March 31, 2014

Take A Chorus

Musical terms can be surprisingly nebulous, especially when they transcend eras and styles. This blog is an addendum to the entry entitled “The Lost Chorus” and was inspired by a question from a musician named Paul in Hawaii. We’ll get to the question shortly, but I’d like to take a quick look at the musical terms as they apply to song form. Songs in the pop and jazz world use any or all of these sections in their construction:
Intro: A brief instrumental section that sets up the tempo and feel of the song.
Verse: Typically an 8-measure section where the singing starts. Verses are repeated (the melody basically the same each time) but the lyrics change to tell the story in sequence.
Chorus: A song may have multiple choruses — each one with identical lyrics and melody. The chorus often contains the title of the song and the hook. The hook is the part that the songwriter and the record company hope will be stuck in the mind of listeners, thus inspiring trips to iTunes.
Bridge: A bridge is a section that is often heard only once — new melodic material and new lyrics that link one section to another. Not all songs have bridges.
Musical Interlude: In pop music especially, this is usually a repeat of one of the sections above without the singing — a solo instrument is assigned the role of either an improvised solo or an instrumental rendering of the melody.
Tag: If a tag is used it will always come at the end and is typically the last four measures of a song repeated a number of times. A fade may occur during these repeated tags.
While the terms are easy to define, their role in songwriting is often nebulous. I was watching “The History of Rock & Roll” DVD today and heard a song that provides us with an excellent example of these terms. Paul McCartney wrote “A World Without Love” early in his tenure with the Beatles. It ended up in the hands of Peter Asher, who was the brother of Paul’s then-girlfriend, Jane. Peter & Gordon recorded the song and it became their first hit. Here’s the musical schematic:
Brief Instrumental Intro
Verse 1 (Please lock me away…)
Chorus (I don’t care…)
Verse 2 (Birds sing out of tune…)
Chorus (I don’t care…)
Bridge (So I wait…)
Verse 3 (Until then lock me away…)
Chorus (I don’t care…)
Musical Interlude (guitar solo over verse and chorus)
Bridge (So I wait…)
Verse 4 (Until then lock me away…)
Chorus (I don’t care…)
Vocal Tag (I don’t care…)
Instrumental Tag
It looks complicated, but the musical puzzle fits together seamlessly.
The term “chorus” has multiple meanings. A chorus is a group of singers or speakers, as in the Greek Chorus, or a “chorus of dissenting voices.” During the Great American Songbook era, the chorus was the whole song minus the infrequently-heard verse. “Our Love is Here to Stay” is an example. Since we rarely hear the verse, we think of what remains as the whole song, which the composers called the chorus. Musicians hear it in two parts, (a) It’s very clear …, (b) And so my dear ….
This brings us finally to our musician’s question: “if the bandleader says ‘take a chorus,’ what actual part of the song will you be improvising on?”
In the jazz world “taking a chorus” means a player creates something new using the chords and form of the song as the basis for his improvisation. The best answer to our Hawaiian musician is to use your eyes and ears. That is, watch other groups and how the players negotiate these musical situations. If you’re playing from the Great American Songbook, you will not be soloing over the verse as it probably wasn’t played in the first place. Most often the improvisation is taking the place of the melody, so the soloist gets featured for the whole song form. It may be a 12-bar blues, or a 32-bar A-A-B-A (verse-verse-bridge-verse) form. Many jazz standards use the A-A-B-A form and a musician might get the whole form or only the first two A’s, at which time the singer or melody person comes back in at the bridge.
Confusing? I would say so. The experience and learning involved goes under the category of dues paying. These procedures only make sense on the bandstand. Eventually, following the roadmap becomes second nature.

No comments:

Post a Comment