Acting the Song – Beats

No, these aren’t musical beats – they’re acting beats.

I like to explain the concept of a beat as a paragraph, where all the ideas are related to each other. There are small beats and there are big beats. One of the easiest frameworks of a beat system is the AABA form of most musical theater songs. Not all songs share this same structure, but the ideas I’ll share can be applied to any song’s structure.

Beats change when the subject and music changes (whether in meter, key, tempo, or structure). Marking beats in a musical score is very helpful because it organizes the thoughts and actions of the song into a cohesive format, and helps you get inside the composer’s head with regard to interpretation. It helps you to understand the rhythm and style of the piece and how the character expresses their wants.

Most ‘phrases’ in music could be considered beats. They have a beginning, middle, and end. It’s important for the singer to go through each song and find where phrases start and end, because it organizes the music and the narrative of the song. This is also useful to help prevent breathing in the middle of phrases. Usually, singers that have poorly defined phrases will break up the phrase because there is no forward momentum in the singing of the phrase. They are singing what I call “note to note.” Singing actors should sing PHRASES not just notes. I’ll often tell singers “You’re singing ‘notey,’ try to sing me a sentence, not just notes.”

Breaking the music into beats also gives you a structure for dramatic analysis. It makes it perfectly clear when your action (to be covered in a separate blog post) changes.

Break the song into it’s beats or structures using the format of AABA. Here’s an example:

A – I got rhythm, I got music, I got my man who could ask for anything more?

A – I got daisies in green pastures, I got my man, who could ask for anything more?

B – Old man Trouble, I don’t mind him, you won’t find him ’round my door.

A – I got starlight, I got sweet dreams, I got my man who could ask for anything more?

Each one of these phrases (AABA) can function as a beat in the song.

By breaking the song into ‘structural beats,’ it gives the song a dramatic structure and through-line that is congruent with the text and with the music that is being sung. It will also aid the actor in understanding how to ACTION the text when the time comes to do so, as each beat should have an ACTION.

I’ll be covering action in a future blog, so stay tuned for more information!