Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Danthem - Pinch Me

Photo by Lone Primate
What happens when a musician is improvising accompaniment to a song where the singer is sticking to a known song with a set melody? Dan and Kris cover BNL's Pinch Me.

Back in The Dan Exercise, we talked about an activity that might be useful for honing your improv skills, and might also be kind of fun. Dan and I got together to do a couple of them, and the results are interesting. Not polished by any means, but interesting. I learned a lot about how I think about songs by just listening back to the recordings.

Dan is a great improviser, which normally means readily accepting offers and being changed. In this exercise he had to fight against his normal improv sensibilities, to try and stick to the timing and melody of the original song, and not take offers from the music.

Pinch Me

I am a Barenaked Ladies fan, but I don't have a complete collection of their stuff, so I was pleased for Dan to pick one I didn't know for a Danthem. Pinch Me was the lead single from their Maroon album. I'm not sure how I didn't know the song; it was one of BNL's bigger hits. (Maroon is sadly missing from my collection.)

The original song structure goes Verse-Chorus Verse-Chorus Bridge Verse-Chorus Bridge, with the rapid-fire BNL-signature lyrics in the chorus, and the "Pinch Me" bits in the verse. Not knowing the song, I didn't have any preconceptions about the structure, and it turned out a little differently than BNL intended.

The Danthem

Listen to Pinch Me (or download it)
As usual for me, it takes me a little while to find the key and pick the timing. Sort of a mental chromatic shuffle going on there. In the verse, the lyric lags the start of each bar, so the music leads that lyric. That makes it a little harder to guess what might be coming next.

When the first rapid-fire bit hits ("It's like a dream you try to remember but it's gone...", the chorus from the original song), it sounded like the music expected some kind of change, so the feel changed a little bit. I think since it started on the same chord as the verse, to me it became an extension of the verse.

You can hear some pretty poor chord choices in there, where the music clashes with the melody. Some of those bad choices were corrected early on, some lasted until right towards the end.

After that first rapid-fire bit, it sounded like I expected a chorus, but it felt like another verse, so back in to it again I guess!

When we got to the bridge of the original song ("Pinch me"), the melody timing changes dramatically, with the words leading the beginning of the bar. For the purposes of an exercise like this, that made a huge difference to hearing where the music wanted to go. It didn't take long to catch on to a decent chord progression (one that is quite different to the original).

Entering the final verse ("On an evening such as this"), Dan's singing became very gentle, and the music followed suit. That made for some nice light and shade.

You can tell I was getting pretty comfortable with the "chorus" (the old bridge) right at the end. Until it suddenly stopped, which freaked me out a little. Wish I'd played out some more, could have been lovely.

Dan displayed the ability to insulate himself from the music, and not follow music cues (well against his "training" and his nature). You can hear him pause to let me find the right entry point near the start of the song.

What did I learn?

Listening back to something like this, and comparing it to the original, I learned a lot about the way I listen and the way I structure songs for impro.

One of the key attributes of a component of a song is how the melody/words sit in relation to the start of the bar. When they lag the start, the music is really in charge, and the singer is going to key off of the music. When the words lead the bar, they melody drives the music, and the musician needs to respond accordingly.

As the musician, when you expect a change like a transition from verse to chorus, signal that change with the music. You might play anticipatory stuff, and you might decide to change the chord structure or feel of that new section.

I didn't realise until listening back to this song that I have a tendency to set a chord progression in a verse, and vary it right towards the end of the verse. Now that I'm paying attention, I've heard that in a lot of stuff I've done. I think it freshens the verse, and acts a signal that the chorus is coming.

True patriot love in all thy sons command

I'd scheduled this post a while ago, but I didn't realise until just now what an appropriate choice it is for today - Canadian musician, covering a fantastic Canadian band. Happy Canada day, eh!


Gavin said...

This sounds really good! I haven't actually heard the original, so when I do it will be it's the cover, not this one.

Gavin said...

*It will be like it's the cover.

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