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Slow Down

Once I’ve got the music for a song pretty together – the melody, the rhythm, and the harmony – I’ve learned that it’s very useful to… s l o w   t h i n g s   d o w n. When I slow things down I notice a lot of things that just fly by […]

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Songwriting: There Are No Rules

I’m a musician and songwriter who for over a decade has also been facilitating Songwriting workshops and teaching Songwriting.  And I still haven’t found any ‘rules’ or ‘formulas’ for songwriting. There are customs and traditions, all of which, when used well, can add tremendous power and resonance to a song; both structurally and because listeners […]

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Take Apart ONE Song

Here’s a way to get deeper into the craft, the nuts and bolts, of songwriting: Take Apart One Song. Pick a song you really love (not one of yours…) and break that one song down as far as possible into its component parts.  I can pretty much guarantee you’ll learn a lot. In practice, how […]

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In The Era Of Oprah, Most Good Songs Are Still About Trouble

In this era of therapy, Oprah, ‘having a positive attitude’, affirmations, ‘the secret’, even ‘the seacrest’, it’s common to think that one’s songs should also always be uplifting, have a positive ‘message’, a happy ending, etc. Though there are many great songs of new love, hope, inspiration, most good songs are about trouble… struggle.  Just […]

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We Respond To Songs Primarily As SOUND

When working on a song and concentrating hard on the component parts – lyrics, melody, chords, rhythms – it’s easy to forget that we respond to songs primarily as SOUND.  That is, not to the particulars but to the overall sound, and the feeling we get from that. This is more obviously true in a […]

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Think Out Of The Songwriting ‘Box’: Drop A Bar!

We’ve all heard tens of thousands of songs.  If a song is extremely predictable, most listeners, even the most musically disinterested or uneducated among us, can feel instinctively what’s going to happen next.  If a song follows the same exact pattern that’s been heard thousands of times before, unless it’s unusually well done the listener […]

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Returning To My List Of Song Titles

Some songwriters won’t even start a song without a Title they feel good about. I understand the thinking behind this – what’s the point of investing a lot of time and energy into a song when you don’t even know if you’ll end up with a strong ‘Big Idea’?  And in most popular songs, across […]

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‘Write it down, no matter how dumb it seems at the time.’

I wrote a note to myself the other day – ‘Write it down, no matter how dumb it seems at the time.’  I often have this thought when working on a lyric. For me it happens something like this:  I have an idea that makes me cringe; it’s so stupid/awkward/obvious/obscure/pretentious/disconnected, etc.  Although I don’t keep […]

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Let The Words Change The Melody Sometimes

A very common songwriter’s dilemma is to have a melody line and a lyric for that melody… the melody seems right, and the lyric is saying what I want it to say… but they don’t quite fit together. Often the lyric is a little short or long… and that’s what I work on adjusting.  But […]

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One Quick Way To Start Writing a Song From Scratch

Here’s one quick way to get started from scratch on writing a new song: Take a song (of someone else’s) you currently enjoy listening to… or even a song that you don’t particularly like but has a section, or even just a moment or two, that jumps out at you… maybe even just because it […]

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News Flash: Melodies Can Improve!

It may seem overly obvious to state that melodies, like all other aspects of a song, can be improved with continued work and attention.  But I’ve found – with myself and many other writers I’ve worked with – that developing and improving the melody can be one of the most self-deceiving and elusive, yet rewarding, […]

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Staying Off The Downbeat – with The Clash

When I react to a song emotionally, at some point I get interested in looking for the craft-related reasons why it’s working for me.  The other day I was listening, for the nth time, to The Clash’s ‘Train In Vain (Stand By Me)’, written by Joe Strummer & MIck Jones – great song, great record… […]

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Writing Something Is Better Than Writing Nothing

Yesterday I posted a quote about writing (from William Stafford) – “When you get stuck, lower your standards.”  This is an interesting thought that, as I understand it, goes to the heart of what writing is. He didn’t say, “When you get stuck, put out your CD/upload/publish/record (with lower standards) anyway.”  He’s talking about writing.  […]

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Sing The Words Like You’d Speak Them

This week I’m writing about one of the basic principles of Songwriting… but one that too often gets lost in the shuffle, particularly given how wide open lyric-writing options are at this moment in time. Sometimes called Prosody (inaccurately, imho), it usually means singing words as you would speak them – putting the melody and […]

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“What Should Come Next In This Song?”

Maybe I’ve written a Chorus… now what will the Verse be?  Or I have a Verse but not yet a strong sense of musical direction for the Chorus.  Or it feels like the song needs a Bridge… but that the Bridge could go almost anywhere… Here are two questions I ask myself – one more […]

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How To Harmonize A Simple Melody Creatively – by NRBQ

Top New York City guitarist Larry Saltzman recently reminded me of a song I love – NRBQ’s ‘If I Don’t Have You’ (written by Joey Stampinato & Skeeter Davis).  This song seems to me melodically and harmonically lush in a way that we often think of as ‘Beatle-esque’ – that is, it reminds us of […]

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When Bad Tempos Happen To Good Songwriters

I’d bet that most songwriters have their ‘tempo comfort zones’.  Many of us, including me, tend to write most of our songs at a few similar tempos. These tempos are like any habit – not always good for me, but what I’m used to…  Comfortable for me, if not the listener. Why is this a […]

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Bob Dylan’s Verbs… and What I Learned From Them

There are many extraordinary aspects to Bob Dylan’s songwriting… but today let’s consider his Verbs.  Yes… verbs. Recently I produced an artist who did a cover of Tangled Up In Blue, a great Dylan song.  But I didn’t know how great it was until I’d heard it a few hundred times (which is what happens […]

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Raising The Stakes Can Help a Lyric

One way to combat blandness in a lyric (a battle worth fighting) is to increase what’s at stake in a song, make it more dramatic. I recently was working on a new song called ‘The Bridge’.  I had the music and words for the Chorus, the lyric of which was: We came to the bridge […]

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A Quick (Usually) and Effective (Sometimes) Way To Improve A Song

I’ve found that sometimes one of the quickest and most effective ways to improve a song is to simply try changing the order of the Verses, couplets, or lines. As I write a song, the lines and Verses often seem to belong in a certain order.  Or I might be writing to a rough outline […]

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