Improv Diaries – The Chorus and a Lyric…. [ Case Study: Taylor Swift, Blink-182 and Backstreet Boys ]

Musical Improv

This week was the second week of Advanced Musical Improv with Phil Lunn. Each week is going to have an area that we focus on and today was the chorus. We started off with a range of warm up games including the circle of joy where you walk across the circle and make a song line by line as well as the normal circular games.

This week was all about focusing on the chorus of a song, this is usually the part that the audience really think about when they walk away and it is usually the part that will stick in both their minds and the improvisers minds. Saying that, it underlines the fact that a chorus is very important.

A chorus can be used and portrayed in many ways – it is there to bring the song together. It can sometimes summarise what the song is going to be about or even be about a certain segment of the story. Think of a musician you like and think of their choruses. (I will go more into this in the case study) but you will realise if you walk away from a brand new song from that musician the chorus is more then likely going to be the thing that you remember the most.

We sat in a circle and made up lots of songs to do with alliterate animals, going clockwise, four people would sing a song – three would sing a verse and one would make up the chorus. The aim of this was the try and make the chorus for every single song completely different. This meant that we could experiment an see what worked well for a chorus. We had some standard style choruses and then we had some more creative style ones to see what we liked and what we didn’t. By the time we got to 3/4s of the way around the circle we were adding key changes over the top and extra bits by the last choruses to exaggerate them.

After the break, the main focus at the start of the second half was synchronized dancing – we covered the basis of this in beginners but this was to refresh us and to make sure that we are happy with the basis. We did this in a couple of ways. The first was to get into pairs and sort of act like a mirror and copy one another movements – me and Dave got really good at this that we started to pair up wit Michael and Duncan and made a very energetic four way mirror dancing in circles and running and jumping around.We were then broken into groups to do synchronized dancing for the opening number of a musical.

We ended the night again by doing musical scenes which was really fun. This week I was put into two very different scenes with two very different energies and narratives. The first one was about ‘communist ice cream’ and this week it was another scene sung in a different accent but it was a power song with a really catchy and complicated chorus. Luckily for Jess and I, Carsten is a regular at doing this and I am used to following his chorus leads as he did it a lot in beginners and the energy bounced off us all and created a really fun and energetic scene.

The last scene that i was a part of was about Gnomes in a garden and one gnome not wanting to be a Fishing Gnome anymore and wanted to change roles with the other gnome and there was a little dance that went with it.

It was a fun evening and its nice that this course feels like it is taking a more progressive pace and leading us forward into new and exciting things.

Punderstandably Rehearsal

This week was also a rehearsal for Punderstandably as we have a show on Saturday – we broke this week down into two parts – rehearsal and new games. We used the first hour to do a couple of warm up games (obviously the favourite Punderdome.) and the rhyming game ex-Punder Kevin taught us that we christened the Kevin game to remember him by. After warming up we spent the rest of the first hour just having a run through of the games that we are playing on Saturday.

For the next half an hour we decided to delve into games that we haven’t played in a while, wanted to play or just wanted to use to train up our skills in an area. The first game that we played – which is one that i really love and always forget about it is the lyrics game. This is when you do a scene and you are only allowed to talk in song lyrics, it is a really hard game at times to play. You can listen to lots and lots of music like me, and still fall at the hurdles last minute. It is challenging but really really fun. Well, I think so.

We also played the game line from a hat – this is where the audience (or James acting class) write out lines and you take them from a hat at times in the scene. As the brackets state, James has been playing this with one of his other classes and saved all the lines so we have been using them so that we do not know what is coming. We decided to add another element because we wanted to do some practise with accents and decided that we would ask the audience (other Punders) for an accent they wanted us to talk in the whole of that scene.

We finished off the evening with a few practices of our set. I am looking forward to this weeks show as I am also hosting the pre-party so it is going to be a lot of fun.

Case Study: Taylor Swift, Blink-182 and Backstreet Boys

When thinking about Case Studies this week it really wasn’t very difficult to do as I knew i would walk away from Musical Improv and start listening to songs, especially choruses – there are so many different ways to approach them and now listening to music specifically for improv has made me look at song structures a lot more. So, for this week I thought to sort of portray the differences that chorus can have structurally, I thought we could look at three different case studies.

Taylor Swift –  Look What You Made Me Do

If there is one artist that has a lot of different and unique choruses then it is none other then Taylor Swift. One of the songs that stands out to me that has a very unique song / chorus structure is her come back song Look What You Made Me Do. It is a  song that has a chorus that goes against a beat and not with it which makes it very catchy and unique and probably is why it broke loads of records on Youtube and the charts.

Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me—
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me do

Also, another thing that is interesting about this song is that there is a pre-chorus as well. This sets up the chorus and because the chorus doesn’t really say a lot of things about the actual narrative of the song, the pre-chorus sort of builds up the narrative of the song.

But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time
Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time
I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined
I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!

Blink 182- All The Small Things

Blink 182 are a band that songs follow a very similar format throughout – a verse a chorus a verse a chorus and the odd bridge here and there. One of their biggest hits commercially had the most simplest chorus and was so easy to remember that people will sing along and join in and have fun.

Say it ain’t so, I will not go
Turn the lights off, carry me home
Na, na, na, na
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na

The chorus you will see is very simple and has very few words that makes it easy to remember. The chorus may be only made up of two lines of words but the nanana’s make the chorus addictive and easy to sing along to.

Backstreet Boys – Larger Than Life

The average way that we have been doing chorus in lesson is making it a rhyming of AB AB – a lot of pop songs tend to follow this convention as when lyrics rhyme, they mean that they are easy to remember and make them easier to stick in your mind.

The songs by Backstreet Boys follow this convention as do most boybands as it is a way that young fans can really get a song stuck in their head as it is simple and leads to dance routines to all the words etc.

All you people can’t you see, can’t you see
How your love’s affecting our reality
Every time we’re down
You can make it right
And that makes you larger than life


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