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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.
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. 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: gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, jazz and hip hop.
Call and response patterns between two musicians are common in Indian Classical Music, particularly in the style of Jugalbandi. Call and response is likewise widely present in parts of the Americas touched by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is extensively used in Cuban music, both in the secular rumba and in the African religious ceremonies (Santería).
It is common in folk traditions of choral singing of many people, especially in African musical cultures . In the West, it is most readily seen in the sea shanty, African-American work songs, military cadences, Québecois folk songs, and the dance-songs of various European countries including France (particularly Brittany) and the Faroe Islands.
In classical European music it is known as antiphony.
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", "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin, and The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York":
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:
Note that each turnaround can be considered a call which the next A section is the response to.
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.
Another example is from Chuck Berry's "School Day (Ring Ring Goes the Bell)".
A contemporary example is from Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe".
This technique is utilized in Carly Rae's song several times. While mostly in the chorus, can also be heard in the breakdown (approximately 2:25) between the vocals ("It's hard to look right") and distorted guitar.
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:
A similar question-and-answer exchange occurs in the movie Casablanca between Sam and the band in the song Knock On Wood:
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.