As posted to Vocalist on June 14, 1997. Used with permission.

Subj: Study Guide (using music as dramatic script)

CHARACTER STUDY (based on music of the song)

When a composer sets a particular text to music, s/he seeks to use the various musical elements to reflect or enhance the meanings contained in the text. S/he may try to reflect exactly the ideas of the poet, or s/he may attempt to portray his/her own feelings as inspired by the text, or s/he may choose to blend the ideas of both artists into one combined and enlarged expression.

Because the composer has used music to further develop the dramatic situation inherent in the text, the singer must study the individual musical elements and their impact as a whole to further understand and define his/her character portrayal.

The song is composed of two musical parts, the vocal line and the accompaniment. Both these parts must be studied, individually and in relation- ship to each other, in order to gain a complete picture of the musical intent of the song.


What does each of the following musical elements tell me about my character and/or the dramatic situation?


1. Melody–pitch contours, tessitura, ornamentation, phrases
2. Rhythm–meter, patterns, pulse, drive
3. Dynamics–overall shape, contrasts, specific effects
4. Tempo–rates of speed, alterations of regular movement
5. Harmony–key, mode, harmonic functions, special devices
6. Form–musical form, its relation to form of the text
7. Timbre–vocal color, instrumental color
8. Mood and style–verbal directions (con tenerezza, semplice, etc.), musical markings (staccato, slur, legato, marcato, accent, etc.), musical imagery (musical depictions of objects, ideas, etc.)
9. Relationship of vocal line and accompaniment–complementary and contrasting roles, function of introduction, interludes, and postlude

As is the case with the character study based on the text of the song, it will be helpful to determine what music comes before and after the song. If the piece is an excerpt from a larger dramatic work, the singer can simply familiarize him/herself with that music. If the song is an entity in itself, the singer can enjoy mentally creating the music that could precede and follow the song.

|\ Dr. Diane M. Clark, Assoc. Prof./Chair of Music Dept., Rhodes College

© 2000 Dr. Diane M. Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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