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.  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.

Continue reading “Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle”

Update a Song in the Folk Form

I recently got this question from a songwriter who’s just starting out.

Q: Is it okay if my song is a string of verses, with no chorus or bridge? It’s short, too. Can it still be a good song?

A: If a song is a series of verses, it’s in a form that’s been successful for hundreds of years – the folk song form. You can certainly write good songs in that style. These songs often feature a storyline, such as a lost lover, a historical event, or travel to a distant land, but they don’t have to. Good examples of the folk song form are “Scarborough Fair,” “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  Continue reading “Update a Song in the Folk Form”

Elmore Leonard’s Advice to Songwriters

When I hear great fiction writers talk about their craft, I’m often struck by how easily these insights can be applied to songwriting.  We can learn a lot about our own craft by stepping outside and looking at it from another angle. For example, the late, great novelist Elmore Leonard said this in an interview with WritersDigest.com:

A writer has to read. Read all the time. Decide who you like then study that author’s style. Take the author’s book or story and break it down to see how he put it together. 

If you apply this to songwriting you get:

A songwriter has to listen. Listen all the time. Decide who you like then study that songwriter’s style. Take the songwriter’s songs break them down to see how they’re put together.

To become good at your craft, it takes more than talent. Elmore Leonard was certainly a great novelist – Get Shorty is a classic! – and a hugely talented writer of short stories and screenplays. Why did he feel  the need to study other writers? Because he understood the limitations of talent.  Continue reading “Elmore Leonard’s Advice to Songwriters”