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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What does "16 Bars" mean for musicals?

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A question from an actor:

I don't know whom to ask -- I would love to be able to audition for singing parts but not that adept at singing (wish I were because I really enjoy expressing feelings through song...)

There is a song, [song redacted], I have been wanting to learn, a simple yet very loaded tune. I can do that tune, I think, without having to take 27 hours of training. Because it's simple. And I love it!

Most auditions want you to bring 16 bars of music. I have no idea what that means. The only bars I know is one to have a drink at, or to raise. So, uh, could you maybe help me out?

TAE responds...

Howdy! This would probably be easier to explain in person with actual sheet music in front of us, but here's a crash course (which will probably make no sense whatsoever.)

• "Bars" (which are also called "measures") are units of time in music. Songs will have beats, like, "1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4" or waltzes have "1-2-3, 1-2-3." Each SET of numbers (1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3) is called a measure. Measures are separates by a line, or a "bar," which is why "measures" are also referred to as "bars."

• If a song seems like it is set up in 4 beat sequences (1-2-3-4) we would say that it has 4 beats per measure. So, "16 bars" (16 measures) would have 64 beats (16 bars x 4 beats per measure.) For audition purposes, you can listen to a song and find the best 64 beats to sing, which will automatically equal 16 bars. Your best 16 bar "cut"of a song is usually at the end of the song, or one verse and one chorus.

• If a song has 3 beats per measure (1-2-3, like a waltz) you would look for 48 beats to complete 16 measures/bars. Again, the best 16 bars can usually be found at the end of the song, or one verse and one chorus.

Have I lost you yet? If not, here's more...

• 3 beats per measure is called "3/4 time"

• 4 beats per measure is called "4/4 time"

The song you mentioned is in 4/4 time. You can count "1-2-3-4" evenly as the song is played. So, you want to sing along and find the best 64 beats/16 bars that you can. This is a very personal choice, and usually involves finding the part of the story you enjoy telling most, as well as finding the part of the song that shows off your voice the most.

I LOVE this song for you, by the way. There are tons of roles for men who aren't singers but who can carry a tune. This would be a very beneficial skill to develop. I have a friend who auditions for musicals with "Happy Birthday" - And he gets work all the time (of course, he is a character actor and the work he seeks is very specific.) So, this is worth exploring.

LIVE IN NYC? If you are looking to learn more about music and singing, I know of two wonderful voice teachers that you can see to get on track. They work with beginners through advanced singers- Joan Barber and Carolann Sanita.


Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.


2 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

Unknown said...

This sounds like maths

Erin Cronican said...

Ha! Yes, there's definitely a little bit of math involved in music theory. :) Thanks for popping by and commenting!

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