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Opening Up Your Chord Sounds – Or Not

I’ve noticed that most writers tend to either stick with triads OR use upper extensions (7ths, 9ths, etc.) a lot.  Often those ‘choices’ are just habits.  Making such dramatic ‘all or nothing’ stylistic choices may not be in a particular song’s best interest. In some styles of music it’s fine.  If you’re playing traditional folk […]

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When And Why Should I Put A Bridge Into A Song?

Although the Bridge of a song can be delightful, by the time it comes along the verdict on a song is usually in – the listener is already around two minutes into the song and the most important parts of it have been heard and responded to.  Similar to on Orwell’s Animal Farm, all parts […]

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Today’s Top 10 – Most Common Songwriting Mistakes, Part 2

Everyone’s heard thousands of songs.  If a songwriter isn’t on her or his game, even an ‘unsophisticated’ listener (who’s actually pretty sophisticated these days) will know what’s going to happen next before it happens.  For me, everything on this list connects to one of two ideas – Avoiding Predictability and Bringing the Listener’s Attention to […]

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Keeping The Listener Off-Balance… And Involved

The two very different great songs we’ll look at today use the same device to give both songs, in very different ways and to different ends, a momentum that never settles or lets up. Im both songs, after a buildup to the V chord at the end of each Verse, when the songs hit the Chorus […]

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Making The Lyric, When Sung, Feel Like It’s Being Spoken

It’s good to remember that writing melodies and words for songs relates very strongly to something almost everyone does without consciously thinking about it – that is, talking. In songs, in most cases we simply want the listener to hear and understand the words and the added feeling that the melody brings to them, and […]

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An Explanation Of Not Explaining

I think a reader of this blog, no matter how occasional, might notice how much I emphasize actually doing the writing, as opposed to thinking about writing, talking about writing, planning to write, etc.  It’s a shift of consciousness – from thought to action.  It’s taking a leap into the unknown.  It’s not knowing what’s […]

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When Starting A Song, 10 Thoughts Worth Ignoring (At First)

1) This sucks. 2) I stole this melody from another song – I just don’t know which one. 3) This is a stupid idea. 4) This is just like that other song I wrote last month. 5) This won’t amount to anything. 6) This lyric is sappy. 7) It’s too much of a ripoff of […]

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10 Cool Things About ‘Refugee’ by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Refugee (Tom Petty/Mike Campbell) In no particular order: 1) Extremely economical songwriting – The Verse is 2 (long) lines; 8 bars long. Pre-Chorus – 2 lines; 4 bars long. Chorus – 1 line (repeated except for first time). Bridge – 4 lines; 8 bars long. An 8 bar solo follows all this and barely 2 […]

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The Song & The Songwriter’s Emotional Attachment To It: Two Different Things

Many if not most songs start with the writer having a strong emotional connection to the idea(s) in it but… I think it’s good to remember that the song itself is very different from our emotional attachment to it… though sometimes the two can feel very much the same. It’s natural to love our original […]

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‘Maybe I’m The Only One Who Feels This Way…’

‘Maybe I’m the only one who feels this… or thinks like this… or sees it this way… or likes it sounding like this.’   When writing, that’s often followed by, ‘So let me make it more like something I’ve heard before, something safer’.  Very common thoughts, I believe, when deciding what subject to write about, what […]

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Listening (Not Going) To ‘Rehab’

Listening again recently to Amy Winehouse’s really good song ‘Rehab’, I was struck by several straightforward but notable things about it. Right from the beginning, we’re dropped into the middle of a dramatic story that someone is telling (‘They tried to make me go to rehab, I said ‘no, no, no!’).  How can you not […]

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“Shame isn’t for writers. You have to be shameless.” – Philip Roth

The great Philip Roth was talking about being shameless in the writing, not in one’s personality.  Maybe it would be clearer to say that you want to write as if you were shameless – because the places where the shame is are where some of the best material comes from. It’s exposing it to air […]

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The Most Common Songwriting Mistakes – Part 1 (Titles)

Titles are important because the way we hear a song is organized around the phrase of words, melody, and rhythm that’s repeated most often – which usually includes the title.  So it makes sense, in most cases, to organize our song to support and strengthen what we’re emphasizing the most.  (If it’s not what we […]

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Where Do Songs Come From? How Do You Start A Song?

The beginnings of songs are mysterious and varied; they start in many different ways.  This week I’m going to go through some of the ways in which this first impulse happens for me.  I’ll go from ways I think are more common to the more idiosyncratic:   The Title.  A phrase hits me in conversation, […]

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Lyrics: Connecting The Dots – Part 2 (Frank Ocean)

Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean has been my favorite for a few months now.  In this song Ocean uses many and varying songwriting devices with tremendous freedom and confidence – and he pulls it off. It’s a great song all around, but today we’ll mostly look at what he’s up to in the lyrics.  […]

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The ‘Problem’ Is Not Really A Problem

When I’m working on a song, I try to write down everything that comes to my mind.  When the voice in my head says, ‘That’s stupid’ or, ‘That stinks’, I try to ignore that voice.  But not because it’s wrong.  I ignore it because, as John Cleese said, “Any drivel can lead to the breakthrough”. […]

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What A Difference A Note Makes

Recently I was listening to the great film composer Nino Rota’s music from The Godfather movies.  I noticed how, in his melodies, he did something that John Lennon was also very good at – taking a melody that was basically diatonic (all in one scale) and mixing in a note from outside the scale to […]

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You Don’t Need An ‘Idea’ To Start A Song

I’ve worked with many songwriters who’ve said to me, “I’m not writing because I just don’t have any ideas for songs.”  I can’t speak for them, but I know that when I have that thought… I’ve gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. For me songs tend to start one of two ways.  […]

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On Christmas Songs – It’s That Time Of Year

This time of year, it’s amazing to me that everywhere I hear mostly the same handful of songs I’ve been hearing for my whole life.  Now I know that one of the main reasons they’ve lasted is that they’re so well-made.  Beautiful melodies with well-matched lyrics. Take, for example, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ […]

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Have You Tried Converting Your Ballads Into Uptempo/Dance Songs?

Last week I wrote about the added value of uptempo songs.  This week the news is that you may have more of those uptempo songs than you realize. Meaning this: a strong ballad can often be converted pretty easily into an uptempo or dance song.  Add a 4 on the floor dance or club beat […]

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