ho ho!

A similar question-and-answer exchange occurs in the movie Casablanca between Sam and the band in the song "Knock On Wood":

CALL: Who's got trouble?
RESPONSE: We've got trouble!
CALL: How much trouble?
RESPONSE: Too much trouble!

Question/answer in Indian classical music[edit]

A distinct section in North Indian classical music is known as sawaal-javaab (question-answer). Primarily an instrumental technique, the sawaal-javaab occurs between two artists. One artist will present a melodically and rhythmically challenging riff which will be either replicated or improved upon by the other artist.

Dhori geet (two way songs) songs are very popular in Nepal which primarily consists of groups or individual male and female duet where both sides banter with each other back and forth.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Courlander, Harold, A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore:The Oral Literature, Traditions, Recollections, Legends, Tales, Songs, Religious Beliefs, Customs, Sayings and Humor of People of African Descent in the Americas. New York: Marlowe & Company, 1976.
  2. ^ Orovio, Helio 2004. Cuban music from A to Z. Revised by Sue Steward. ISBN 0-8223-3186-1 A biographical dictionary of Cuban music, artists, composers, groups and terms. Duke University, Durham NC; Tumi, Bath. p191
  3. ^ Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago. ISBN 1-55652-516-8
  4. ^ a b Shepherd, John (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: VolumeII: Performance and Production, Volume 11. A&C Black. p. 146. 
  5. ^ "From Charles Mackintosh's waterproof to Dolly the sheep: 43 innovations Scotland has given the world". The independent. January 3, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Middleton (1990). Studying Popular Music,[page needed]. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  7. ^

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