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Beginning Musical Improv: Part 3
by Ben Brinton

In this article, Ben Brinton concludes his three part series on musical improv. These articles focus on the most basic elements of musical improv: rhythm, melody, and rhyme.

RHYME (Optional)

Yes. Ladies and gentlemen, after a long winter break, I have returned to complete what I have started. This being the third article that addresses the use of rhyming in musical improv. I bet you are wonder why the word optional is in the title. Well, it's because songs in general (not just, but including, musical improv) can succeed without rhyming. There have been countless successful songs that have strayed from the rigid rhyming regiment. But rhyming can also bring so much to your world of musical improvisation. And it's a great way to satisfy some expectations you and/or the audience may have.

It's safe to say that we all have some experience with rhyming. We practiced rhyming as children to distinguish similar sounds and pronunciations. That being the case, everyone has the potential of doing it. If I were to go into the technical details involved in the pronunciation of the numerous sounds, this article would escalate into a novel. I lack the patience and time to do so. Instead I will be hitting on some points that may be vague. I would suggest seeking additional resources if those points aren't clear.

Rhyming is when the ending of two words correspond with each other. In other words they sound the same. That may not have made much sense, which is a shame. So to better teach it, we'll play a game. Just try to focus and take better aim. My goodness, Jennifer Love Hewitt is hotter than a flame. Which goes to show you that good looks beat out acting that is lame. I could go all day. Try your own name.(ie: Ben) Leave out everything but the ending sound,(ie: en) and start substituting various letters of the alphabet in front of that single sound. (ie: d, g, t, r, o, l, k, p) You should start recognizing words that end with the same sound. (ie: den, ten, ren, len, pen,) Sometimes that single sound is a word in itself. (ie: Joe, J/oe. Here is the money I 'oe'.) And when adding other vowel sounds (A,E,I,O,U) and consonants (everything but A,E,I,O,U) the rhyming magic begins.

[Rhyming is] a great way to satisfy some expectations you and/or the audience may have.

What about those words that are longer, and much more complex then simply Ben, or Joe? What about Rebecca, Alexandria, Valerie? They are really not that different. They all have specific vowel sounds. The only difference being that the second list of names have more syllables. A syllable is properly defined as, 'A unit of spoken language consisting of a single uninterrupted sound formed by a vowel, diphthong, or syllabic consonant alone, or by any of these sounds preceded, followed, or surrounded by one or more consonants.' (Thanks for nothing www.yourdictionary.com. You might be confused with that, I know I am.) Basically it's the individual segments of a word separated by dominant vowel sounds. Example: Joe has one vowel sound 'o'. Joe is a one-syllable word. Joseph has two vowel sounds, 'o' and 'eph'. Joseph is a two-syllable word. So, Rebecca can be broken down into three vowel sounds, 'e','ea', and 'a'. Re / be / cca. Look at the syllables and rhyme with them separately using the early method of rhyming. Re = the, e = Mea, cca = ca.

I once knew a girl named Rebecca
I met her in Israel during the Mecca

Note: Don't be afraid to 'tweak' or manipulate words so that they rhyme. Take Adam Sandler for example: The Chanuka Song.

Tell your friend Veronica
It's time to celebrate Chanukah
I hope I get a harmonicah
Oh this lovely, lovely Chanukah
So drink your gin and tonicah
And smoke your marijuanikah
If you really, really wannakah
Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Chanukah
Happy Chanukah

Of course that's not all that goes into an improvised song. There is the string of sentences between the rhyming words that produce a story, theme, or clever babble. All the while setting up each of those rhymes. What to say and where to go with your suggestion is probably the biggest challenge for an improvising songwriter. Not only do you have to keep a steady rhythm, and show your voice off, but now you have to think of what you are singing about, and have it make sense. Well in all my experience, there has been no piece of advice more valuable than the one I'm going to dispense now. Keep It Simple. Keep the song title simple, keep the catch phrase simple, keep the song itself simple. And always remember that there is no substitute to actually doing it. It's the old baptism by fire idea. And yes, it's going to suck a couple of times. So it's best to get them over with and to move on. You can do this. Enough of that soap box.

Song writing uses what is called a rhyming scheme. Simply put, schemes are common patterns of rhyming. Here is another example.

1) Twinkle, Twinkle little star, 2) How I wonder what you are.

This is called an 'A,A' rhyming scheme. The letter 'A' is used as a variable. You could use 'X,D,F,U,C' for all I care. What's really important is the association between the two lines. We first give a variable to line one (1) that ends with the sound 'ar' in 'star'. In this case it's given the variable 'A'. From that point any line that ends with the sound 'ar' will also be given that variable 'A' because the sounds will match. Any other line that ends in a different sound will have to be given a different variable.

Keep It Simple. Keep the song title simple, keep the catch phrase simple, keep the song itself simple.

Here are some other schemes that are commonly used. Notice that they work in groups of four (4). This is the most common grouping of phrases. Eventually you will start to recognize these kinds of patters in your favorite songs.

'AAAA'
Example: Morning Spank, by: CUSTOM
1) Your mind's a blank A
2) Your face a prank A
3) Like you took it point blank A
4) Got runover by a tank A

Just like the 'twinkle, twinkle little star' example. All four lines rhyme with each other. Instead of two lines we have four.

'AABB.'
Example: South Side, by: MOBY
1) Here we are now, going to the east side A
2) I pick up my friends and we start to ride A
3) Ride all night, we ride all day B
4) Some may come and some may stay B

Side and ride rhyme, and day and stay rhyme, but ride and day don't rhyme. So we have to assign a different variable letter, 'B', to the 3rd and 4th line because they don't match the 1st and 2nd line.

'ABAB.'
Example: When You're a Jet; West Side Story.
1) When you're a Jet, A
2) you're Jet all the way. B
3) From your first cigarette A
4) To your last dying day. B

It is similar to the 'AABB' scheme, but now one rhyming line alternates with the other.

'ABCB'
Example: Gone! , by: The Cure
1) Well you know how it is, A
2) Wake up feeling green. B
3) Sick as a dog, C
4) And six times as mean. B

Here we have a scheme much like previous 'ABAB', but as you will notice the 3rd line uses the word 'dog' that does not have a matching vowel sound with any other line. So we give it a different variable 'C'. With that 3rd line not having to match we are not as limited with the context of the line and now can provide a setup for the 4th line.

'AABCCB'
Example: Letters, by: STROKE 9
1) You're leaving me here, A
2) Dear A
3) Alone with all your letters B
4) You're letting go, C
5) No C
6) Like innocence and feathers. B

Don't let the extra number of line confuse you. It is an example that you are not limited to a four (4) line format. However don't get carried away with too many lines. That's usually when an actor will panic and lose sight of any kind of pattern to hold onto.

'ABCD'
Example: Tribute, by: Tenacious D
1) He asked us,. A
2) 'Be you angels?' B
3) And we said, 'Nay, C
4) we are but men. Rock!' D

And here is the example that shows that rhyming isn't always needed. Despite their lack of rhyming and excessive use of four lettered words, Tenacious D successfully tells a story with a rhythmic structure, an elaborate melody, and of course confidence.

Exercise: Da Do Run Run / Beastie Boy Rap

There is a popular tune by The Ronnettes that starts out, 'Met him on a Monday and his name was Bill. Da do run run run, da do run run.' Or something to that effect. The game Da Do Run Run follows the same rhythm and melody as the original song. However, instead of using the name Bill you get a name from the audience that will force the players to come up with new, different words that rhyme with the suggested name. If you had been paying attention you should know that it would be a 'AAAA' scheme. So get in a line with a group of actors and start out with a name. Each person takes one rhyme. And you continue until a word is repeated or one actor can't think of a rhyme.

Example:
Meet him on a Monday and his name was Ben.
Da Do Run Run, Da Do Run Run
Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
Da Do Run Run, Da Do Run Run
Da Do Be Do Yah. You can use my pen.
Da Do Be Do Yah. To spear a hen.
Da Do Be Do Yah. Then it's my turn again.
Da Do Run Run, Da Do Run Run

Note: The bold section is a part of the song that works in more rhymes, but it still takes up the same amount of time as the first four lines. Your group has the option of forcing one person to come up with those three rhymes, or you could just assign one rhyme to one person.

Beastie Boy Rap is much the same. Except it appeals to the teen populace and doesn't rely on the presence of a melody as much. You get a name from the audience. Each person comes up with a sentence that rhymes with the suggested name, one line after the other in the style of a good old fashion rap. It's important to pay close attention to the Beastie Boy's style when executing this game. Be sure to maintain a constant beat, even if you don't have a rhyme in mind. Also express a similar attitude, or stage presence. The Beastie Boys don't shyly whither away from the crowd when they are on stage. They have a very 'in-your-face' appearance, which I recommend you have during this exercise. The really beauty of this game is when everyone starts catching on to what will be said next. They start saying the last word with you. Or they at least say something that sounds a lot like it. It's a great way to warm your audience up. Let's see if you can catch on.

Example:
This is the game called Beastie Boy Rap.
I'm so tired. I could really use a Nap.
I've lost my way, where is my _______.
I am wearing my lucky baseball ______.

Ben Brinton is a musician and actor. He performs improv with the group Knock Your Socks Off (KYSOff) in Salt Lake City, UT.


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