- Ways to makes sure you are communicating the correct emotions
Many of you know that I studied online with Berklee College of Music for close to 2 years. I ended up taking a few classes at the same time, so I wrapped up early…but I received a certificate in Songwriting from them. Berklee is an amazing music school. And I just discovered they are offering a FREE 6 week songwriting course!! Fricking sweet! I fully encourage all of you to sign up for it. It will change your songwriting life. To get registered, go here https://www.coursera.org/course/songwriting
Yesterday I started to write a song and I got a verse from a random word. So today I continue to work on the song…
What I have so far:
He’s got a stylish look
With jeans showing off his goods
They’re not too tight or super baggy
Yeah they’ve been washed many times
But they fit him just right
He’s natrual, calm and sexy
Next step: decide on where I can take this song. What could the story be? What will the character be feeling or thinking?
Now I will make a kind of story line or outline of the song.
Verse: he is in jeans and sexy (establishes the problem or situation )
Prechorus: it wasn’t always this way
Chorus: he used to weigh 100 pounds more and decided to change
Verse 2: he is never going back, he has his confidence
Prechorus: it wasn’t always like this
Chorus: he used to weigh 100 pounds more and decided to change
Bridge: he’s gonna show everyone who said he couldn’t do it that he did it
Chorus: he used to weigh 100 pounds more….
So now I have the storyline for my song that started from a random word. I have nt been sitting here wondering what to write, I kind of use my logic and creativity.
Tomorrow I will work on writing the chorus….
Copyright 2013 Chad Shank
I am very excited to be teaching a songwriting class in Hastings, MN! It starts in February and goes into March. It is a 3-part class. Monday nights from 7 to 9pm….here is the class description….It is only $49 for all three classes!!
Are you a songwriter? Do you write lyrics? Do you struggle with writer’s block or not knowing what to write about? Want to write better songs? Join us to take an in-depth look at what makes hit songs work, explore topics like object writing, point of view, rhyme scheme, building contrast, writing from your senses, and more! Songwriting is a mix of craft and art. Many times it starts with inspiration to get a rough draft, but how do you make your song shine? Leave with the tools to start writing better songs that touch people. No specific music skills are required. Open to students ages 16 and up. Bring a notebook. (Skip Feb. 18)
Tell your songwriting friends in the area! Hope to see you there.
In life many of us want to take the elevator to get to the top floors, unfortunately taking the elevator is not always possible. Sometimes we really need to take the stairs. We have to take every little step, and eventually we end up at the top. I think we learn more that way. Does it take more effort? Absolutely. Taking the stairs wears us out, we get tired, we sweat, we bitch and moan…our legs hurt. But you know what? we may lose some weight and we get in better shape by moving our legs and butt up those stairs. It is the same with songwriting. We all want to just sit down and write hit songs. We thing we got this down. We think we are the shit. The honest truth is that it takes many little changes and effort to become the writer you want to be. It takes practicing the basics, trying new techniques and walking up those steps… break out of our comfort zone and start getting into shape. Here are a few tips and articles I have written to help you start busting your butt up the songwriting steps as we head to the new year! I am going to post at least weekly, maybe more…I want to share my songwriting knowledge and adventures! Thanks so much for reading….please keep in touch. I love to hear from you… ~~ Chad
For 3 weeks, starting on October 18, 2012, I will be teaching a songwriting class in St Louis Park, MN. If you are a songwriter, this is a great, affordable course that will give you the inside scoop on how you can improve your writing. Here is the course description:
Are you a songwriter? Do you write lyrics? Do you struggle with writer’s block or not knowing what to write about? Want to write better songs? Join us for an in-depth look at what makes hit songs work, and explore topics like object writing, point of view, rhyme scheme, building contrast, and writing from your senses. Songwriting is a mix of craft and art. Many times it starts with inspiration to get a rough draft, but how do you make your song shine? You’ll leave with the tools to start writing better songs that touch people. Instructor Chad Shank is a songwriter and producer with over 15 years experience. His songs have been used on TV shows on MTV, CMT, HBO, Hallmark, WE TV, NBC, Discovery and others. No specific music skills are required. Open to students ages 16 and up. Bring a notebook.
Songwriting is part creativity and inspiration and it is also know how, craft and skill. There are times where one of those comes easier than the other. Many of us like to wait until the creativity and inspiration flow out easily…the problem is that we end up waiting a long time, and not actually practicing songwriting. If we don’t practice, we don’t get better. I am just like many of you. I sometimes need a little push to get the ball rolling when writing songs. That is why I like to have processes that I can use that use my know how and skills. Many times just following the process is enough to spark some more inspiration. So here is a 10 step process that I use to write songs from titles. It includes some steps that use logic in order to find inspiration. I hope these will help you. Give them a shot. Try writing your next 5 songs using these steps.
10 Steps to Songwriting From A Title:
1. Find a title you like
2. Come up with 3 possible story lines for the song
3. Pick your favorite story, and write down Who When and Where the story is happening
4. Write down 10 words that describe the story or come to mind when you think about it. Write whatever words pop into your head. Don’t stop at 10, if they keep coming
5. Look up 5 of your favorite words from Step 4 in a Thesaurus. Write down some of your favorite words that you think work in your song.
6. Now take 5 of your favorite words from those you’ve collected and look them up in a rhyming dictionary. Don’t just look for perfect rhymes, look for near rhymes, family rhymes, assonance, and consonance rhymes.
7. Now find words that rhyme with the title itself. You can also find words that mean the opposite of your title.
8. Now take 5 minutes and free write from your senses about either the Who, Who or Where of your song. Write from your sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, and movement. Really try to describe each sense. Then underline or write down phrases in this writing that you like.
9. Create a rhyme scheme and song structure. Need ideas? Copy hit songs….write down where rhymes happen….where does the title fall? What is the structure of the song? How many lines are in the verse? Chorus? Bridge?
10. Now start using all the words and phrases you have collected to start telling the story of your song….and actually write the lyrics. Up to this point you have been collecting some interesting words and phrases. Use this collection to write your song.
Give it a shot. Do it even if you don’t feel inspired….all you need to start is a title, rhyming dictionary and thesaurus.
Just sitting here watching Netflix, thinking I should be writing a song. I think my weekly song assignments I have been giving myself have been helping me stay active in writing songs. I feel like I am making progress, and staying up on my craft.
So my big bad assignment this week is to write a song using 1 chord. Yes, 1 chord. I hear songwriters all the time say things like, “Oh my song is simple, it only uses 3 chords, it is probably not great.” Well the number of chords is not what makes your song great. What you do with those chords is what makes your song great.
So this week I am going to write a song using 1 chord. That chord is Gb major. So I am going to use that chord and variations and inversions of that chord. So some options will be Gb, Gbmaj7, Gbmaj9, Gb6, Gb7, and inversions of those chords. So that is what I am doing this week….working on a song with 1 chord and variations of that chord. I will need to be creative and add contrast using other parts of the song like melody, groove, lyrics, rhythms, etc. I will post some of my progress and the song when it is finished…..who know maybe the song will be born quickly Chad
I have said it before, that one of the most important things to aim for in songwriting is Contrast. Contrast is what keeps your song moving forward and your listeners tuned in. So what does contrast mean when it comes to rhyme scheme?
Let’s define, ‘Contrast’ and ‘Rhyme Scheme’
In songwriting, contrast means ‘this vs that,’ ‘dark vs light,’ happy vs sad,’ and any other cliche opposite you can think of…..but it is still very important. In songwriting you always want each section of your song to contrast or be different or opposite from the other. So your verse should be different than your chorus, and your bridge should be different than both verse and chorus.
So when you are writing lyrics, varying your rhyme scheme between sections can help make your song less boring. It can change things up so the listener doesn’t get bored.
So let’s pretend we are writing a new hit called, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Here is the verse:
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Its fleece was white as snow
Everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go
or couplets….this is different than the verse. I will write some nonsense lyrics in this rhyme scheme. Read this verse and chorus out loud and see if you can sense the contrast between the sections. I am also going to add a line to the chorus, a title line at the end. This additional line is another way to contrast sections…..change number of lines.
So how do you apply this to your writing? 1. Look at the rhyme scheme and number of lines in the section that you have. 2. Make the next section different, or contrasting. If you have This, use That.
The biggest song in the country right now is “Call Me Maybe.” It is the fun, pop summer song of 2012, written and performed by Carly Rae Jepsen. It is #1 on the Hot 100 chart right now. I first started hearing it when I was in Nashville a couple months ago. It started to explode across the airwaves and dance clubs everywhere. It is one of those songs that is infectious and gets stuck in your head. Earworms, as some call them. I have been listening to it and analyzing it and finding some cool things in the songwriting structure that make it work. So I wanted to give some of my observations on qualities that you and I can use in writing our next ‘hit.’
One of the big things that sticks in your head when you hear this song is the melody. The melody is very catchy and uses one of the most powerful and essential concepts when songs become hits and that is contrast. Each song section, Verse, PreChorus, Chorus and Bridge all have contrasting melodic motifs happening. There is also some cool music theory happening as well.
Melodic Contrast: The verses – - The verses have a nearly static melodic contour that is nearly static. The verse hovers around the B note, which in this song is the 3rd degree of the G major scale. This is a trick that many songwriters use in the verse, and that is to not use the tonic note much in the verse. The tonic note is the G and it is not used much if at all in the verses. They save the tonic note for when the chorus comes around. Also these verses use rather quick fast notes, which makes it sound much more conversational. This is also a very useful and common trait of hit songs. When the prechorus comes around the melody bumps up and starts on the D note above the B in the verse, and the melodic contour contrasts to the verse because it becomes a descending contour and the phrases go down until the last line of the prechorus that builds up to the chorus. Also the notes are just a bit longer than the verse, which creates more contrast. Again this section only briefly hits the G note or the tonic. What not going to the tonic does is build up some tension, because our ears want to ‘go home’ or go to tonic, and it doesn’t happen until we get to the chorus. When the chorus comes in the notes get shorter and more rhythmic again, which contrasts to the prechorus. The melodic contour now becomes more zig zag by going down, coming up and the resolving to the tonic. It brings us home and releases all of the tension that was building in the verses and prechorus. It feels good and satisfies some of our subconscious expectations. The melody of the entire song is mostly G major pentatonic, which as I have mentioned in other posts is one of the most powerful and easy scales to use. When the song gets to the bridge it stays in the pentatonic scale, and still does a zig zag by going down and coming back up to the G, but the melody is different than the chorus and verse, and also just as catchy as the chorus, in fact at the end of the song, they repeat the bridge as if it is a chorus variation. Neat stuff happening in the melody of this song.
Lyrical Contrast and Structure: Just because it is simple doesn’t mean stupid – - The lyrics of this song actually follow many of the concepts that I have mentioned on this blog in the past. One of the big things that I noticed and loved was that the song verses do a great job of being decriptive and set up the Who, When, and Where. The 1st verse is very visual. Usually songs should be visual and have concrete details in the 1st verse, then go to more emotional and ‘big picture’ in the chorus. This song talks about a wishing well/fountain, it sets the scene that the singer is throwing wishes at night. Words like kisses, pennies, dimes, etc really are visual words that paint a picture in our heads. Then when you get to the prechorus it talks more about the night and talks about wind, ripped jeans, skin, etc. Again more visual pictures, concrete images. Then when you get to the chorus, the emotional WHY of the song is exposed. It is still visual because we know the singer is giving her number to someone she just met, but it is not quite as visual and basically wraps up the song…..I might be crazy, but here is my phone number….call me….maybe? In the second verse it explains kind of what happens next. The singer is falling is love, but the other person is taking time in actually calling back. One thing that is cool and is becoming a common trend in music now is the repeated chorus. The chorus repeats itself, so it gets stuck in our heads even more. Some contrast to keep it interesting is added by doubling the vocal track and adding additional drum rhythms and a synthy guitar-type part. This is an effective way to use repitition and still keep energy going. Also the last few lines are not the same as the first time around. Same melody, but different lyrics. The next part of the lyrics that is cool in this song is the rhyme scheme. Rhyme is very important in songs, it gives us sign posts and tells us where to start and stop. It also is a way to create contrast in the lyrics and change things up so they do not get boring. Here are the rhyme schemes that I think are happening in this song:
Verse: AAABCCCB 8 line section.
Prechorus: AAAX 4 line section (contrasts to the 8 in the verse)
Chorus: XAXAXAXA 8 lines that repeat twice – same number of lines as the verse but different rhyme scheme. (again contrast)
Bridge: XAAAXAAA 8 line section, but this rhyme scheme is almost like the opposite of the scheme in the verse, which creates lots of contrast.
2 of the most powerful tools you have when writing lyrics is the rhyme scheme and number of lines. Both can be used to create contrast and prosody, so your song stays interesting and tells the correct story.
As you know writing songs is a mix of art and craft……know how and inspiration. These have been just a few observations that I have made while listening to and studying, ‘Call Me Maybe.’ Let me know if you have any observations of your own, or if you have any questions on the ideas I talked about. ~~ Chad