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Why Are Some Songs Easy To Write? And Some A Slog?

Some songs take weeks, months, even years to write… and even then they might not be right (whatever that is). Even Bob Dylan, known as a fast writer, rewrote ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ and ‘Mississippi’, already great songs, over and over, through many years, trying to satisfy himself. He may still be rewriting them! Other […]

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Working Backwards From The Rhyme Can Unlock Your Song

Instead of working from the beginning of the line and discovering the rhyme at the end, as I often do, I sometimes ‘work backwards from the rhyme’. It can be very helpful. It’s usually most helpful when I haven’t yet got a fix on what I want to say in the Verses; I haven’t yet […]

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What To Do When “I’ve Used These Same Chords Too Many Times!”

I think most songwriters (who write music) feel at times that they go to the same chord patterns too frequently. I know I feel that way sometimes. It’s inevitable, really. Not only that I’ll hear, for the ‘next chord’, one I’ve used there before, but also that my fingers will go to one of their […]

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Inside ‘We Are The Champions’

Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ (written by Freddie Mercury) always intrigued me. Though I can’t say I loved it, I’ve always been impressed by how stirring its Chorus is, and how gutsy the over-the-top lyrics are. It takes nerve to write an anthem like this… and own it. Looking more closely at the song gave […]

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The Uses and Misuses Of ‘We’

‘We’ is a pronoun that pops up a lot in songs. If you’re singing to, about, or with someone else, a specific person or persons, the use of ‘we’ is common and perfect – ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’, ‘We Belong Together’, ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, ‘We Belong To The […]

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An Easy Way To Find New Song Titles

A month ago I wrote a song called ‘The Less I Know The Better’. Yesterday I was going through my scraps of paper and receipts with possible song Titles scribbled on them and I found the Title that started that song. It was, then, ’The Less You Know The Better’. I’d forgotten this was where […]

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Writing Your Way Through Grief… And Everything Else

There’s a documentary on Netflix – ‘The Center Will Not Hold’ – about the writer Joan Didion. Didion is a gifted, tenacious writer who’s been one of the most perceptive chroniclers of the last fifty-plus years in America, in both her non-fiction and fiction. The documentary takes you through her life, her work, and her […]

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Staying Open To Songwriting Influence and Inspiration

Sometimes a songwriter is inspired – excited creatively and/or financially – to use a chunk of another song’s chords, groove, melody, or just ‘vibe’ in  their own song. Or to tell the story in a song’s lyric in their own way. There’s a great tradition of songwriters writing their own ‘take’ on another song. There’s […]

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Has Your Songwriting Routine Become A Rut?

There is of course no correct way to write a song; no right way to get to the music or the lyrics. Some people write on piano, some guitar… some use an omnichord or autoharp, some create a cappella, some to tracks. Some write music to a lyric; some write a beat and create melody […]

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Finding A Lyric’s ‘Angle’ Makes It Much Easier To Write

A very common situation: I’ve got a Title and at least a substantial part of the rest of the Chorus lyric (if there is any – sometimes the Title’s all the Chorus lyric you need). I’ve also got the music mostly worked out – melody, chords, etc. But I still need lyrics for several Verses. […]

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The $12 Gadget That Changed Pop Music History

It’s always been important to play your instrument ‘in tune’. But what does ‘in tune’ mean? Instruments like guitars and pianos are tempered (which basically means that you can play in all keys, but slightly and equally out of tune in each; as opposed to playing perfectly in tune in only one key… which is […]

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Don’t Let The Listener Get Ahead Of Your Song

It’s not a good sign, to put it mildly, when I get the feeling that the listener can intuitively predict my next line before I sing it. I may like the line; it may work for the song. But if the listener is not only keeping up with me but is actually ahead of me […]

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The Spectrum Of Great Songwriters

Philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously separated writers and thinkers into two basic categories – Hedgehogs and Foxes. He took this from an ancient Greek saying: “A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one important thing.” As Berlin saw it, Hedgehogs – like Dostoyevsky, Nietsche, Ibsen – see life through the lens of one defining […]

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Aretha Franklin, Songwriter: An Appreciation

Aretha Franklin’s stature as a songwriter will never equal her monumental accomplishments as a singer. She didn’t write many songs (at least that were recorded), but some of the ones she wrote are really good, and her recordings turned them into classics. She couldn’t have been better served by her musicians, as well as – […]

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Two Ways To Go Deeper In Your Lyrics

Each song is a custom-made world unto itself. Of course, like in any popular art form, there are genres that most songs fit into in some way. But each song, if it works, comes into its own individual existence. Just like people. And, like people, some are more fully realized than others. When we’re writing, […]

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Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ – Under The Hood

I think Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ is one of the best songs of the last 50 years. Certainly one of the greatest ballads. Musically it’s masterful. It’s a pleasure to just listen and be moved… but let’s spoil everything by looking under the hood. (You need to play and sing this one. Video below)) Start with […]

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Start Your Song With A Bass Line… Here Are Some Who Did

With some songs all you need, musically, is a melody and a bass line.  The bass will suggest chords but, to ‘hear’ the song, it’s not necessary to hear the chords; just the bass line. There are many songs with great bass parts that add immeasurably to the song. But this week I’m looking at […]

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Why And How To Avoid The Root In Your Melody

A good melody tells a story. It doesn’t just help tell the story of the words; it has its own story. (Sometimes the melody’s story is very different from the story in the words – it can also function as subtext to the lyric). Any good melody has drama. It starts somewhere, takes a journey, […]

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Beware The Songwriting ‘Expert’ (Including Me)

I’ve been writing songs for a long time, and teaching and coaching other songwriters for close to 20 years. I hope that I’m helping some of those writers (and readers). But I never call myself a songwriting ‘expert’. In fact, beyond being a proud songwriter, I don’t know what to call myself, other than a […]

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The One Unarguable Truth About Songwriting

There’s one fact of songwriting life that I’ve never been able to get around. It’s this: The songs just don’t write themselves. There’s a part of me that wants to avoid the heavy mental lifting and investment of time that’s involved in writing new songs and developing as a songwriter, in keeping the writing muscles […]

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