Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Any chords will do

We had our annual Grand Final for our Youth Theatresports competition a few days ago. As always, a massive show - six of the best high-school teams in the state, playing in the round in front of a jam-packed hyped audience. Usually by this stage, the kids have a good handle on the game formats, with enough spark to create genuinely funny scenes, and a little dose of panic that comes from not-quite-mastering the games. Fun.

Before the show, one of the teams (one I hadn't played with much before) made a request of me - if they performed a Song, could I please take it a bit easy with chord progressions (something along the lines of "not more than four chords") and not make it too fast or too hard to follow. That's a fair enough request, especially for kids without much stage time. The "oh my goodness singing is hard" thing comes in to play as well of course. So they were pretty unkeen for me to bust out a lightning-fast complex thing like The Famous Polka.

I will admit that a request like that tends to push my buttons a little bit, and encourage me if anything to go more crazy to make a team move out of their comfort zone and work for success. However, when that team did choose Song, I restrained myself and gave them a pretty slow ballad. Speed as requested? Check.

BUT... did I respect the request for simple chord progressions? Nope, not at all. I started them out pretty simply, but as the song progressed got more and more complex and daring. Abrupt changes? Check. Complex chord progressions? Check. Key change? Check. Safe? No, not really.

Did they panic? No. Did the singing match the song? Of course! Even with all that complexity? Yep.

Why is that? For starters, no matter where the music was roaming, it always cued chord progressions with a walking bassline, and singers instinctively follow those cues and land on good notes.

The other thing is that a confidently delivered note, with good pitch and timing, is going to sound good. You might be a half-step away from a really nice sounding note, so a little course correction might be required, but often busy music can jimmy around behind a simple, stable melody and they'll compliment each other. Just hit that note and be confident.

The team, as it turns out, had quite competent singers; they put together some very clever stuff, and delivered their scene very confidently. They took home the trophy at the end of the show.

Photo by Liz Strnad. Written by .

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