Songwriting Tip #2 – Using the Voice as a Percussive Instrument
Usually when we write songs, we focus a lot on using a good amount of variation between our verses and choruses. This is so that we can create a build-up of tension, followed by resolution in the chorus. However, it’s entirely possible to place very little emphasis on pitch movement to create a release of tension. Here, we’ll discuss how Freddie Mercury uses his voice as a percussive instrument in Queen’s song “We Will Rock You”.
This blog post aims to summarise the second part of our video “How to Write a Killer Rock Anthem – 7 Secrets from Queen’s We Will Rock You’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
Analysing the Verses of “We Will Rock You”
Similarly to a lot of great anthems, Queen’s hit song is largely about the refrain line i.e. the line that goes “We will rock you”.
So, the verses are there to take us on a lyrical journey and provide a build-up for the song’s narrative. This build-up in tension can then be released when the refrain line lands. The unusual thing about the lyrical phrasing in the verses of this song is that there’s very little emphasis on pitch movement and a lot of emphasis on rhythmic movement.
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How Is this Achieved?
If we break-down the melody of the verses, we’ll notice that Freddy Mercury focuses on one repeated note that he hits in a short staccato rhythmic way, before then descending at the end of the phrase down the pentatonic scale. Take a look at the first verse of “We Will Rock You”, as below:
Buddy, you’re a boy, make a big noise
Playing in the street, gonna be a big man someday
You got mud on your face, you big disgrace
Kicking your can all over the place
The sections highlighted in yellow are approximately where the melody starts descending down the pentatonic scale. From this, we can see that a large portion of the verse doesn’t have much melodic variation at all.
The Effect this Has
By limiting the melodic movement, and instead opting to focus on rhythmic movement, this creates a verse that’s extremely tribal in nature, as well as being easy for anyone to sing along to.
Even if we remove the lyrics, the melody line still feels like it’s driving the song because of the way it’s been phrased rhythmically. As a result, the verses feel punchy, and really help drive home the point of the song. This also has the effect of making the refrain sound like a huge event that we’ve all been waiting for, and further emphasises the release in tension that occurs.
Conclusion: Songwriting Tip #2 – Using the Voice as a Percussive Instrument
From Queen’s song “We Will Rock You”, we can clearly see how using the voice as a percussive instrument can be used to great effect. By limiting melodic movement and instead emphasising rhythmic movement, it’s possible to build tension in an entirely different way, thus helping us to create anthems that truly stand out.
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