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Music Secrets: Finding Vocal Rhythm

English: Rhythm figures: division of the quart...
Discover Vocal Rhythm

This is the second part of a new series called Music Secrets, an exciting new series of helpful informative articles for music students, composers, and music educators.

Composing an opera is not the easiest endeavor. First you need a solid understanding of drama and advanced music composition, then you need to conquer the challenges of finding a story, developing the story into a full opera production, and finding the resources and personnel to bring your operatic dream to life.


If you take the operatic process step-by-step, you will find that there are few creative endeavors that will challenge you and reward you like your own opera production.

Today I will chat about the vocal writing process for Libertaria: The Virtual Opera, my first full opera production. I studied vocal composition under legendary classical composer Frederick Kaufman, who taught me many helpful composition exercises that I still use today.

Find the Rhythm
When you are composing vocal music, you need to figure out the natural rhythm and the musical rhythm of the text. Many times the natural rhythm and the musical rhythm are similar. 

The natural rhythm is the rhythm that you use when speaking. Your natural rhythm may change slightly based on your dialect. As a Latina, I speak muy rapido, so my natural rhythms tend to be faster.

The musical rhythm is the rhythm that you would apply using simple musical notes and meter. You would use strictly musical rhythm in a more traditional musical setting and some popular styles, and use the natural rhythm for recitative, contemporary works, some popular styles like punk or hip hop, and experimental pieces. In most cases, you will combine the two and create a hybrid that uses the best aspects of both the musical rhythm and the natural rhythm.

Example, "The cat and the dog fought." 

Dashes = rest
X = hit
| =Beat

Natural Rhythm: x|xxxx|-x

Musical Rhythm: x|xxx|x--|x--

You can see from this simple example that the natural rhythm fits more in a duple meter while a musical rhythm ends up working in a triple meter. Both versions have a pick-up note. 

Try these music exercises at home:

Test your rhythmic abilities by figuring out the musical and natural rhythms of a short poem, a short work of prose, and your grocery list.

Write out the natural rhythm and musical rhythms from your favorite singer or band. How does the singer's choice of rhythm compare to the natural rhythm and the musical rhythm?

Write out the musical rhythm and natural rhythm of your own lyrics. What works? What doesn't work?

Try reading the text in different dialects or with friends. Does the natural rhythm change? Does the musical rhythm change?

Thanks for checking out Music Secrets. Share your own experiences in the comments below!



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