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Tacit Approval
By Danny McBride - 06/19/2002 - 10:16 PM EDT

By Danny McBride © 2002

"Silence is golden." I donít know whose bright idea that saying was, but it was probably an overwrought parent with a houseful of screaming children.

Or maybe Yosemite Sam, the Warner Brothers cartoon character, whose best known line is the incredible yell of "QUI-ET!!!"

Or maybe it was some anonymous songwriter stumped for the next line of the melody. You know, sometimes the best parts of a song are the spaces in between the notes. Not only is it not necessary to fill every beat of every measure with notes, it is so much more effective to leave spaces- -breathing room for the ear- -and leaving these spaces in the right places, can only enhance the melody.

Think about one of your favorite songs, your own or someone elseís- -go ahead- -Iíll wait.
Now, as you sing the opening line of the tune- -by the way- -why donít you do this quietly to yourself- -notice how there are places where there are pauses, or beats without a note, or, if you really are singing, breathing spaces.

Great instrumentalists know this. One of the reasons the playing of, say, Miles Davis, or B B King, stands out from the rest is just that- -the rest. Players such as these can make one note last. Great singers, such as Ray Charles, or Tony Bennett, make the most out of a song by their phrasing. They leave room for you to absorb what theyíve just sung, and give you a pause to get ready for whatís next.

Recently I "enjoyed" one of those "mega-concerts" that seems to have forty acts playing shortened sets, one after another, from noon to midnight. This was because I chose to stand in the 100-degree heat of The Rose Bowl for the fun of it? Ah, no. This was the result of being the "on-duty" parent for a bunch of kids not yet old enough to drive, but way old enough to know every lyric to every song by every act that came on stage.

One of the great things for a rock geezer such as myself to experience at one of these "festivals" is how much has not changed in all my years of playing or seeing live music. Almost all the stage patter is exactly the same: "Yo- -check it out", "Howís everybody doiní out there?" and "Hello Los Angeles (or whatever city youíre in)". (In our case it always sounds like "L O, L A" which makes me start humming the Kinksí classic Lola.)

Of course many things have changed. For example, Steven Tyler has fewer wrinkles now than he did thirty years ago. On the other hand, some of the musical offerings were far more sophisticated than anything from past decades, using what would have been called at one time "atonal" melodies, or chord progressions that are entirely as original as Stravinsky was in 1912.

And one of the things that makes it easy to accept this material in pop music is that there are rests- -breathing spaces- -places in the melodies where we can all catch our breath. This was even true for the best rap act of the show- -Will Smith- -who blew the roof off the place (actually The Rose Bowl has no roof- -some previous concert must have already done this). His patter was so well paced, peppered with rhythm and rhyme- -and spaces that let it all sink in- -that it was totally infectious. For all the snappy phraseology that came tumbling forth from the energetic Mr Smith- -there were always those breathing moments. It is one of the things that set him apart from the others who performed in this genre- -plus the fact that he does not pose or pretend to be angry. (Who could be angry while having his career?) You might say, heís a "happy rapper". (By the way, Will Smith was backed by the DJ wizardry of Biz Markee, who, when introduced, prompted the remark from one of the kids: "Biz Markee? Isnít that the capitol of North Dakota?" Ah, donítcha love it!!)

By the way (I know youíre no doubt curious), the headline act was No Doubt, who left just that - -NO DOUBT that they are one of the great rock acts of this or any decade. They put me in a place where "Iím gonna keep on danciní!!" Everything about them was "superstar" quality. They were truly awesome. And- -they put in plenty of room to breathe.

So when youíre noodling out your next mega-hit, thinking up those clever new lyrics and hummable new melodies, one of the things to keep in mind is the spaces between the notes. If you think those pauses are unimportant, take one of your favorite songs and sing it, or chant it, in a monosyllabic style that makes all the notes the same and leaves no beats between the notes. For example, do this with no pauses: "Take me out to the ball game take me out to the crowd buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack I donít care if I ever get back for itís root root root for the home team if they donít win itís a shame for itís one two three strikes youíre out at the old ballgame." No pauses. All even. See? I bet you canít even do it without putting in the pauses. (And by the way, has it ever bothered you that the line "buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack" is redundant because there ARE peanuts in Crackerjack? Oh well.)

Okay, Iíve made my point. Just put in the good notes and leave out the ones you donít need! This will make your songs even better. Try it. Youíll see.

I rest my case.


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