For the past three weeks, I have outlined steps to prepare your group for a genuine, one hundred percent authentic “riff-off,” much like the movie Pitch Perfect.
You can view the first three parts here:
http://www.casa.org/content/how-compete-riff-part-1 (steps 1 and 2)
http://www.casa.org/content/how-compete-riff-part-2 (steps 3 and 4)
http://www.casa.org/content/how-compete-riff-part-3 (step 5 with charts 1, 2, and 3)
Before I review the process, step-by-step, I’d like to start off with the following declaration:
ATTENTION A CAPPELLA GROUPS! THIS IS AN OPEN CHALLENGE!
That’s right. I talk the talk, but now I must prove that I walk the walk. So this is my formal challenge to you. I challenge any and all groups to a riff-off. Me and my lonely looping station versus you and your entire group. Anytime (pending schedules) and anywhere (assuming you are willing to host). I’m willing to do it for charity, for bragging rights, for any reason you come up with. I’m willing to travel near or far, North or South, East or West to improvise with you.
You (yes, you!) could be the very first a cappella group IN HISTORY to initiate this new movement. I will even post the results on my blog, so everyone (all 10 people who read it) will know that you were the first!
I don’t even care if I lose in a humiliating fashion (which I most likely will). For me, it’s not about winning or losing. If this sparks a new improvisation movement, then I’ll be a happy guy.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bring it. I’m ready.
Now, let’s prepare you for the main event.
Step 6: Bringing it all together.
Okay. Your a cappella group has mastered the art of the circle song (or at least attempted). You’ve played Hot Spot enough times to know what songs your members are familiar with and what songs they should probably stay away from. D-day is here, and your group is preparing for the ultimate battle.
I’ll take you through the selection of a song, step by step. I’ll choose something repetitive and simple.
1) Let’s say you want to add “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz to your repertoire. First, you need to determine what key the song is in.
2) By looking at the sheet music (which I found by running a Google search), I discovered that the key signature of this song has 4 sharps. When I reference chart 1 (from step 5), I can see that 4 sharps means the key is E major or C# minor.
3) Next, I search for the tab/chord sheet and find the chords used in the song. This particular song has generally 4 chords: C#m, B, E, and A. By referencing chart 2 (from step 5), I now know that the notes contained in each of these chords is C# E and G# (C# minor), B D# and F# (B major), E G# and B (E major), and A C# and E (A major). Now, if I want to refer to these notes on a piano, I know which notes to play.
4) The next step is determining which roman numerals these chords belong to. If I reference chart 3 (from step 5), I can see that C# minor is “vi,” B major is “V,” E major is “I,” and A major is “IV.” I now know that this song moves in the following progression: vi, V, I, IV.
5) By consulting step 3, I have learned to hear which syllables in the major scale relate to each chord. The I chord contains the syllables DO, MI, and SOL. Since I know that the notes that make up the I chord (E major) are E, G#, and B, I can deduce that E is DO, G# is MI, and B is SOL. This is handy if you want to hear what these notes sound like by playing the piano.
6) I have trained my a cappella group to sing the syllables of the I chord, IV chord, V chord, and vi chord from following the procedures outlined in step 3. Since Dynamite follows the pattern of vi, V, I, IV, I know that my a cappella group has to sing the following notes in this order to imitate the correct chord progression:
vi chord (C# minor)- LA, DO, MI (C#, E, G#)
V chord (B major)- SOL, TI, RE (B, D#, F#)
I chord (E major)- DO, MI, SOL (E, G#, B)
IV chord (A major)- FA, LA, DO (A, C#, E)
If my group can sing these patterns over and over again, they will make up the chord progressions for Dynamite. I will now have to make sure someone in the group knows the solo and sings over the progression.
VOILA! You’ve added a song to your riff-off repertoire.
Okay…I know that this probably made your head spin. You’re probably sitting in front of your computer, reaching for the nearest hammer so you can bash your brains in. That’s okay. This is not a process I expect anyone to immediately understand. This takes practice, focus, and determination. Do you think I knew this when I was 18? NO! It took me this long just to think over and outline the process. (I’m 30 now…in case you were wondering)
Besides…this is music. Music cannot be mastered by reading a book. (Or in this case, a blog post) Music must be practiced, listened to, and mastered by performing. I detailed these steps because I wanted to provide groups who have the desire to improvise songs “on the spot,” a springboard to start doing it. And frankly, even if you can’t or won’t improvise using chord progressions, your group probably has the musical ear to make it up as you go along. I mean, the shortcut to all of this is just listen to the song and imitate what you hear…which is sort of the whole basic principle of a cappella music.
But I’m trying to encourage improvisation, because I believe that improvisation makes you a better musician. And what we need in a cappella these days are better musicians, better groups, and the promise of something new.
Enough preaching. Let’s set up the ground rules!
Step 7: Let’s get it on!
Rule 1: The riff-off will be moderated by someone who is not affiliated with any competing group, but the audience will decide the winner, either by applause or ballot. The moderator will be in charge of organization, calling disqualifications, and judging difficult rulings.
Rule 2: The moderator will have a list of musical categories, but will choose them at random. (preferably by the category spinning app which was maybe the coolest thing I ever saw) These categories will be categories that can be freely interpreted and are knowledgeable to the competitors.
Good suggestions: Ladies of the 80’s, Songs about sex, 90’s boy bands, Funky songs, Break-up
songs, One hit wonders
Bad suggestions: Greatest hits of Mozart, Songs on Green Day’s first album, Number one hits by
Bjork, Songs that contain the words “Poker Face”
Rule 3: Each group will have 20-30 seconds to deliberate and decide on 2 appropriate songs that will both fit the category, and wow the audience.
Rule 4: Whichever group is ready “jumps in” and starts singing. The group is not expected to sing the entire song, just a portion of it. It is the soloist’s responsibility to indicate, either visually or aurally, the “end” of the performance. If the group’s director wants to indicate this, that’s okay too.
Rule 5: Any group that is not singing must “jump in” before the first group is finished. If the first group finishes, the next group will have 5 seconds to “jump in” or they are disqualified. The moderator will keep track of this time.
Rule 6: If only two groups are competing, then a disqualification earns a “point” for the other team. First team to earn a certain number of points wins the riff-off. If more than two groups are competing, a disqualified group is “out” of the competition. Last group standing wins.
Rule 7: Each category should only last for about 2 songs. If no group has earned a disqualification after singing 2 songs, the next category is selected, and the riff-off continues. If only two groups are competing, the audience should decide who wins the round by applause or ballot.
Rule 8: During a song, one soloist may jump in or substitute for another if the performing soloist does not know the melody. Duets, trios, and smaller solo ensembles are allowed and encouraged.
Rule 9: A disqualification occurs when one or more of the following happens:
- A group sings a song that the moderator feels does not fit the appropriate category
-A group fails to think of a song within the allotted time
-A group does not come to a solid, concrete ending (e.g. The soloist keeps going, but the group stops, or vice versa)
-A group’s performance falls apart mid-song for any reason
-The moderator feels that the group is cheating somehow (looking at lyrics, looking at a chord sheet, etc.)
Rule 10: A disqualification shall NOT occur if:
-The appropriate song is already in the group’s rehearsed repertoire and they can perform it
-The soloist makes up lyrics to the song if he/she does not know them, as long as the song keeps going, or lyrics are repeated
-The group substitutes soloists at a rapid rate, as long as the song continues
Rule 11: The host group may make changes to these rules, as long as all competing groups have been notified and agree to the terms.