Yesterday I worked with a student who sang a song with a chorus consisting of the same line repeated four times with the same melody. It sounded the same each time: a descending melody of “I’m fallin’, I’m fallin’, I’m fallin’, I’m fallin’ in love with you.”
While she could sing it technically just fine, it lacked punch and emotion. Why?
Think about how many different meanings can be expressed with the same exact words. Take, for example, the phrase, “That’s great.”
Hear it four ways:
Pleasant surprise, such as when you find out you’re getting a small income tax refund, rather than owing money to the government: “Cool! That’s great!”
Sarcasm, such as when you rush to show up on time to an appointment, only to find it’s been canceled: “Grrr… that’s just great…”
Happy enjoyment, such as when your new kitten is finally accepted by your 5-year-old cat: “Awww, that’s great.”
Victorious elation, like when you find out your band was voted #1 in your town’s “Best Of” contest: “YEAH!!! THAT’S GREAT!!”
You can take pretty much any phrase and do this. (“I love you” is another great phrase that can have about a thousand different meanings.) Can you step away from the literal interpretation of the words and give them some unexpected emotion of your own?
I sing the jazz standard “Blue Skies.” Last year, I reharmonized it to have more minor chords. Because of this, the lyrics themselves completely changed meaning. They are:
Blue skies smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies do I see
Blue days, all of them gone
Nothing but blue skies from now on
On the surface of it, these are happy lyrics, right? Well, put them over some minor chords and they suddenly want to be expressed with an emotion like “a valiant yet tragic attempt to pull out the last bit of strength in the face of diminishing or impossible hope.”
But you don’t have to reharmonize a song to express your words differently. That student from yesterday? We worked on showing a different emotion with each line of the chorus: First, happiness about falling in love. Second, a little bit of fear or nervousness. Third, gathering strength. And finally, soft tenderness.
Completely different chorus, completely different song. Much more powerful.
(c) 2010 Adrienne Osborn