Tuesday, November 10

Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder - Alternative Rhymes

Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder - A Lesson in Alternative Rhymes
Listen to the song HERE.

I saw artist/songwriter Beth Neilson Chapman do this song on guitar a few years ago and she blew me away singing all the horn parts which are just as much part of the personality of this song than the lyrics. After one listen everyone can sing, and WAN’T to sing the opening riff. Every live video I watched of Wonder doing this song had him prompting the audience to sing with him. I hope someday to write something that catchy.

For all intent and purpose, Sir Duke is a straight ahead verse/chorus vehicle. Simple rhyme schemes for the verses (aabb) and a repeated lyrical riff in the chorus (You can feel it all over!).

Alternative Rhymes
I hear a lot of “older/established” songwriters diss alternative rhymes, thinking/saying that perfect rhymes are the only “pure” method of writing. I can’t believe how much I disagree with them. Mind you, I don’t disagree with using perfect rhymes, but I am abhorred by the idea of shoveling off alternative rhymes into some snobby garbage compactor. I tend to think in terms of connection between different types of rhyme, rather “perfect rhymes” being some sort of clique that everyone should aspire to.

Music flies by so fast that we often don’t realize how strong the alternative rhyme connections are. Are alternative rhymes more loosely connected than perfect rhymes...yes! And therein lies their beauty.

I’m going to talk about a couple of things regarding rhyme that I’m sure Wonder wasn’t thinking about when he wrote this song. Still, these ideas impact me when I listen to it. Not in some academic analysis way...but in the way the rhyme represents what’s going on in the song.

First verse vs. Second verse

First verse has extremely strong rhyme connections.

understand/hands – alternative rhyme*, “additive rhyme”, the S sound is added at the end of “hands”
groove/move – perfect rhyme

*(additive and subtractive rhymes, especially adding or subtracting a single letter, make the strongest connection after perfect rhymes)

Second verse has very loose rhyme connections.

quit/forget – alternative rhyme, “consonant rhyme” (notice the vowels aren’t the same. This is the weakest of all rhyme connections).
Duke/loose – alternative rhyme, “assonance rhyme”

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Advanced: Quick alternative rhyme lesson:
Rhyme consonants are divided into three families...Plosive, Nasal, Fricative...which make up these consonant sounds (not the “letters”, the SOUNDS!)...

Plosive family – b, p, d, t, g, k
Nasal family – m, n, ng
Fricative  family – v, f, TH (as in “breathe”), th (as in “teeth”), z, s, ch, sh

If you use two different consonants from the same family you’ve created a “family rhyme”. An assonance rhyme is where you use consonants from two different families. (In other words, use a plosive with a plosive to create a “family rhyme”, a fricative with a fricative to create a “family rhyme”, etc. If you use a plosive with something else, it becomes and assonance rhyme).

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Why is all this important to our Stevie Wonder song? Well, look at the content of the verse lyrics. The first verse is about connecting with one another through music. What is more connected than people clapping their hands? Hand clapping is its own language. An English, Hindi, Russian, and Mandarin speaker can all clap together without knowing each other’s language. Same thing with a groove...though styles maybe different, dancing is universal. This section is bound together by very strong rhyme connections, just as we humans are bound together by groove and music!

The content of the second verse is looser...talking about music’s pioneers: Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo), Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald. They all have their different styles, but they are connected by A) their greatness, B) the legacy of their amazing music. To me, the “looser” rhymes of this section represent the diversity between these giants of music.

The rhyme scheme teaches us that we all can come together under the umbrella of diverse music.

On a side note, we also learn that as songwriters, we don’t have to limit ourselves to perfect rhymes. That we can use alternative rhymes to not only give us more options, but to add depth and prosody to our lyrics. If it’s good enough for Stevie Wonder, it’s good enough for me.

Now go write something catchy.


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Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder

Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity for all to sing and dance and clap their hands
But just because a record has a groove don’t make it in the groove
But you can tell right away, at letter A, when the people start to move

They can feel it all over, they can feel it all over people
They can feel it all over, they can feel it all over people

Music knows it is and always will be one of the things that life just won’t quit
But here is some of music’s pioneers that time will not allow us to forget
For there’s Basie, Miller, Satchimo, and the king of all Sir Duke
And with a voice like Ella’s ringing out there’s no way the band can loose

You can feel it all over, you can feel it all over people
You can feel it all over, you can feel it all over people


Anonymous said...

It's obviously about Duke Ellington...

Shane Adams said...

You are absolutely correct. It also mentions Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Louie Armstrong (Satchimo). Thanks for the comment! :)