Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Workshop Games - Chorus Circle


Photo by Graham Tait
New improvisers really appreciate having a structure they can fall back on, while they figure out this whole impro thing. It is useful to help them develop skills to create strong choruses on the fly. Here's an exercise I like to do in workshops, to encourage those skills.

I gather all of the players in a semicircle facing the keyboard, so everyone can see each other. (Coombayah-style. Just need a campfire and we're set.) I'll get one person to give an offer for a song title. Next, I'll choose a pretty well-defined style and rhythm, start playing some introductory music, and vamp until one of the players volunteers to sing a simple chorus based on that title. After the volunteer sings that chorus once, the rest of the group joins in and sings the chorus a second time. Done! Stop the music, and move on to a new title and style.

This is a great exercise for teasing out that simple choruses can work very well. Even if you don't explicitly provide this direction, after the players fumble their way through a complex chorus, and breeze through a simple one, they will start to favour simple choruses. Often that means that because the words are safe, they'll get a little more adventurous with the vocal, and that's very cool.

I'm not suggesting simple choruses are the only way to go of course. For new improvisers, however, most of these workshop exercises are about making them comfortable with singing, and most of the exercises have some kind of stable base (in this case, a simple chorus) they can use without thinking, and just do some singing.

After a few rounds of this, once the group is getting a bit comfortable, we're going to unexpectedly change the exercise. When a chorus shows up that might just form the basis for a good song, don't stop playing after the group-chorus; keep vamping and explain that now you'd like a volunteer to continue the story by singing a verse, then the group sings that chorus again. Go through three verses + choruses, hopefully with different verse-volunteers each time. On that last chorus, direct them towards a big finish!

Once you've done this a few times, you've got a group that have song a whole bunch of choruses, hopefully everyone has contributed to a verse or two, and all of them would have been involved with singing a variety of vocal parts on top of a variety of styles. That's a good start!

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