Breaking Down A Song

There are so many ways to break down a song. Almost an unlimited number.

Here are a few, many of them well-known, but repeated, just in case.

Say the words out loud. Ask yourself what they mean, what they imply. Decide how you feel about that. Sing the words.

Say the words, paying particular attention to the sounded vowels. Elongate them, draw them out, very slowly. Linger on each sound. Connect all the vowels smoothly, running the words together without extra breaths in between them. Make the words into a spoken, intoned phrase. Sing the phrase with that in mind.

Say the words, noticing the rhythm of the words in speech. Pay attention to the places where the stresses are. See if you can speak the words with different stresses, even if it makes the words sound wrong. Then go back to the normal stresses, paying attention to them. Sing the phrase with that in mind.

Say the words on the rhythm, but without the pitches. Notice if that changes anything. Sing the phrase with that in mind.

Say the words gradually changing the volume, first as it seems appropriate, then randomly, without regard to the written phrase. See if you can increase and decrease the volume while also lengthening the vowels and slowing down the speed. Sing the phrase.

Sing the pitches on a nonsense syllable, paying attention to the melodic pattern. Do it several times to see where the highest and lowest pitches are in the phrase. Notice where you breathe or want to breathe or don’t want to breathe. Repeat.

Sing the pitches without rhythm on a nonsense syllable, making every note value the same. Sing the pitches the same way with the words.

Sing the rhythms on pah or dah, without pitch (stay on one note). Notice anywhere the rhythm is repeated, where the stresses (beats) are, where the patterns are. Say the words on rhythm. Sing the phrase. Notice any shifts in your own awareness.

Listen to the accompaniment separately. Notice its characteristics. Is it simple or complicated? Does it sit underneath the vocal line or is it a counterpoint? Is it musically difficult, in either rhythm or intervals or both? What range does it cover and where? Why would the composer have written it this way? Does it convey an image, a mood or a state of being (peaceful, aggitated, etc.)? Notice the rhythm, notice the stresses, identify the harmonic or chordal structure.

Think about the printed key. See if you can play or sing the song in other keys to notice if that changes the feeling or mood of the song overall.

Ask yourself why the composer might have chosen these words or this poem? What could have been his or her interest or motivation? Why was the poetry inspirational? Why was the music inspirational? What kinds of ideas or reasons would have been part of the creation of the piece overall? How do you relate to those ideas?

What can you say about the words as a story? If the song is traditional, what kind of story do the words convey? What might have been happening before? What will happen after? Where are you when you are singing? Is anyone else there? If so, where are they? Are they responding? If so, what are they saying? What made you say what you are singing? How do you feel when you sing the words?

If you are singing while standing, how are you standing? What do you look like to others? What are you doing with your body and why? Where are your arms, hands and feet? Why are they positioned the way they are? Do they stay still or move? Why? What should I know about the communication of the song by your body language? Are you congruent between your body, your movements, your words and your sound? [If the song is angry, do you look angry all the way down to your toes?]

Do you believe yourself when you are singing? If not, why not? What can you do to make yourself convinced that what you are singing about is real and important? If you are singing a sad song, do you feel sad when you sing it? If not, why not?

Has the composer asked you to do two contrary things? That is, has she set happy words to a long slow soft phrase? Has she set sad words to a jumpy fast rhythm and melody? Has she set a question with a descending vocal line? Has she written a climatic phrase in such as way as to de-emphasize the words? What does that suggest to you in terms of communicating the story or the music or both?

There’s more, but that’s enough for now. Have fun.

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