Songwriting Tips, News & More

10 Simple Steps to Write a Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 11, 2020 @07:00 AM

 by Karen Randle

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Are you interested in writing a song? Don't know how to begin writing a song? Here are 10 simple steps to get you going:

  1. 1. Choose and Compose a Title of your Song.

What do you think you would like to be that sums up the heart of your song’s message? You will need to come up with the subject of your song. A good way is also to brainstorm song titles as well. 

 

  1. 2. Write from Experience or Fantasy.

You may wish to brainstorm possible lyrics. What you want to say about your title and what you think your listeners might want to know? These are the questions to want to ask yourself. You may write some sort of an experience or feelings.

 

  1. 3. Choose a Song Structure.

Currently, the most popular structure is: Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus. Thus, a formula of: ABABCB. Also, analyze the chord structures of your favorite songs. Are they verse, verse, chorus, and then bridge, or do they just repeat verses and choruses? Say your favorite song is “Someone Like You” by Adele, what is the song structure of like?

  1. 4. Construct a Temporary Chorus and Verse.

What do you want to say in your chorus and hook?  Look for imagery and action words to bring your answers to life. What emotion are you describing? What do you wish to say in your verse?  

 

  1. 5. Find the Melody in your Lyric.

Choose the lines you like best for your chorus and hook. Recite out loud with emotion. 

 

  1. 6. Chord Progression

Add chords to your Verses and Chorus and Melody. Try a simple, repeated chord pattern. Play with the melody and chords until you find something you like. I would suggest singing or humming over the chord progression to experiment. Or maybe even use a background music track. Remember one of the world’s biggest hit was written with a background track (“Old Town Road” by ‘Lil Nas X).

 

  1. 7. Rhyming.

Find pairs of phrases in this material for your Chorus and Hook. Remember to connect the words that rhyme. 

 

  1. 8. Connect Your Verses and Chorus and Bridge.

Connect it melody and lyrics.  Do you wish to add a bridge before you add your final chorus? Explore your concepts more and add connections.

 

  1. 9. Intro.

Do you need an intro? Or maybe no intros at all? Keep your intros short and simple. Remember the songs on the radio have short intros; no one wants to listen to a long intro like “Stairway to Heaven”.

 

  1. 10. Putting it all together: Record a Demo.

A simple guitar/vocal can be a good first step for your song. Or do vocals over an existing music background track. It doesn’t have to be perfect at first; you just need to get started putting your song together, remember that it is progress and not perfection!

 

For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, lyric, demo, songwrite, Chord, create melody, Rhyming, Rewrite, Title, Experience, into

5 Secrets to Writing a Great Chorus

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, May 01, 2020 @07:00 AM

 by Karen Randle

ControlSongwriting

The chorus is the “heart” of the song. It is the part of the song where your audience can't wait to reach that catchy Chorus with melodic and lyric hooks.

A song’s chorus can be more memorable if it’s emotionally moving as well. Choruses can be angry, sad, affectionate, playful - any state of mind can inspire a song.

 

  1. 1. Melody

This is the most important part of the song, it is your statement. If the melody isn’t strong, your chorus will suffer accordingly. A contrast of melody from the verse can make your song stand out. Example: in Dolly Parton’s biggest hit song “I Will Always Love You”, the chorus is a stark contrast from the verse as the melody in the chorus is sparser and makes the chorus stand out more than the verse. You may use wide intervals, long tones, short rhythms or different melodic rhythm from the verse.

 

  1. 2. Lyrics

What do you wish to convey to your audience? You want to remind your listeners what your song's all about. Lyrics can be tricky as they should sum up the overall theme and mood of the song. Example in “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson, written by Max Martin and Lukasz Gottwald, a.k.a “Dr. Luke”, “Since U Been Gone, I can breathe for the first time, I'm so moving on, yeah yeah”, the lyrics make it memorable to the listener and something the listen can identify with.

 

  1. 3. Use Your Hook

In the hit song “I Hate Myself for Loving You” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, written by Desmond Child and Kenny Laguna. They use the hook intro to incorporate the Chorus – clever and that brings the listener in. So, you may use your hook in your Chorus.

 

  1. 4. Contrast the Chorus's melody in a Different Range and Feel

The chorus can be higher in pitch and range, but not always. Example: “Without You” by Nilsson, written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans (of the rock band “Badfinger”). See the example of big sweeping melodies and color in that chorus, a contrast to the verse. Another example is “All By Myself”, written and recorded by Eric Carmen. See how different and contrast the chorus is from the verse.

 

  1. 5. Know when you need a chorus.

There are times that you do not need a chorus at all. Then you need is a refrain: a short hook that gets tacked on like "You needed me, you needed me" in Anne Murray’s #1 Hit song “You Needed Me”, written by Randy Goodrum. In that song, there is just a short refrain, there isn’t any chorus.

 

So, experiment with your chorus, write and re-write it until you get it the way you want. Remember that it's progress and not perfection!

 

For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, lyric, demo, Melody, Lyrics, songwrite, Chord, create melody, Rhyming, Rewrite

[EXPERT SONGWRITING ADVICE] Writing About Current Events from a Different Perspective

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 14, 2020 @07:00 AM

 by Sara Light

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“With history piling up so fast, almost every day is the anniversary of something awful.” – Writer & Artist, Joe Brainard

Recently, while cleaning out my closet, I happened upon a small book of Daily Meditations given to me by a friend a long time ago called The Promise of a New Day (copyright 1983). The book goes through each day of the year and offers a quote and a short spiritual reflection.  I hadn’t opened this book in well over a decade, but last week I found myself turning to the February 7th meditation which begins with the quote at the top of this page. 

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At first I was surprised to read this quote from the 1980’s that felt so relevant for today’s world. But then I realized that in every decade, at every point in history change is inevitable, and with change comes discomfort, fear, anger, and as the quote says, “the anniversary of something awful.” Artist, Joe Brainard, who is quoted above, died in 1994 of AIDS. Can we take a moment of pause to reflect on how incredibly scary and sad that time in our history was until, thank goodness, we found a treatment for HIV?  Our amazing scientific and medical community created an antidote to something horrific.  

Obviously, as writers and artists, we have a responsibility to reflect the trouble in the world around us as songwriters like Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan did in the 1960’s. But can’t we also create an antidote to the daily assault of awful news? If history is comprised of times of trouble, war, disease, hunger, and hate, isn’t it just as important to highlight the love, compassion, simple moments of trust, help, hope, and success?

As a songwriting exercise, try making a list of the little things that have kept you motivated, inspired, happy, or brought you peace of mind, during these difficult times. Kissing your loved one good night, scratching your dog’s tummy, taking a walk near a stream, sipping on a hot cup of coffee, holding open a door for a stranger and exchanging a smile. Keep a section in your “title book” or idea journal specifically for a daily dose of positivity. See if you can practice a heightened awareness for the good things that we often take for granted like a compliment from a friend, being in the fast line at the grocery store, having enough gas in your car, birds chirping when you open your door, or a warm coat when it’s cold outside. Write it all down.  These specifics will inform your lyric with a universal theme of gratitude and  provide a different perspective on our current events. Bring this perspective into your next song.

SaraLight

Sara Light has been writing professionally in Nashville since 1996 and had served as a staff songwriter for Zamalama Music and Curb Magnatone Music Publishing. Her credits include the John Michael Montgomery title track and the hit single "Home To You" which received an ASCAP airplay award in addition to being named SESAC song of the year for having garnered 2 million spins on radio. She also composed songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score. Check out SongU at:  https://www.songu.com/

For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, songwrite, Pat Pattison, Rewrite, The Promise of a New Day, Joe Brainard, Daily Meditations

[Expert Songwriting Advice] How to Write a Killer Hook

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 02, 2020 @07:00 AM

 by Karen Randle

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There is an art to write a great chorus with great hooks. The hook and chorus is the most memorable part of any song, especially since it is repeated a couple of times or many times. In fact writing a great hook that makes your song stand out from the crowd, magnetically attract favorable attention, influence, thrive, stoke confidence and creativity in the songwriter or producer.

This energy from the hook emanates outward from its center and, in a closed loop or "boomerang effect" “hooks” the listener in. This is the secret that explains why composing great hooks are so important.

So, what is a hook? A hook is a musical idea, often a short riff, passage, or phrase, that is used in Pop, Rock, R&B, Country music to make a song appealing and to "catch the ear of the listener".

Also, so many people confuse the hook with the chorus. But that's not always the case. Sometimes the hook is the chorus, but it doesn't have to be.


1. Rhythm hook.
The rhythm hook establishes the beat and rhythm combination (such as Chord Progression) that the song is built on. Like “Billie Jean”, “Ice, Ice, Baby”, “Superstition”, “Another One Bites The Dust”, “Summer of ’69, etc.

With the example of “Billie Jean”, the most iconic Pop song of all time, this accompaniment is followed by a repetitive three-note synth, played staccato with a deep reverb. The defining rhythmic chord progression is then established. The rest is Pop music history, this song became the most definitive song of Michael Jackson’s career and established himself as the “King of Pop”.

How to compose (or write) a Rhythm hook:
i. Tap your foot
ii. Compose a short beat rhythm on your guitar or piano that grabs your attention
iii. A chord progression that accompanies the hook (Example: C, F, G)
iv. Compose a bass line that accompanies that


2. Intro hook.
Intro hook is usually a melodic idea that gets established in the intro. Like "Eye of the Tiger", “Smoke on the Water”, “Seven Nation Army", “Layla”, “Wonderful Tonight”. The intro hook makes the song instantly recognizable.

A good example is “Wonderful Tonight”: the song opens with its hook, the string-bending soulful guitar part in the first four measures, make it one of Pop/Rock most recognizable iconic Classic Pop/Rock song. Eric Clapton wrote this for his wife, Pattie Boyd.

How to compose a Intro hook:
i. Compose short melodic idea on your guitar or piano.
ii. Carefully choose or pic a few music notes hear and there
iii. Create a chord progression to accompany the notes
iv. Experiment and edit, make changes, repeat.


3. Background Instrumental Hook.
Instrumental hooks are, in my opinion, one of the most important and under-utilized devices in a songwriter’s toolbox. Like Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings”, Ah-Ha's "Take On me" and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”.

With Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” you’re as likely to think of that catchy single reverbed synth sound playing half notes, with occasional 8th note passing notes, that has made Arian Grande’s very first debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.

How to compose a Background Instrumental Hook:
i. Compose chord progression, music notes, etc on your guitar or piano.
ii. Compose it with the chorus or refrain
iii. Try it with lyrics and experiment


So, write, rewrite and experiment. Writing a great hook is not easy but it worth the time and energy if you want to write a great song. Make it a great songwriting session!


For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, demo, songwrite, hook, Chord, Background Instrumental Hook, Rhythm hook, Intro hook

[EXPERT SONGWRITING ADVICE] Knitting a Sonic Fabric

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 02, 2020 @08:00 AM

by Pat Pattison


www.dgmusic.co.ukmediaimagesblogs70024675_tips-from-an-acoustic-duo-3

I was listening to John Mayer’s album Wildfire and was stopped dead by this line from his song Badge and Gun:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

The line made me feel something. I love when that happens. It’s always a sign that I need to take a closer look – to understand how the line did it – to find any useful tools that might help my students write even better songs. So, in I went.

First, the line is a wonderful, fresh way to say, “I wish I could go back to a younger, easier time.” Here’s a bit more context:

Gimme my badge and gun

Gimme the songs that I once sung

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

 

Of course, the image “badge and gun” works on many levels, but primarily creates a nostalgic look at a young boy dressed in cowboy hat and chaps, pretending to be an old-time sheriff in a dusty town, taming the Wild West. Ah, youth. Pretty cool.

But it’s not only what John Mayer says, it’s the way he says it:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Why does it sound so good? At first glance, it might seem like the line’s energy is a product of the internal rhyme between black and back.

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

But the simple internal rhyme doesn’t begin to explain why this line sounds so attractive. There’s a lot more happening.

Let’s take a closer look. First, at the vowels, other than the internal rhyme.

 

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound in non-rhyming stressed syllables, close enough to each other for the connection to be heard.

Listen to the short i (as in it) echo in gimme and kick:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

And the long o (as in go) echoing in those and alone

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

 

The vowel repetitions create an additional layer of sonic connections. Combined with the internal rhyme, these assonance connections help to knit a small piece of the lovely sonic fabric this line creates.

There’s a lot more vowel activity going on here, in addition to the simple assonance. But it’s a bit more subtle. Look:

 

Hidden Assonance

Many vowels contain more than one sound. They’re called diphthongs. When two diphthongs share one of their two sounds in common, they create hidden assonance.

Hidden assonance works a lot like the musical concept of voice leading:

…where each musical note transitions to the next in a smooth, harmonious way, moving as few notes as few steps as possible and thus often retaining common tones.

Hidden assonance works with common tones – two different diphthongs sharing one of their sounds in common.

The territory in hidden assonance can be a little slippery, since English vowel pronunciation can vary from country to country, region to region, town to town, even neighborhood to neighborhood. But whatever your vowel pronunciations, whenever you use diphthongs, hidden assonance will come into play. Just use your ears. You’ll hear it.

First, there are the straightforward diphthongs,

oi (as in boy) = long o (as in go) + long ē (as in me)

ou (as in couch) = ä (as in papa) + long ū (as in too)

Some of the long vowels are actually diphthongs too. Take the long a (as in lay) for example. It’s a combination of short ě (as in end) and long ē (as in me). Go ahead, say lay slowly a few times.

l ě ē

See how it works here:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Now say jet and lay slowly. Listen. Can you hear the short ě in jet echo the short ě in lay?

j ě t l ě ē

Pretty neat.

Like long a, long o (as in go) is a diphthong, containing two distinct sounds – short ŏ (as in hot) plus long ū (as in too). As you’ve seen, in

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

there are two long o sounds, those and alone. Both contain ū (as in “too”). Now listen to the vowel sounds in down, the more straightforward diphthong. It contains ä (as in papa) plus ū (as in too). So in

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

you can hear the long ū connecting those, down and alone. Voice leading. Slow them down and listen:

those = th ŏ ū se down =d ä ū n alone = al ŏ ū ne

All three share the long ū in common!

Another one. You know that the long a in lay is a combination of short e (as in end), and long ē (as in me). Now look at the long i in nights. It’s a combination of ä (as in “papa”) and long ē (as in me). So both lay and nights share long ē, connecting them with the obvious long ē of gimme!

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Again, slow them down and listen. Notice the hidden assonance – the connection between one of the sounds in the more complex diphthongs:

Gimm ē lay = l e ē nights = n ä ē ghts

There’s one more, which you’ve probably already noticed. Since the vowel sounds in down contain ä (as in papa) plus ū (as in too) and the long i in nights combines ä (as in papa) and long ē (as in me), it’s hard to miss that they both share ä:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

down =d ä ū n nights = n ä ē ghts

Slow them down and listen. Easy to hear now, isn’t it.

Hidden assonance may seem pretty subtle, but it’s no more subtle than the repetition of common tones in complex musical chords, an ordinary feature of musical voice leading. It’s a real thing. Musicians use it all the time. Lyricists can do it too, using the voice leading techniques available in hidden assonance. It adds yet another layer to the sonic fabric of a line. All of it created by vowel connections.

Now, let’s turn our attention to consonant sounds.

Alliteration

Here’s the most common understanding of alliteration:

The occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.

Look at the alliteration of the b sound:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

And the l sound:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Pretty neat. Another layer kitted into our sonic fabric.

So is that it? Does that exhaust the layers in Mayer’s line? Nope. Not even close. As we did when we talked about hidden assonance, it’s possible to extend the concept of alliteration, treating it like the musical concept of voice-leading,

…where each musical note transitions to the next in a smooth, harmonious way, moving as few notes as few steps as possible and thus often retaining common tones.

Using this idea, we can talk about repetition of consonant sounds not only at the beginnings of words, but also inside words (medial alliteration) and at the ends of words (terminal alliteration).

First, find the k sounds in:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Yup.

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Now, find the n sounds:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Right:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Knit. Knit. Knit.

We could stop here and convince ourselves that we’ve gotten to the core of the line – that we’ve discovered why it’s so attractive sonically. And we’d be nearly right.

But there’s yet another layer of discovery, based on the work of the legendary literary critic Kenneth Burke from his ground-breaking work in his essay On Musicality in Verse. He calls it concealed alliteration.

 

Concealed Alliteration

Burke divides consonants into families, governed by where you place your tongue to produce the consonant sound. He recognizes three families: the M family, the N family and the Ng family. Say each one and notice the position of your tongue.

M is formed by closing your lips and flattening your tongue, forcing the air column into your nasal passages, but including your mouth as a resonating chamber.

N is formed by raising the tip of your tongue to your hard palate, again forcing the air column through your nasal passages, but this time including the back portion of your mouth as an attenuated resonating chamber.

Ng (as in “sing”) touches the middle of your tongue to your soft palate (velum), again forcing the air column through your nose, but this time excluding your mouth from acting as a resonating chamber.

Let’s work first with N, where you raise the tip of your tongue to your hard palate. What other consonants use this tongue position? Work your way through the alphabet and find them. I’ll wait.

Interesting, huh? Here is N’s family, listed from closer relatives to more distant cousins.

 

N

d

t

j

ch

l

 

Say the word down and notice what your tongue does at the beginning and end. Do you feel your tongue touching your hard palate twice? That’s concealed alliteration, created here by the repetition of the N position in the d and n of down. Pretty cool.

Take your time and find the members of N’s family in our line:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

I found j, t, l, d, and n.

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Say the line a few times, paying attention only to the times your tongue touches your hard palate. You can both hear and feel the connections created by the members of the N family. A pretty tight-knit bunch.

Now look for M’s family. Lips coming together, flat tongue. I’ll wait.

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Yup:

 

M

b

p

 

There are a few other distant cousins, but these will do. Now find M’s family, the concealed alliterations, in our line:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

I got:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Of course the b connection was already apparent as simple alliteration, but it’s nice to invite m to the party too. Say the line a few times and pay attention to your lips.

Nice.

Finally, Ng’s family, which touches the middle of your tongue to your soft palate (velum). Again, go through the alphabet and locate those consonants that position you tongue in the Ng position. I’ll be patient.

Yup, g and k.

Now find members of Ng’s family in our line.

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

Say the line a few times, concentration only on where you raise the middle of your tongue to your velum.

Of course you noticed k, which we found in our search for alliteration. But it’s nice to invite g to the party too:

Gimme those jet black kick back lay down nights alone

That pretty much does it. We’ve pretty much seen all the strands in this lovely fabric of sound. It may seem like a long journey just to understand one line, but by now you should have a pretty clear understanding of what makes this line so remarkable. Not only does it say something interesting by creating a complex and attractive metaphor, but it underscores the words by knitting an ingenious fabric of sound, weaving the ideas into a unified whole. Brilliant.

Of course it’s one thing to be able to analyze a line for its sonic fabric, and quite another to create a sonic fabric deliberately and consciously. Whether John Mayer composed this lovely sonic fabric fully aware of the choices he was making, or whether it “just came out that way” makes little difference. It’s still this complex blending of sound and meaning that makes his line work so well. Whether or not he did it on purpose, you can.

Creating a strong sonic fabric takes focus and practice. In my 2nd edition of Songwriting: Essential Guide To Rhyming: A Step-by Step Guide to Better Rhyming for Songwriters and Poets, you’ll find plenty of exercises to improve your knitting skills. Exercises not only for rhyme and rhyme types, but also exercises to help you create the more remote elements of your sonic fabric, including hidden assonance, concealed alliteration and even a new concept, family assonance.

In the meantime, listen carefully, have fun, and most of all, write fearlessly.

Pat Pattison

 

Also, watch this YouTube video about Pat Pattison's book:

 

 

Pat Pattison is a professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches lyric writing and poetry. In addition to his four books, Songwriting Without Boundaries (Penguin, Random House), Writing Better Lyrics (Penguin, Random House), The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure (Berklee Press), and The Essential Guide to Rhyming (Berklee Press), Pat has developed five online courses for Berklee Online: three on lyric writing, one on poetry, and one on creative writing, all available through online.berklee.edu. His filmed series of lectures for Coursera.org has over 1,600,000 students enrolled to date. Pat has written over fifty articles for various magazines and blogs and has chapters in both The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi) and the Handbook on Creative Writing (Edinburgh University Press). He
continues to present songwriting clinics across the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. Pat’s students include multiple Grammy-winner Gillian Welch, John Mayer, Tom Hambridge, and Joelle James; Artists Karmin, American Authors, Liz Longley, and Charlie Worsham; Hit writers Amy Allen, Justin Tranter, Greg Becker and many, many more.

https://www.patpattison.com/

 

For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Berklee, songwrite, Pat Pattison, Berklee College of Music, Rewrite, Alliteration, Assonance, Hidden Assonance, Proisody, Concealed Alliteration

The Valuable Chord Tricks All Major Hit Songwriters Use (Part 1)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 10, 2020 @08:00 AM

by Dave Kelly

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The vast majority of songwriters begin their composing life depending on the same 4, 5, or if they are really adventurous, 6 chords. Those chords are technically called “diatonics”, and they’re the chords built on the first six notes of any major scale. There is also a 7th chord that technically should be added to the set, but it has been considered a troublemaker for years, so we’ll come back to that in a moment.

For now, check if any of your songs are limited to using only two or more of these 6 chords. Include checking through any songs you play that were written by other people.

Key of C – C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am

Key of D – D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm

Key of E – E, F#m, G#m, A, B, C#m

Key of G – G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em

Key of A – A, Bm, C#m, D, E, F#m

Almost 50% of all the hit songs released over the past fifty years, were composed using only diatonic chords. I’m sure you probably know many of these songs. They tend to sound very similar to each other.

But what if you want your song to sound a bit more interesting than the run-of-the-mill song you hear everybody else writing? Well, officially that’s easy. You just need to add in one or more of the 18 chords not included in the diatonics list. But knowing which one to add, and where to add it is the hard part.

It’s also dangerous. The moment you leave the safety and familiarity of the key chords, you risk sounding strange, jazzy, progressive, scary, discordant, unpleasant or worse, sounding amateur. And that’s enough to stop most composers from venturing beyond the same old 5 or 6 chords. So, you can understand why there are so many songs written that way, when trying anything else is likely to make you sound like you don’t know what you’re doing.

That’s why top professional songwriters depend on 6 specific chord usages or tricks to help them effortlessly place the right chords in the perfect spot, ensuring their songs always sound exceptional.

This first lesson is going to address the easiest of these chord tricks to insert into your writing. It involves the 7th chord that we left out of our original list of diatonic chords at the beginning of this article. It’s called a diminished chord. In the key of C it would be a Bdim, and is technically the seventh chord in the diatonic family, and would be added to the other six we’ve discussed already, if that is, it didn’t sound so odd to the ear of the general public.

Because of its discordant sound, the diminished chord has been replaced over the past 50 years within popular music, by the far more appealing and pleasant sounding “flattened seven (b7).” In the key of C this is a Bb.

Key of C – C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, [Bb]

Key of D – D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, [C]

Key of E – E, F#m, G#m, A, B, C#m, [D]

Key of G – G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, [F]

Key of A – A, Bm, C#m, D, E, F#m, [G]

Although the flattened 7 doesn’t technically belong in the diatonic family of chords, ever since the introduction of the blues, it’s been adopted and included in hundreds of hit songs that would otherwise have been limited to 5 or 6 predictable diatonics. The power of flattened 7 chord in a major key is instead of having just three major chords to write music with, it gives you a 4th major chord. This 4th major chord makes a difference! Try it for yourself. If you are trained it music theory it may seem like you are breaking the rules, but your ears will tell you something quite different… you’re enhancing the music.

There are many ways to use this new addition to the family. One common way is to place it between two of the same chords. This was one of the ways favored by The Beatles. For instance, in the key of C that could be C-Bb-C or F-Bb-F or Am-Bb-Am.

Another option is to use it at the start of a song section, possibly a bridge, giving the song a much-needed lift at that point.

On the other hand, when placed at the end of a verse section, it can create tension that will be resolved during the chorus.

But no matter where you place the flattened 7 among the other six diatonics it will sound completely at home. In fact, it will spice up any standard song just by its inclusion.

Try playing around with adding it to the other 6 chords. You’ll like how it sounds, and you’ll quickly realize that you’ve heard that type of chord movement before in higher quality songs from well-respected writers. Give it a try and see if you don’t immediately sound more like a pro.

 

Dave Kelly has worked closely with many of the greatest musical artists in the world, including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Aerosmith. He is an award-winning recording artist and songwriter and has recently completed the first volume in the Secret of Songwriting Series entitled Secret of Chords (www.secretofchords.com) with the second volume, Secret of Melody, due out late February.

 

For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, songwrite, Bob Dylan, Chords, Rewrite, non-diatonic chords, diatonic, Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd

How to Write Lyrics: 8 Tips to Inspire Your Meaning

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 03, 2020 @12:03 PM

by Steve Lipman

songwriting2

A painting is composed of shapes and colors, arranged in such a way to create a cohesive picture for the viewer. Painters become better with practice by showcasing their art and developing a personal creative process - most of the time. Sometimes, inspiration works in mysterious ways.

A song is very similar to a visual masterpiece. Each sound, phrase, and word - arranged in just the right order - elicits an emotional or intellectual response from the listener. A song is an intangible creation, built of many parts to achieve a myriad of effects.

Just as the visual artist might dive into the world of their craft, songwriters and lyricists are well-served by doing the same. Great lyrical songs touch their listeners by combining the impact of their words with the emotional power of its music. That’s why I suggest you ask the following questions about the song you are trying to write.

 

  1. What Do You Want to Say?

Painters often take time to visualize their work before the brush hits the canvas. Developing a guiding statement for your lyrics - what they want to say - keeps your message top of mind as you work. The question is: What is the subject of my song?

 

  1. Who Are You Writing To?

The listener may be the person you are addressing in your song. It could be someone else - someone who broke your heart or stole it. Or, it could be a series of rallying statements for the world at-large. Regardless, a song always speaks to someone or something.

Understanding who the song is speaking to gives lyricists direction with the finer details of writing such as tone, character, and point of view.

 

  1. How Do You Want to Say It?

What’s the emotion behind your message? Is it an aggressive call-to-action? Or, a sweet tune for the love of your life? Just as there’s a difference in what we might say to someone we’re mad or happy with, the emotional and psychological origins of your message should come out in your writing.

 

  1. Now What’s the Right Word?

Next, you need to think about the lyrics (words) in your song. Again, who is speaking them, and to whom, will help you determine how the lyrics are heard.

The right words put the listener exactly where you want them. Great lyrics convey a message effectively when they are embodied by the music. A song should feel like a complete experience, meaning that everything that needs to be said finds itself in your lyrics.

Finding the right words is tough. Sometimes, such as in the case with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock n’ Roll,” a song can be completed in 15 minutes in the studio and get slapped onto an album.

On the other hand, Bob Dylan always said his song, “Tangled Up in Blue” took him “a decade to live, and two years to write.” Crafting great lyrics often takes care, patience, and time.

 

  1. How long does it take to write a song?

It could be somewhere between 15 minutes to a lifetime. Some songs are started but never finished. Sometimes the unfinished song is telling you that you don’t know enough about the subject you are writing about. And, sometimes, the passion behind the song dissipates. My advice is to write a song until you can’t write it any more. The song will let you know when it is completed. Learn from it and move on to the next song.

It’s what made “Tangled Up in Blue” take two years to write, and “Rock N’ Roll” take 15 minutes. If your song feels complete, it is. If it doesn’t feel complete, then it needs more work.

 

  1. The Next One will Always be Better

According to veteran songwriting coach Randy Klein, writing a great song requires drawing from past experiences.

Each song you attempt to create is a demonstration of your understanding of song craft, and of your ability to draft lyrics that make an impact. As you work on your current piece, it’s always helpful to reference past pieces and utilize the lessons you learned from their creation.

 

  1. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Many songwriters forget there is a lot of power in the rewrite.

Perhaps one of the most effective ways of battling writer’s block - what many people may call “hitting the wall” - is by taking a different approach. More often than not, the first draft of a song is a collection of ideas which should be considered temporary.

Rewrites allow you to explore a different direction with your song, while using elements already created to guide the way. Many songwriters are completely surprised by what comes out of them during the rewriting process.

 

  1. Test Your Audience

If you’re inspired to write a song, it means you want to communicate something to someone else. Having a sample of who that “someone else” is may be invaluable to your editing process.

 

A phrase may resonate with us because it comes from within. Yet, it’s not uncommon for something meaningful to us to fall on someone else’s deaf ears. That’s why workshopping your lyrics with trusted listeners can inspire valuable revisions, or tell you the song is on the wrong track altogether. In this instance, remaining humble is key.

 

In the end, it’s your voice.

You may be sitting there asking yourself, “Does every songwriter incorporate each of these eight steps into their songwriting?”

The answer to that is absolutely not. Just like any form of art, songwriting is a personal journey, the success of which is most clearly determined by whether you’re happy with the finished product.

Any songwriter who wants to get better at writing lyrics can use any number of these steps to help them along the way. You may also decide you want to study songwriting in college, or take the journey on your own.

Either way, it’s your words, your voice, and your message going into people’s ears. Treat each song like an individual experience, a singular journey to navigate - and remember to always enjoy the process just as much as the finished product.

 

Steve Lipman is founder of Inside Music Schools, a music school admissions consultancy based near Boston, MA. He has experience counseling aspiring professional musicians from performance and songwriting to music production and music business. Having spent more than 40 years at Berklee College of Music as Director of Admissions, Assistant Dean of Students, and as Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, he is one of the country’s leading experts on contemporary music education and college admissions.

 

For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Berklee, songwrite, Berklee College of Music, Rewrite, visualize, Steve Lipman

For 10 Minutes a Day, You Can Improve Your Songwriting by Doing These 7 Things

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jan 02, 2020 @08:00 AM

by Ellie Coverdale

Songwriting-Pic3

It is always said that the best way to get great at something is practice. This is no different when it comes to songwriting. To make progress, it doesn’t take too much time. If you devote just ten minutes a day to songwriting, you can help improve your craft. If you practice these seven things a day you will watch yourself become a more creative artist.

 

Write about objects

Engage your senses by picking and writing about any object. To start, write down any detail, characteristic, or feeling you get about this object. Make sure to go beyond the physical features of it. How does it sound, feel, smell, or even possibly taste? The reason you want to do this exercise is that it will teach you to notice details and articulate them.

 

Write down what is on your mind

For ten minutes a day, write down whatever is on your mind. This is a free-flowing exercise, so don’t worry about editing or moderating your thoughts. You can also pick a topic as a starting area, and just see where it takes you. Your mind may jump from thought to thought, and that’s okay. Once the ten minutes is up, look at what you wrote. There may be a thought in there that is creative enough for you to explore.

 

Play the word association game

A very popular exercise for musicians, doing word associate is a fantastic way to get creative and work on songs. Take a part of one of your songs, it can be a theme, title, or phrase, and write down what you think of that’s related to it. It doesn’t just have to be words, it can be phrases as well. Doing this may spur enough creativity to come up with a break-through.

 

Learn a song you love

This is a very relevant exercise as you are actively engaging in your art. This is also a more fun activity to do as well as this will be right in your wheel house. For ten minutes everyday, work on a new song to learn. It can be from your favorite band or lyricist. In the end, you will hopefully be able to perform the song, and if it all goes well, you now have a great cover song to perform whenever you want.

 

Journal writing

You should be writing in a journal every day for at least ten minutes. The content is completely up to you, it doesn’t have to be about songwriting. Having it be about your daily life will help keep things in perspective, including your goals and progress. Your emotions at a certain time, thoughts about things, and inspiration is important to reflect on for your artistic growth.

 

Seek out new experiences

Whether it’s taking a different route to where your going, or grabbing a coffee from a different café, switching your routine up is important. Gaining new experience will lead to an enhanced perspective on everything around you. Who knows, maybe you go down a certain alley and there is quote in graffiti that inspires you. Doing something new daily may be difficult, but you will be opening yourself up to experiences you may never have.

Use your imagination

This one may not be as difficult to do. Daydreaming and using your creative imagination is an important for songwriting. Creativity comes from the formula experience, coupled with how you perceive those experiences, and how you use those perceptions to interact with the world. All the great songwriters of our time do just this. Artists sing with such passion because they truly believe what they are singing about. Songwriters will always do their best writing if their perception of the world is fueling the pen on the notepad.

These are just a few exercises you can do to improve your songwriting. All these things can be done in ten-minute intervals, which makes them more convenient. The main theme of all these activities is trying to fuel your creativity. Engaging your mind with thought-provoking things will lead you to best songwriting you can do. Follow these seven tips to unlock your creativity and create the best art you can.

 

Ellie Coverdale works at Academized as a productivity and lifestyle writer. She has been a part of many social media research projects. Coverdale loves taking her dog Bruce for trail hikes and enjoys teaching content writing for online writing services. https://academized.com/

 

For information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, songwrite, Song Intro, Outro, rearrange words, object writing, Write what's on your mind, word association game

12 Ways to Get Yourself Unstuck in Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Dec 02, 2019 @08:00 AM

by Michael Dehoyos

Songwriting-Pic1

Writing songs is a personal thing, when you need to look inside yourself and find inspiration. When you’re truly stuck, here are some unusual tips you can try; we promise they actually work!

1. Play all your radios together.

When no one is home, turn on all the radios at once when you’re stuck songwriting. You can hear some interesting overlaps, progressions, and melodies. It’s a type of absurdist music composition, known as aleatory music, where the composition relies on chance. Put on all the radios and listen out for any moments of overlap as a way to find great inspiration.

2. Ask yourself the 5 w’s

Think about the subject of your song. What is it about? Who is the main character in it? Where did they come from? Where are you hoping they’ll arrive at by the end of the song? How did they get here? What are they looking for? What do they want to achieve? Remember, what, who, why, where, when and how. Answer those basic questions and the narrative of your song will start to emerge.

3. Listen instead of talking for one day.

Take an oath of silence for a day, and you’ll notice that your brain can reset. Talking actually takes a lot out of your creative brain so when you don’t, you can focus on writing. The silence also allows all your feelings and memories to rise to the surface. Spending the day listening will also be a great way to fuel your ideas. Have a notepad to hand and jot down any interesting snippets of conversation and dialogue that you hear. Listen out for any interesting sounds or fragments of melodies you can use.

4. Set a time limit.

Time can be difficult but if you have too much, you’ll second guess everything you write. Set yourself a short time limit, for less time than you normally need. This will force you to focus and streamline your creative process. If it’s too short, you’ll find that you get absolutely nothing done, so you might want to play around with the best length! You’ll find that you get better at writing great songs quicker. You can challenge yourself further by playing with the time limit each day. The key is to keep writing throughout the whole time; don’t censor yourself!

5. Create a routine

Songwriting is all about practice. The more you write, the better you will become. If you find that you are getting stuck, try writing every day, consistently at the same time. Start with a small amount of time, maybe just 15 minutes a day. You will find that by creating a routine, your brain will become more focused and the more you practice, the more natural the process will become. You will find that the quality of your songwriting will quickly improve and so will your confidence. You will start to beat your block, by knowing you have achieved some songwriting everyday.

6. Play around with song structure

Instead of writing in the conventional, intro-verse-chorus pattern, change it around. Try starting with the chorus, maybe followed by two long verses. You can add in a hidden chorus or a solo. Be creative and challenge your usual pattern.

7. Write from a different perspective

Imagine a scene, maybe one you saw or overheard earlier in the day. Write a verse from one person’s perspective, then the next verse from another person’s point of view. This can make your song sound pretty interesting. You also don’t need to search around for ideas to start with, because you already know what happens – you have already seen the scene! You can also play around with first person and third person narratives and see where it takes you.

8. Write and rearrange words.

Write down a bunch of words that you’ve been thinking about lately, cut them up and rearrange them into different ideas. This can be done for notes, melodies, and even pictures. David Bowie famously used this method for some of his most successful songs.

9. Read and Collect

Read all different types of content- magazines, blogs, tweets, books. Anything and everything! If you have a specific topic you want to write about, focus your reading around that. If not, create a mood-board or scrapbook (you can even create a digital version on your phone) and add to it every time you read something that interests you. News stories are great for giving you current topics to write about. If you’re more of a visual person, use Pinterest and photos from gallery websites, or even better, visit a gallery and get inspiration from the images. You can write a song about the image, or the events that led up to it or that inspired it. Or go a whole different route and write about the person who painted or created the artwork.

10. Listen to Mozart.

Studies show that listening to Mozart gives you more focus by affecting your spatial-temporal reasoning. When you start a writing session by listening to Mozart, you’ll immediately be more concentrated.

11. Use a title

Choose a film, book or song title. Use that as the prompt for your song and create a story to go with it. When you have finished, go back and create your own unique song title. Maybe your song actually took a different route and the new title reflects a whole different aspect of the story? You can use random generators online to generate a title for you or you can collect titles and put them in a jar. Whenever you are stuck, pull one out and get writing!

12. Play your instrument “wrong”.

When you play your instrument the “wrong” way, you’re using an extended technique. This helps you push the boundaries of what’s possible, like playing a piano with the strings modified due to other objects.

It’s normal to get stuck in the songwriting process. If that happens, take some out-of-the-box ideas to get the creativity flowing again. Sometimes, you just need to approach something differently to allow your brain to go where it needs to.

 

Michael Dehoyos, a content marketer and editor with PhD Kingdom, likes to help others find their creativity and maximize their potential. He writes about his own struggles with writing in the hopes that he will help others improve too. In his free time, he loves to play the piano and invent new melodies. Check out: https://phdkingdom.com/

 

For information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, Song Intro, song structure, post-chorus, Pre-Chorus, Outro, rearrange words

Songwriting: Elements Of Song Structure

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Nov 11, 2019 @11:21 AM

by Alex Bruce & Karen Randle

WhatItTakesToWriteAHitSong

Structure is of course one of the central elements of songwriting. And although it’s fair to say that structure has been used (or abandoned) very creatively by many artists over the years, there are still far fewer variables and options than there are in song content i.e. Chord pattern choices, instrumentation etc.

Song structure is also similar to music theory, in the sense that it’s better to know the rules and then consciously break them, than to break all the rules by simply being unaware.

So, as for precisely how to structure your song, unless you’re writing a highly-commercialized pop song it’s very hard to give you direct instruction.

Instead, you’ll see that below, each common ‘element’ of song structure is described and explained. How many of each to use, when, in what order, and so on, are all the calls the writer must make.

Here is a typical song structure includes a verse, chorus, and bridge in the following arrangement: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. This is known as an ABABCB structure, where A is the verse, B is the chorus and C is the bridge.

Remember, you don’t have to use every single one of these elements in every song. Think of this list as more of a palette of ingredients to select from.


Intro
Fairly self-explanatory here. Short for introduction, the ‘intro’ is the first thing a listener hears. It may be a riff, or establishing a theme that will then play out in full in the verse or chorus, but fundamentally it’s about setting the scene. One of its functional purposes is to establish the key for the vocalist too. Listen to various songs and critically question the intro’s purpose. Compare and contrast songs spanning different genres too.


Verse
Very often the first sung section you’ll hear (though not always as plenty of highly commercial songs start with a chorus), the verse is essentially the second-most-main section behind the chorus. It establishes the song’s theme, tone, lyrical style and content and ultimately sets up the chorus and continuation of the song. A great number of rock and pop songs begin Intro > Verse > Chorus, so study some and observe the role of the verse, expanding upon the intro, but not yet the chorus.


Pre-Chorus
Not always present, as some songs jump straight from a verse into a chorus. But when it is present, the pre-chorus acts like a pathway from the verse to the chorus. These sections can be at times maligned as gap-filling things designed to patch together a verse and a chorus that otherwise don’t really work together. However, when deliberately and consciously implemented in their own right they can provide fantastic build and tension and heighten the effect of the chorus. You’ll know if a song has a pre-chorus simply because there seems to be an additional section after the verse (and different to it) but before the chorus comes.


Chorus
The pay-off moment, and most-repeated section, of most songs. A song’s chorus is usually distinctive by being some combination of the following factors:
The most memorable section (or the ‘hook’)
The section that lyrically contains the song’s title
The main melodic theme of the song
A place where additional voices/instruments are added
The simplest lyrical section

The chorus is usually the section most people know and remember, and in commercial pop music is the section on which a song is almost entirely judged. It either pays for itself or it doesn’t. Even down to various pop producers and record labels having rules about the maximum number of seconds into a song that a chorus may happen!


Post-Chorus / Break / Tag
This is one of the less common elements of song structure. This shows in its 3 (and maybe more) different names, in that it is not so defined or established as verse or chorus for example.

This section is something that comes on the end of or after a chorus (but isn’t the chorus), but equally is not yet the next verse, or simply a repeat of the intro section.

Much as the pre-chorus can be a build-up to the chorus. The post-chorus can act like a warm-down or wind-down afterwards.


Bridge
The bridge is usually a songwriter’s chance to insert something totally different. It isn’t like a verse, or a chorus, or in fact any other of the sections above/below, most of which serve as a build-up or warm-down to the verse/chorus, or relate to it in some way.

The bridge is usually something quite different. Sometimes there’s a key change, a change in instrumentation, it may be acapella (voices only), or it may be a complete about turn in tone, mood and emphasis.

In pop/rock, the bridge is very often followed by a final chorus or final double chorus before the song ends. So for that reason, the art of writing a good bridge section is writing something that, when the section begins, feels totally different, but by its end point, flows naturally back into the chorus section.


Solo
Often the solo section is interchangeable with the bridge - it’s unusual to get both unless the song is very long and/or experimental.

Essentially an instrumental section, often played by instruments we might consider expressive, ‘lead’ instruments, such as electric guitar, saxophone and so on, this is a moment of instrumental expression, something different, a break for the vocalist(s) and a thrill for the instrumentalist(s).

Solos have been famously used across the decades from the very minimal, thematic, reserved iterations, to the full-blown, 3 minute long shredding guitar solos.

How the solo is executed is determined by the writer’s style, tastes, expression and intentions.

Outro
Another section that’s not always present, as many songs end after a final chorus, or in rock/blues after a guitar solo quite often too.

When an outro is present, it can vary from something quite short and simplistic, to an epilogue - a final, epic, concluding act.

It may be a continuation or adaptation of the section that has just come before it. Equally it may be a return to the theme of the intro, which provides a nice sense of symmetry.

Have a listen to 10 different songs and consider how they end, asking yourself - why is this song ending in this way? Does it refer back to another section of the song? What purpose does this outro serve? Is it a section in its own right? Do I like it? Why?

Alex Bruce is a writer for Guitartricks.com and 30Daysinger.com

 

For information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, Song Intro, song structure, post-chorus, derivative, Genres, Pre-Chorus, Outro