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- Writing for Vaudeville - 50/95 -


(b) _The second measure_--called the iambic measure--is the reverse of the first. That is, the short or unemphatic syllable precedes the long or emphatic syllable. "Alexander's Ragtime Band " uses this measure at the beginning of the chorus.

' ' ' ' Come on | and hear | come on | and hear

The first verse of Mr. Harris's song shows this measure even more clearly:

' ' ' ' ' You sit | at home | and calm | ly read | your pa | per

This second measure, being less sustained in syllabic force, is more easily kept up than the first measure. It is therefore in common use.

(c) _The third measure_--called the dactylic measure--is formed of a combination of three syllables. Its characteristic is an emphatic syllable followed by two unemphatic syllables, as:

' ' The | old oak en | buck et

' ' The | iron bound | buck et

(d) _The fourth measure_--called by the frighteningly long name of amphibrachic measure--is formed by a short or unemphatic syllable followed by a long or emphatic syllable, which is followed again by another short or unemphatic syllable.

' ' ' I won der | who's kiss ing | her now

(e) _The fifth measure_--called anapestic measure--is made up of two short or unemphatic followed by a long or emphatic syllable.

' ' ' When the bell | in the light | house rings ding | dong

All these three-syllabic measures have a quicker movement than the two-syllabic, owing to the greater number of unaccented, unemphatic syllables. They lend themselves to a rushing impetuosity of expression which is the notable characteristic of the popular song. But they are not always regular, even in high-grade poetry. Therefore in the popular song we may look for, and certainly be sure to find, all sorts of variations from the regular forms here given. Indeed, regularity, as has been clearly pointed out, is the exception and not the rule; for few single lines, and, in a still more marked degree, almost no songs, adhere to one measure throughout. Precisely as "apt alliteration's artful aid" may be used or not used as may suit his purpose best, so the song-writer makes regularity of measure subservient to the effect he desires.

However, I give these examples not with a view to the encouragement of either regularity or irregularity. My purpose is to show you what combinations are possible, and to say, as the jockey whispers in the eager ear of the racehorse he has held back so long, "Go to it!" Break every rule you want to--only break a record. As Mr. Berlin said, "I've broken every rule of versification and of music, and the result has often been an original twist. In popular songs a comparative ignorance of music is an advantage. Further, since my vocabulary is somewhat limited through lack of education, it follows that my lyrics are simple."

This is only Berlin's modest way of saying that not one in ten successful song-writers know anything about the art of music, and that very few are well enough educated to err on the side of involved language and write other than simple lyrics. He drew the application as to himself alone, although his native genius makes it less true of him than of many another less gifted. The big point of this observation lies in his emphasis on the fact that

7. Simple Lyrics and Simple Music Are Necessary

Perhaps in Mr. Berlin's statement rests the explanation of the curious fact that nearly all the successful popular song-writers are men who had few educational advantages in youth. Most of them are self-made men who owe their knowledge of English and the art of writing to their own efforts. Conversely, it may also explain why many well-educated persons strive for success in song-writing in vain. They seem to find it difficult to acquire the chief lyric virtue--simplicity.

Not only must the words of a popular song be "easy," but the _idea_ of the lyric must be simple. You cannot express a complex idea in the popular song-form, which is made up of phrases that sometimes seem short and abrupt. And, even if you could overcome this technical difficulty, you would not find an audience that could grasp your complex idea. Remember that a majority of the purchasers of popular songs buy them at the five- and ten-cent store. To sell songs to this audience, you must make your music easy to sing, your words easy to say and your idea simple and plain.

8. Rhythm the Secret of Successful Songs

Being barred from other than the simplest of ways, by his own limitations, his introducers and his market, the song-writer has to depend upon a purely inherent quality in his song for appeal. This appeal is complex in its way, being composed of the lure of music, rhyme and emotion, but when analyzed all the parts are found to have one element in common. This element to which all parts contribute is _rhythm_.

Now by rhythm I do not mean rhyme, nor metre, nor regularity. It has nothing necessarily to do with poetic measures nor with precision of rhymes. Let me attempt to convey what I mean by saying that the rhythm of a song is, as Irving Berlin said, _the swing_. To the swing of a song everything in it contributes. Perhaps it will be clearer when I say that rhythm is compounded of the exactness with which the words clothe the idea and with which the music clothes the words, and the fineness with which both words and music fit the emotion. Rhythm is singleness of effect. Yet rhythm is more--it is singleness of effect plus a sort of hypnotic fascination.

And here we must rest as nearly content as we can, for the final effect of any work of art does not admit of dissection. I have shown you some of the elements which contribute to making a popular song popular, and in the next chapter we shall see still others which are best discussed in the direct application of the writing, but even the most careful exposition must halt at the heart of the mystery of art. The soul of a song defies analysis.

9. Where the "Punch" in the Lyric is Placed

Just as it is necessary for a popular song to have a punch somewhere in its music, so it must come somewhere in its lyric. Just what a lyrical punch is may be seen in the chorus of "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine."

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, On the trail of the lonesome pine, In the pale moonshine our hearts entwine, Where she carved her name and I carved mine, _Oh, June, like the mountains I'm blue, Like the pine, I am lonesome for you!_ In the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, On the trail of the lonesome pine.

The underlined words are plainly the punch lines of this famous song--the most attractive lines of the whole lyric. Note where they are placed--in the chorus, and next to the last lines. Read the chorus of "My Little Dream Girl" and you will find a similar example of punch lines:

_I'd sigh for, I'd cry for, sweet dreams forever,_ My little dream girl, good night.

These, also, are placed next to the last lines of the chorus.

The punch lines of "When it Strikes Home," are found in

And when you hear of brave boys dying, You may not care, they're not your own, _But just suppose you lost your loved one That is the time when it strikes home._

Here the punch is placed at the very end of the chorus.

Now test every song on your piano by this laboratory method. You will find that while there may be punch lines at the end of the verses there are nearly always punch lines at the end of the chorus. There must be a reason for this similarity in all these popular songs. And the reason is this: The emphatic parts of a sentence are the beginning and end. The emphatic part of a paragraph is the end. If you have a number of paragraphs, the last must be the most emphatic. This is a common rule of composition founded on the law of attention--we remember best what is said last. The same thing is true of songs. And song-writers are compelled by vaudeville performers to put a punch near the end of their choruses because the performer must reap applause. Thus commerce keeps the song-writer true to the laws of good art. Therefore remember:

_The most attractive lines of a popular song must be the last lines, or next to the last lines, of the chorus._

This holds true whether the song is a "sob" ballad or a humorous number. And--strictly adhering to this rule--put a punch, if you can, at the end of each verse. But whether you put a punch at the end of a verse or not, always put a punch close to the end of your chorus.

10. Contrast an Element of the "Punch"

One of the easiest ways of securing the vitally necessary punch lies in contrast. Particularly is this true in humorous songs--it is the quick twist that wins the laughter. But in all songs


Writing for Vaudeville - 50/95

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