- Ways to makes sure you are communicating the correct emotions
My songwriting tip of the day is DON’T DO IT… the same way you always do it. If you always come up with chords first, then melody and words….flip it. Write some lyrics first, then come up with chords and melody. Or maybe you write words first, this time try it writing music first. What ever your regular process is….do the exact opposite for the next 3 songs you write.
This will feel very uncomfortable and you may feel like you are struggling. Without struggle there can be no progress. No pain, no gain.
Personally I try to change things up now and then. Sometimes I get sick of coming up with lyrics all the time, so then I start messing with music for awhile. Then the music starts getting boring and I flip back. I think to be a real, great songwriter you have to know how to finish a song no matter how it starts. Having the know-how to find your way to the end in many creative ways is what can set you apart, and break open your writing into some great realms. It will also keep you sounding fresh!
What is your usual process? Post it and discuss with others…
As songwriters, we ultimately want to reach our listeners and make them have an emotional experience. Maybe that is the same emotions we had when we wrote the song, or maybe it is a totally new emotion that you just want them to have. Some songs are just tear jerkers, that doesn’t happen by accident. Some songs piss us off, some make us want to dance, some make us happy….None of that happens by accident. The writer had an intent. They knew what they wanted you to feel.
As songwriters we try very hard to get the emotion across…and many times we try to write some deep, poetic, ethereal, cosmic, make-them-think lyrics. We know exactly what we are trying to say, but does our listener? I see it many times with newer writers, they want to express a deep emotion, so they write very vague, abstract lyrics about darkness and wind and angels and sky and rain, and coming into the light…..all great metaphors, don’t get me wrong….but many times after you hear it, you will be like, “Nice, but What the Hell does it mean?” We don’t want that response….we want to make sure the listener finishes the song as says, “Wow, I totally see and feel that.” We cannot be vague.
The key to making sure our listeners are feeling our songs is to be very specific. It seems counter productive to think that in order to get deep, we have to be very much on the surface. It’s true. Listeners don’t want to think. They want to feel it. So our job as writers is to paint picture with our lyrics, and color those lyrics by using concepts of prosody in the underlying chords and music. So here are some quick tips on how to really reach into your listener and lead them down the exact path you want them to:
1. Write from the 6 Senses – Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch, Smell, Movement – - Really describe things from each sense. Be very detailed. Make them smell it.
2. Your Verse should establish WHO, WHEN, WHERE of your song. – - This helps insure that the listener understands what is going on. Be specific, but you can show and not tell directly. For example, if my Who, When and Where was a waitress, during a rain storm at a bus stop….I could Say: She had her apron and tips in her pocket as she shook the water from her umbrella and waited for the #7.
3. The Chorus Expresses the Emotional WHY of the song. This is the part of the song you can be more Vague and a little more abstract and emotional. If the verse set up the Who, When and Where effectively, it will carry over and the listener will have context for the emotion and it will help them experience it deeper.
4. What is happening musically should support and mirror what is happening lyrically. This is the concept of prosody. An example would be if your lyric talks about falling down, your melody could walk down the scale, or take an interval that drops it down. Or if the topic is hectic, you will want to use many short notes for the melody. Make the music match the words. It is like when the film score accentuates what is happening on the screen.
Those are just some quick examples. Give your listener what they need so the song makes sense quickly. If they have to think too hard, they won’t feel it.
Do you have any other ideas on how to communicate emotion more in your songs?
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I will be performing some of my songs on a cable access show in September…and I am writing 6 brand new songs for it. So I am going to need to get busy! Since I need deadlines and parameters, I am going to give myself more songwriting assignments and exercises. I hope by me sharing what I do, it can help you get some ideas for your own writing. So this is what I am going to do for Song 1.
Start with a contrasting rhyme scheme.
Topic = Built from writing about a random word…..My word that came up is: Revenge
So here is what I am going to do…..Write whatever comes to mind about Revenge for 6 minutes, then I am going to start taking lines from that writing and dropping them into my rhyme scheme. After that, I am going to work on nailing down a plot for the song. Then I will finish writing the lyrics. Once the lyrics are complete, I will start setting them to a chord progression and melody….or maybe melody, then chord progression. Then I need to practice it to make sure I can perform it and it works.
At this point, you know as much about this song as I do. Please follow this blog to get updates on my progress.
Another great, short songwriting video…..Stephen Stohn hits on a ton of helpful inspiring info in a short vid.
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
My latest self guided songwriting assignment was to write a song starting with a melody first, in the C Dorian mode. I have been toying around with it for the last week and a half or so. I have not finished the song, yet. I wanted to give you an update on where I was and show you some of my thought processes while working on it. Hopefully it will help give you some ideas for your own writing. So I have made this little ‘podcast’ of what I have so far. As always, please email me or leave comments with any questions or thoughts you have. I love to hear from you! Listen below… ~~ Chad
I had fun giving myself a songwriting assignment last week. It kind of forced me to write a new song that I may not have written. As I have said before in previous posts, my internal songwriter is very lazy. Weekly assignments are one way I can kick its ass.
This week my assignment is a bit less involved than last week. So here it is….My new assignment due by next Sunday :
Write a song MELODY FIRST in the C DORIAN MODE.
The C Dorian scale includes the notes: C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C – - So that is the scale I am going to base this week’s song on. I have no clue what the song is going to be about, but I have to come up with the melody first, which is not super easy for me. I will probably play a melody on the keyboard and record it and listen to it over and over. It should inspire something. Stay tuned for the song that results this week! If you write your own song, feel free to post it too! ~~ Chad
If I sit and wait for the inspiration bug to bite me, I am usually waiting a long time. That means I am not writing very often, and for me that is not good, because I am not practicing the craft at that point. I am not growing. So how do I start to attract the bug instead of waiting for it? One way I find works for me is to give myself detailed songwriting assignments. These assignments are basically a list of parameters that I need to fit my song into. I make structural decisions before I even start writing the song. I think I picked this habit up from doing songwriting assignments for Berklee College of Music. Each week we would have certain concepts we were learning about, and we would have to use them on purpose. Now my personal song assignments end up being very similar.
So this week I am giving myself and assignment that I will share here. I will be working on it this week and I will post a demo of the song when I get it done. If you want, you can try the assignment for yourself and post YOUR results here too. Would be great to see what you come up with!
My Assignment This week: Write a Song with These Parameters
*notice how I try to contrast parameters in each section
Topic: Will be inspired by what the chords make me feel like
Verse: 6 lines – rhyme scheme AABCCB
Chorus: 5 lines – T – - – T (T is title line, – is line not the title) – Rhyme Scheme ABABA
Bridge: 4 lines Rhyme scheme XXAA
Verse: C minor or C Aeolian mode – 1 chord per 2 measures 1:2
Chorus: Ab Lydian mode – 1 chord per 1 measure 1:1
Bridge: Bb Mixolydian Mode – decide harmonic rhythm later
Verse: Melody starts after the downbeat
Chorus: Melody starts before the downbeat
Bridge: – Melody starts on the downbeat
Verse: Mostly 8th note patterns in melody
Chorus: Half Note based melody
Bridge: Quarter note based melody
So it looks like alot, and it may be for someone not used to making these decisions before writing songs, but it is not quite as complex as you may think. So give it a shot. I am going to be working on my song this week and will post the results on my blog.
If you have any questions on this, please ask, I will do my best to answer each one.