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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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Major 7th Chords – Due for a Songwriting Comeback?

Listening to how great it sounds in Frank Ocean’s ‘Super Rich Kids’ made me realize how underutilized the major 7th chord is in contemporary pop music.  Major 7ths have always had a place in what used to be called soul music, and in jazz, and they still do.  But it’s a sound worth considering in […]

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Today’s Top 5 Ways To Make A Song Better

1) Improve The Melody Play the melody by itself, on an instrument.  Play it very slowly.  Listen to it without chords or lyrics.  Does your melody tell a story of its own (without the words)? Is it too static; does it need more motion?  Does it jump around too much (much less common!)? Does it […]

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(Bass) Substitutions Allowed – On The Songwriting Menu

Early in the process of writing a song I usually start playing just the melody of the song, by itself.  Then I play the melody accompanied by just the bass notes.  I believe this often tells me more about the strength of my basic musical idea than hearing the entire chord/harmony. Not that the full […]

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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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