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How To Surprise Your Listener

Working on a new song recently I was faced with a typical songwriting problem. One so mundane that I thought sharing how it looked to me, and what I’ve done about it so far (the song’s not finished), might be worthwhile. My first draft lyric for the Verses was something like – I could come […]

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Melody: Keep The Shape, Change The Inversion

Sometimes I get the shape of the melody right, but not the register. Let’s say we’re in the key of ‘C’ and the first phrase of the melody starts on the root, goes up, and then back down – the notes being C D E G E G D C. Try singing those notes in […]

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Why Your Musicians Don’t Know Your Lyrics… And Why It May Not Matter

A big part of my preparation and education, if you want to call it that, for being songwriter was (and is) playing hundreds and thousands of songs on gigs, in recording sessions, in Broadway shows. A lot of covers, a lot of originals. I was a bass player – a sideman – and I still […]

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The Chords of ‘Wichita Lineman’ Blew Me Away

The recent loss of Glen Campbell – a music business legend if there ever was one – got me thinking about and listening again to my favorite of Glen’s hits – ‘Wichita Lineman’, written by Jimmy Webb (it’s also by far my favorite Jimmy Webb song). This led me to breaking down the music of […]

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What Happens When You Discover Your Title? Focus Happens.

Irving Berlin’s classic songwriting advice to “repeat the Title as often as possible so people know what to ask for when they go to buy it” doesn’t hold nearly as true anymore (as I discuss here). But there are still a lot of other good reasons to write Title-based songs… I’m going to concentrate on […]

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Developing Songwriting Mindfulness

What does it mean to be a Songwriter? Well… if you write songs, you’re a songwriter. That’s the simple answer. The quality of the songs may be open to eternal debate… but if you write ‘em… There’s also a state of mind involved. Songwriters think and see the world like a songwriter. That is, we […]

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Where To Place Your Title

If you’re writing a Title-based song – where the Title is the most important lyric in it and it’s the phrase or word you most want listeners to remember – then it’s critical to put the Title in a memorable place in your melody. This can be at the high point of the Chorus melody […]

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How To Use Every Chord In The Book and Still Have A Hit Song

One of the things most current hit songs have in common, other than non-stop melody lines, are simple chords. If you listen to the songs on the charts now, most have only a few chords – and almost all those chords are triads. At the moment (June, 2017), it’s even rare to hear chords with […]

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Songwriting Tools Are Not Rules

There are a lot of truisms in songwriting – old school rules of thumb that remain valid and useful today in many, if not most, kinds of songwriting… things like ‘Verses should match one another in their melody, rhythm, and scan’, or ‘Lyrics should be sung the same way you’d pronounce them when spoken’, or […]

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Don’t Let The SOUND Put You Off Current Pop Songs

Some people born in 1990 listen to certain current pop recordings and can’t relate to the way they sound. That goes double for someone born in 1975, maybe triple for someone born in 1960, etc. This is because of things like differences in the way songs are put together now, the rhyming… And, most especially, […]

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5 Ways To Evaluate Your Songwriting

Why evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your songwriting, an exercise that can be somewhat painful? Mostly because improvement is absolutely possible if specific areas are identified and worked on. Think of it like a bodybuilder (which I’m not). If you do enough steady work on your arms, your abdomen, etc., you’ll see improvement; you’ll […]

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The World’s Best Songwriting Tool

There are many elements that make up a good or great song. Music: melody, harmony, rhythm… Lyrics: story, meaning, characters, the sound of the words… Structure: finding the most suitable ‘container’ for the idea and then taking full advantage of it… And, in all these areas, understanding listeners’ expectations of genre and style, and utilizing […]

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Two Ways To Improve A Melody

1) Play or sing the melody, accompanied by only the bass notes (no chords). You can do this on the piano – play the melody with the right hand and the bass notes with the left. Or you can just sing the melody while playing the bass notes on any instrument that has some low […]

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How To Find Your Intro

They’re important. They’re the first thing people hear. But Intros – aka the part before the singing starts – are often taken for granted. When they work, they get the listener intrigued, involved, curious… Like with any good story, you want them thinking, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ What makes good intros is harder to […]

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Who Should Win The Argument In Your Song?

When you have a team working together, especially a talented one, not everyone’s going to agree. A lot of different ideas fly around. Ideally, at some point there will an agreement that one idea is the best one, and that’s the one that ’wins’ – the group goes with that. This is often how successful […]

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Staying Open To Last Minute Changes In A Song

Once I get a new song rolling I usually have some idea of where it’s going. This idea functions like directions on a map; it gives me a sense of how my journey will go, making it easier to move forward. It’s mostly intuitive, and it helps. Sometimes it makes sense to keep with my […]

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Under The Hood Of An Exceptional Song, part 2 (lyrics)

The lyrics of ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ celebrate the surface qualities of the song (dance, party, escape) and also critique them. The title itself embodies this duality – ”Chained To The Rhythm’. Good thing? Bad thing? Both? It’s easy to take the song on the surface level. Plenty of the lyrics support it and, on […]

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Under The Hood Of An Exceptional Song, part 1 (music)

Katy Perry’s ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ (written by Perry, Max Martin, Sia Furler, Ali Payami, Skip Marley) is an exceptionally good song. Let’s look under the hood: (As always, I strongly encourage you to play and sing the song… if you do, what follows will have a lot more meaning. But at least listen – […]

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The Most Fun Way To Write A New Song

Songs happen in all kinds of different ways (see some examples here), but to me probably the most fun way is to start off with another song’s groove and grow a new song out of that. This way of writing is in a bit of a bad odor lately because of the result of the […]

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How ‘4Chords/4Bars’ Songs Took Over The World

In the world of popular song, there’s nothing new in using what might be called a formulaic approach to harmony – letting the chords be a song’s predictable, familiar element – and saving the variations for the melody and lyric. In recent years a new harmonic convention has emerged in mainstream pop music. And it’s […]

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