OK here is a challenge for all of you out there who fancy themselves as a musical improviser. Have just put a Stephen Sondheim style backing track on the website. This is what I would be really interested to know;
Is it possible to improvise over this kind of music?
In a show I would not be afraid to back a song in this style, but that is with the safety net of improvising with the singer. Having eye contact and listening to their phrasing means that it is possible to give and take a little, end sections at the same time, and pick mood changes.
With just a cold backing track, how could a singer move with the rapid tempo changes, the contrasting emotions? It would be amazing to pull it off, and we would be intruiged to hear your attempts.
If you have the time and the technology (a smart phone would do), we would love you to record and send your results to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We could include some examples on a future podcst.
We have talked about Sondheim in our musicals podcast if you want to find out a little bit more.
Have fun with it, and do let us know how you got on, even if you dont want to send us your recordings!
Painful though it is for me to talk about it, ignoring your musician is an important pitfall to avoid. It may be that they are making inappropriate offers, but then dont all improvisers from time to time? In our latest podcast, find out what happens if you ignore your musician in musical improvised comedy...
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We have many people coming to our workshops who claim that they "Cannot sing". When
asked to do scale warm ups, they claim that they have a very limited range and
they find it hard to pitch a note. In my experience, people can find it hard to
sing at the right pitch, but it is very rare to find someone who really does
have a limited range. All you have to do is listen to them talking when they are
animated, or hear them laugh. many people can laugh as high as a soprano's top
note, up to two Gs above middle C.
So there is something else restricting the voice, which is usually self-consciousness. They way to free up the voice is
to be able to sing in an environment where nobody is judging you. I clearly
remember at University having to play the violin in front of my class, and
before my tutor who was viscious in his criticism of pitch and tone. As a
result, I would sweat, clam up and fulfil his own prophesy.
We need to perform in an atmosphere of joy and generousity. Criticism is of course vital to
improve, but it can be given in a non-judgemental way. The cliche of criticism
being given between praise might seem overused, but it still works.
So when singing an improvised song, it is crucial that the self-critic is turned
all the way down. What would we rather see, someone singing a perfectly rhyming
funny verse with no commitment, or someone singing with joyful abandonment?
Musical improv does encourage people to just go for it. There is no substitute
for opening up, connecting with the audience and just giving it your best
There are often times in songs where it is hard to pitch the tune,
or where the musician is going off to some daring key change and the singer
feels left behind. It is at times like this that you need to summon the spirit
of Rex Harrison. The leading role in Dr. Doolittle and My Fair Lady was renowned
for "speak-singing". He could drift in and out of the melody effortlessly, and
without compromising the integrity of the song. In fact, it adds to the pathos,
the emotion, the Englishness of the piece. We often say that when a scene turns
into a song, it is because you cannot contain your emotion any more. Well if you
speak in the middle of a song it can be for the same reason...you cannot be
constrained by the music any more, you musit just break out and say what you
want to say.
Do check out our latest podcast on the subject here, or subscribe to all of them so they just appear on your computer or phone. I mean, who wouldn't want Heather and Joe appearing randomly on their phone? (rhetorical)
Heather Urquhart and Joe Samuel are professional musical comedy improvisers. Find out more at themaydays.co.uk