Putting on a Show – Week 11: Rehearsals and keys

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We rehearsed in our venue. Our venue is a pub. All rehearsals should be in the pub.

All is excitement in the world of chicken, and chicken-related theatrical produce. Yesterday marked our first rehearsal with our current cast and script, and everybody has hit the ground running in terms of knowing stuff and not falling off the stage. Plus, our little family is expanding – we’ve added Jasmine Coben the choreographer and Douglas Deans the ukulele player. This is some next level hype, people.

The major issue we’ve had in commencing rehearsal is, as usual, my fault. When you (and when I say you, I generally mean ‘I’) compose songs, you’re basically making them to suit your own voice and abilities. This is fine, except when you give it to someone who has a drastically different voice than you, such as a woman. It’s at that stage you realise the song is ridiculously low or high, the actress loses confidence and the rehearsal grinds to an agonising halt.

The obvious answer to this problem: change the key. What is ‘the key’? Some basic and probably incorrect musical theory for you. Western tonal harmony (that is, British and American non-weird music) is based around the relationship between notes, not the actual pitch of the notes themselves. Therefore, as long as you move all the music the same distance up or down in pitch, it makes no difference what the actual pitch of the music is. If you’re playing a piano or a guitar, it’s a fairly simple matter to change the key, and many experienced players can do it in their heads.

The only issue with this in our musical is that we’re not using pianos or guitars – we’re using the humble ukulele. The great thing about the ukulele is that you can play many of the most common chords you need using very few fingers. The problem with the ukulele is that if you try to play any chords other than these, your fingers look like a spider having a stroke, and you promptly forget how you fingered them. (Also, for whatever reason, it is very difficult to play an E chord on a uke. Which is irritating, because it’s a basic chord that’s VERY easy to play in guitar, and thus features prominently in a wide variety of songs. Bah.) With guitars, you have a thing called a capo that you can put across your frets to easily change key. You can get these for the uke, but I am poor and do not own one.

So, we have the fun task of figuring out which of the few possible keys that the ukulele naturally plays in fit with the songs and the actors’ voices. Luckily, we’re managing to figure it out. This does mean that I have the occasional exotic chord to remember (I still haven’t figured out F# minor), but luckily, now it’s more Doug’s problem than mine.

Next week – the next rehearsal! Full steam ahead for our Nandocas.

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