Arranger’s Toolbox 2: Bell Chords In Direct Transcriptions

My Ding-a-ling.

Transcribed.

Now that we’ve looked at some fundamentals of bell chords, it’s time to look a little more closely at how this technique can play a role in an arrangement.  Certainly in the case of Clocks, the bell chord is crucial to recognizing the song — in these cases, a direct transcription is probably necessary.  Other times, the bell chord technique will provide interesting motion (and implicit melodies) within the block without requiring the singers to change notes . . . even if the original doesn’t contain any arpeggiation at all.  Below are some applications of bell chords within a greater texture, with sheet music and sound samples to demonstrate:

Direct Transcriptions

Brick by Ben Folds Five

Quite straightforward this one is, as recorded by UPenn Off the Beat.  They do a great job of it — take a listen:

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Things to listen for include changing the syllables in different parts for the bell rings, and then having every part sustain on an /m/ together — it adds textural variety while keeping the sound lively.  Sometimes a voice will open up to an /a/ sound, which helps create momentum as the music pushes over the barline.  Finally, each return to the first chord is accompanied by a “restart” of the bell chords, letting all but the top (and bottom) voices rest for a few beats.  Excellent!

Such Great Heights by Postal Service (Free Arrangement here)

Such Great Heights includes a very complex opening sequence which begs to be directly transcribed into bell chords.  In this case, however, there is a twist: there are two notes involved, but four different parts.  For a full understanding of this, listen to the recording and pay attention to how the parts are panned (ie., separated into left and right channels).  On top of this, there are two parts on a C and an E — in the case of this arrangement, only one person on each.

Listen for all of them in the original intro, while looking at the music below.  The Tenors are on all offbeats, in one ear; the Baritone and Bass parts are in the other.

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suchgreat

Here is what it sounds like in a cappella:

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These are directly transcribed, and can be thought of as bell chords, especially the top parts on /ba/.  These two voices function together as a single unit.  Then, the block acts as one instrument, united by a common syllable — they chime on their two-note chord as bell chord tones.

Then, in the verse, bell chords are used with a vowel modification.  Each part sings “doh-oo,” which emphasizes the ringing of the bell, but changes the sustained part into something resembling another instrument.  This idea — of changing the sustained vowel — was mentioned previously.  Below is your sound clip, first with all “doh”, and then with “doh-oo.”  You be the judge!

suchgreat2

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Notice how that Tenor III part had to duck out of the way in measure 24 to an A3 instead of a C4?  The principle of consovowels at work!  By getting the rhythm right but the note of the bellchord wrong, we’ve just sneakily filled out the chord (an F major), not messed up the arrangement.  In measure 27, the “slur” approach explained previously is used to get the chord right by letting the Tenor IIs sneak up to a Bb3.

In a Classic Recording

everett

A mysterious figure with very few Google hits.

Betty Everett‘s canonical recording of the doo-wop inspired girl-band favorite The Shoop Shoop Song contains some very prominent use of “bum” (or is that “bom”?) stacked bell chords.  The three background singers stack their triads dutifully during the bridge:

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Notice where they are singing: (F#4, A#4, C#5) is the first chord!  How can they get away with singing this high and sounding good?  First: Strong harmonic support lower in pitch by instruments, and Second: Only one singer is on a part.  This works!  Trying this with a college a cappella group would have to involve some different workarounds than assigning this to your SSA group — involving the block playing the role of the instruments in the recording.

For you theory nerds out there, this bridge uses the classic chords of the I’ve Got Rhythm B section: III – vi – II – V.  This is good to remember and recognize whenever you stumble across it.

Next time, we’ll look at slightly more advanced applications of this stuff.

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