What Do Words Really Mean?

What do words mean? Well, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? We use words every day, all day long, and other people understand us, right? So, words mean what we think they mean. You can look in any dictionary to see what they mean.

But that’s not all there is to it. Words mean so much more than the dictionary definition. There are shades of meaning. There are emotional meanings. There are associations that every hearer will have based on their own experience. And it’s these additional meanings that songwriters and poets use to communicate things that are hard to say.

I want to know what you mean

Listeners are not mind readers. If you tell me your favorite color is blue, I don’t know what shade of blue you’re thinking of. Maybe you love royal blue but hate turquoise blue. You know what color you’re visualizing when you say “blue” but I don’t. So, what does the word “blue” really mean, then? I’ll understand you better if you tell me more about what shade of blue is in your mind.  Continue reading “What Do Words Really Mean?”

Be An Original In A Play-By-The-Rules World

An Original is a person living an authentic, creative life, one whose work expresses truth and emotion in a way that speaks to others. While a rebel breaks the rules, an Original bends them, plays with them, twists them around and reshapes them until the results are surprisingly unique and fresh.

To do that, you need to know what the rules are, then you can select which ones to play with and what you want to do with them. It’s kind of like having the coolest Lego set ever. Once you know what’s in the box and how it fits together, you can build something special and uniquely your own.

If I use song craft won’t I end up being UN-original?

No, you won’t be un-original because, even though you’re working with the same set of song crafting techniques as other songwriters, you’re going to use them in your own way.

Think of it like this: Shakespeare was undeniably original, but he followed the same rules of poetry and play writing as everyone else. In other words, he was playing with the same “Lego set” as the rest of us. It’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts.

Here are a few thoughts on writing authentically while using song craft.

So, let’s PLAY WITH OUR LEGOs.

No matter what level of songwriting you’re at, you can start playing with your songwriter’s Song craft is like a Lego set.Lego set right now. Here’s a list of ten song craft techniques you’re probably familiar with, followed by some suggestions for totally messing with them. Try a couple and see where they take you. I’ve included examples of successful songs so you can hear how it worked out for someone else.

There’s no need to write finished songs; this is just for the fun. But, of course, if you do happen to get something going that you like, by all means finish it. And don’t be afraid to bend a few more rules along the way.

  • Song craft technique #1 (Melody)

=> Increase the energy in your chorus by putting it in a higher note range than the verse.

Play with it: Write a verse and chorus melody or rewrite an old one. Put your chorus in a lower note range than your verse. What kind of lyric does the lower chorus melody suggest? What emotion?

Examples are “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon and “Maps” by Maroon 5  which has a pre-chorus and chorus in the same range, both are lower than the verse.

Or you can try putting both verse and chorus in the same note range. Create contrast by varying the rhythm or phrase lengths of the melody. Example: Dierks Bentley’s “Say You Do.” (See the song analysis below.) For an R&B example, check out “Truth Is” by Fantasia.  Continue reading “Be An Original In A Play-By-The-Rules World”

Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle

Bicycle in your mindRemember when you learned to ride your first bicycle? It wasn’t easy. You fell down a lot, but you kept trying. At first you needed someone to hold on, keeping you steady. Then you used training wheels to help you stay upright as you pedaled. Then, finally, you were able to ride on your own. You had found that complicated thing called balance. After that, it was a breeze! The process of writing songs is a lot like riding a bike. It’s all about finding a balance!

=> Balance Melody, Chords, Lyrics – Writing a song that listeners will love involves finding a good balance between melody, lyrics, and chords. If you have a busy lyric with a lot of words and images then writing a melody that’s easy for listeners to follow might give your song more appeal. On the other hand, if you have a complicated melody with a lot of rhythmic interest and interval jumps, then keeping your chord progression simple might be a good idea. Try the chord progressions on this page to get things going.

When there are too many things demanding their attention, listeners don’t know what to focus on and that can be frustrating. If they’re feeling confused or overwhelmed, they’re  likely to tune out.

A good rule of thumb: As the complexity of one of your song elements goes up – lyrics, melody, or chords – consider organizing the other elements in easy-to-follow patterns or using more repetition.

We all love to write those beautiful, poetic lines but they can sometimes be hard for listeners to understand.

=> Balance within each song element – We all love to write beautiful, poetic lines but they can sometimes be hard for listeners to understand. So, try to mix in a few conversational  lines that come right out and say what you want the listener to know. If you don’t feel comfortable interweaving poetic and conversational within a single song section, consider making your verse the evocative, poetic section, then come straight to the point in your chorus. Let the singer come right out and say what he or she feels so the listener knows what’s going on.

The same idea can be applied to melody.  If you have a verse with a fast-paced, complicated melody, consider writing a chorus with a little breathing room. Stretch out the melody notes in the chorus and use fewer notes per beat. use a little more repetition or a simple melodic pattern. Give the listener a chance to absorb what’s happening before plunging into another verse.

=> Study the balance in your genre – Each genre has a balance of melody, lyrics, and chords that gives it a characteristic sound. For instance, the Pop genre tends to have a lot  of melodic interest. Verse, pre-chorus, and chorus all have different melodies with changing dynamics and rhythmic twists.  Pop lyrics  maintain a balance by staying focused on a single emotional situation that’s clearly defined in the chorus.

The Country genre, on the other hand, relies on lyric stories with more physical detail and development than Pop.  Listeners need to pay attention to the lyric in order to get the full impact. As a result, Country melodies tend to be a little less complex than in the Pop field. This doesn’t mean you can write a boring melody, ever! You’ll still need to keep your listeners interested with strong melody patterns and plenty of contrast between sections. But you might want to use fewer melodic twists than you would in the Pop genre.

=> Balance craft and inspiration – Balance is also an essential part of your approach to songwriting as a whole. Finding a balance between inspiration and song craft can help you express your deepest thoughts and feelings and in a way that listeners can understand and respond to.

Inspiration can be a very personal thing, sometimes giving you lines that may mean something to you but not to your listener.

Inspiration is the heart of your songwriting. It’s what guides you, tells you what’s important, and delivers that brilliant line out of the blue. But inspiration can be a very personal thing, sometimes giving you lines that may mean something to you but not to your listener. If you balance inspiration with an equal amount of song craft, you’ll end up communicating more effectively, surrounding those inspired gems with lines that support them and keep the listener involved.  Continue reading “Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle”

Faster & Better: Pick Up Your Songwriting Speed

We all want to be more creative, have more songs in the catalog, and feel satisfied that we’re getting things accomplished. It’s just that reality doesn’t always work out that way. More often than not…

  • We don’t have any good ideas for new songs.
  • We’re not sure what kinds of songs we should be writing and for what market.
  • We get stuck working on one song that’s in trouble.
  • We’re scared our songs aren’t good enough so we don’t finish them.

We all know that good quality has to be maintained, but I bet you could write more songs and keep the quality at the level you want or even improve it. Here are a whole bunch of ideas for writing FASTER and BETTER.

The quickest way to get started.STUDY SUCCESSFUL SONGS
This is the quickest way to solve a lot of the problems I just listed. Spend at least one to two hours per week listening to songs on the music charts, or songs used in Film & TV. Of course, you won’t like everything you hear. You may have to dig a while before you uncover a song you want to learn from. But it’s worth it and it’s an essential part of the job of songwriting.

Too often we think of our songwriting career as ONLY the act of songwriting, but there’s so much more. Laying the groundwork for new songs, learning how others creatively use song craft, getting inspired, feeling like you could beat those songs – all of these are ways you can up your game. Get your ears used to hearing what’s successful out there and your songwriting will improve.

READ THIS: Here’s an article on my website with a list of resources where you can find successful artists and bands in a range of styles to listen to.

Embed current songs to give yourself an instant feel for the style
When you find a song you like, get a copy of the lyrics. (you can find them online or take them down by ear.) Practice singing along with the track until it’s comfortable for you. This may not be as easy as it sounds. Many current singer-songwriter songs have complex melodies and phrasing. Just learn it one section at a time. If the song isn’t in your vocal range, talk-sing along with it until you get a feel for the rhythm of the melody. These days, the rhythm of the notes is as important as note pitches.  Continue reading “Faster & Better: Pick Up Your Songwriting Speed”