Songwriters Can Benefit from Performing Cover Tunes

Performing covers allows you to experiment with music that already works.

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Take your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Buy “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. And get a 7th eBook FREE, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Time to become the best songwriter you can be! Read more..

______________

Band rehearsalIn pre-Beatles days, most bands and singers were singing other people’s music. In those days, you were either a singer or a songwriter. The Beatles helped change all that, and through the 60s it became more normal for bands to write their own music.

If you’re a singer-songwriter, it’s quite likely that the great majority of the music you perform is your own. But you shouldn’t automatically dismiss the possibility of performing other songwriters’ tunes. There can be important benefits that come from performing covers.

Here’s a short list of the ways performing songs not written by you may help your own songwriting technique:

  1. You get to hear a song that you know works. With your own music, you’re working to get the lyrics, melodies and chords all communicating with each other. That’s enjoyable, of course (usually!), but an already-composed song allows you to focus on dressing up music without the responsibility of creating the structure. Assuming that it’s a song that’s been recorded before, you’ve got a song that you know works.
  2. You get to learn from someone else’s musical solutions. You can analyze a song and discover how the melody supports the lyric, how the chords support the melody, and how all three of those important elements communicate musical meaning. It’s a great learning experience.
  3. You get to create a musical setting (an arrangement) for a song that you already know works. For your own songs, once you’ve got them working, you then need to figure out what to do to make it a powerful musical experience for your audience. Every time you run into a snag, you have that annoying feeling that perhaps problems you’re encountering might actually be a problem with your songwriting structure. But with a cover tune, you know that the song works. So you’re able to create a musical setting that helps support the song without worrying about reworking the song itself.

Every songwriter should be listening to music from all different genres, and you should consider, as much as possible, performing music from other genres. Every time you create music in a new genre, you’ll get new and exciting ideas that will bolster your own songwriting efforts. It that sense, a good cover tune acts as a model for how you could be writing your music.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Songwriting: Dealing With Sameness

Purchase “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-EBook Bundle (with a 7th free), and polish your songwriting skills!

_______

Singer guitarist songwriterIt’s a fairly common problem in the songwriting world: when everything you write has an annoying similarity. The best songwriters out there deal with this, but what do they do?

For many, it’s a matter of simply determining to change things up every time you write something. All composers of music have their comfort zone – the go-to melodic shapes and chord progressions that seem to keep popping up.

The causes of sameness are simple:

  1. Muscle memory. Your fingers keep going to the same melodic and chordal patterns.
  2. Limited musical experience. You keep listening to the same genre.
  3. You lack confidence to branch out. You stick with what you know, and with what you feel most comfortable with.

Lennon & McCartney commented often on their desire to keep changing their writing style with every success. For them, it took purposeful determination to change directions every time they wrote a new song.

If you find that every new song sounds like the one you’ve just written, you need to:

  1. Try composing songs using an instrument that you don’t normally play. Even if you aren’t very good with the instrument, it may be enough to create songs with. That will help cure the muscle memory that comes from always using guitar, or keyboard, or whatever your most comfortable instrument is.
  2. Listen to lots of music. Don’t limit yourself to one genre. Make this a daily activity.
  3. Play lots of music. If you’re a rock & roller, play country or folk, or anything that takes you into new musical worlds. You’ll love what this does for your songwriting.
  4. Take chances. Open your mind, and find the confidence to stretch your imagination. Experiment with new instruments, new song forms… new anything! Don’t allow yourself to get locked into something old.

_________

Written by Gary Ewer

 

Making Your Songs Immediately Appealing

What do you do to make sure your target audience feels compelled to keep listening to your music?

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Looking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 6 eBooks (plus 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..

____________

Folk guitarist - SongwriterThe ease with which someone can remember a song is the most important part of that song’s commercial success. I say “commercial”, because there are many different levels and definitions for success in music. Some music is an acquired taste, not making a significant impact until the listening public has had the benefit of many listens, and help by others to understand what they’re hearing.

A commercial success (i.e., a hit song) usually requires the following:

  1. Immediacy of appeal. It’s got to make a sudden impact as an attractive, and usually concise, work of art.
  2. Polished musical arrangement. It needs to properly arranged, produced and recorded for a target audience, and it needs to be well performed.
  3. Extensive distribution. The success of a song is meaningless, commercially speaking, if it’s not easy for listeners to stream or purchase the song.
  4. One of many. A one-off success is good, no argument, but the success of future songs can be enhanced by the trust built up through past successes.

This blog has been mainly concerned about the first point: the immediacy of appeal. Immediacy of appeal is directly related to memorability. There’s a reason why hit songs are easy to remember, and it usually relates to the hook.

In addition to the hook, good songs typically have strong lyrics, and a good melody and harmonic background (in addition to the hook). How those various elements work together can all be summed up by the term “structure.” Songs with solid structure can even diminish the need for a strong, up-front hook.

In most cases, however, immediacy of appeal is directly related to the success of the hook. For every hit song, you can observe four stages on a timeline:

Stage 1: A short, catchy hook immediately grabs the attention of the listener.

Stage 2: The power of the hook (and then the strength of the song’s structure) compels the listener to keep returning to the song.

Stage 3: With each new listen, the listener feels more compelled to listen again, until the song naturally fades.

Stage 4: Whatever appreciation, or level of desire to re-listen, retained after the song fades, equals the longterm success of the song.

You can recognize those four stages with every song that makes it to any of the Billboard charts. Songs that make the biggest initial impact will be commercially successful, of course, but there’s no guarantee that songs that drive quickly to the top of the charts within a week or two will have longterm year-over-year success.

For example, the song “Convoy,” by Bill Fries (C.W. McCall) & Chip Davis, was a number 1 song on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot Country Singles charts in 1975. But you’ll never hear it played except as a novelty item on oldies stations. Once it faded, it faded hard.

“Philadelphia Freedom” (Elton John & Bernie Taupin), also a #1 from 1975, has much more staying power. While “Convoy” comes across as dated and quaint, perhaps a bit silly, “Philadelphia Freedom” has much more staying power due to its stronger lyrics and more sophisticated musical structure.

Both songs are “hooky”, but the excellence of the various musical elements made Stage 4 above much more significant for “Philadelphia Freedom”.

If you want your songs to have artistic and commercial success, you need to:

  1. Give the audience something short and catchy to remember. They may not immediately remember your verse lyrics, however excellent they may be. But they will remember a strong chorus hook.
  2. Strengthen the structure of the song. Support your lyrics with good melodies, and support your melodies with progressions that make good musical sense.
  3. Get the advice of professional producers and other good industry personnel. It’s irrelevant how good a song is if it’s badly recorded and/or badly performed.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Studying Old (Good) Tunes is a Must for Today’s Songwriters

If you aren’t studying the oldies, you’re missing a glorious opportunity to improve your craft.

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Take your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Buy “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. And get a 7th eBook FREE, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Time to become the best songwriter you can be! Read more..

______________

Buddy HollyFor centuries, composers of music have learned their craft by studying good music that’s come from previous generations. Mozart learned by studying the music of J.S. Bach. Beethoven was taught by, and highly influenced by, composer Joseph Haydn. And Beethoven himself influenced practically every classical composer that followed him.

In pop music, the same idea is true. Early rock & rollers were influenced by jazz and country musicians such as Cab Calloway, Glenn Miller, the Carter family, and many more.

Seeing What Worked

Looking back a generation or two gives you an important perspective: you can see what worked. And if you look at the structure of music from even several generations earlier, you should find yourself struck by the realization that not much has changed in how good music works. The only thing that really changes to any significant degree is performing style, and related aspects such as instrumentation. Song form, melodic shape, and (to a certain degree) chord choices, haven’t changed much in the past 6 decades.

Students of songwriting often fear that if they study “the oldies”, their own music will acquire a dated, antiquated sound. That’s only true if you listen to old music without listening to anything else. But as any good songwriter knows, you need to be listening to lots of music, from yesterday and today.

Innovation

Practically any innovation in music comes from modifying an old idea. New ideas rarely jump out of nowhere. They come from something you’ve heard in a different setting, stimulating your imagination to try it in your own, new way.

It follows that the only way to modify an old idea is to be familiar with it. Innovation, to be successful, needs to happen in small “tastes,” and is best seen as a modification of an old idea.

Tips for Studying the Oldies

How do you make best use of your time when it comes to studying hits from bygone eras? Here are some tips:

  1. Check Good Lists. You may not be that familiar with songs from a few generations ago, so here are 3 suggested lists to get you started. (NOTE: It’s common for musicians to allow their opinions regarding the musicians included in these lists to pull them off-topic (the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in particular, seems to be particularly contentious), but try to put your opinions aside and use the lists as a good source of information.)
    1. Rolling Stone – 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
    2. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
    3. The 56 greatest songwriters of all time
  2. Analyze old songs, don’t just listen. Listen several times, targeting a different element of the music with each listen. Learn to play the melody, then make a line drawing of it. Note the shape. Then learn the chords, then print out the lyric and look at it. Experiment by trying chord substitutions. In short, get as familiar with the song as possible.
  3. Always listen with an open mind. As a student of songwriting, you need to distinguish music that’s bad from music that you just don’t happen to like. You may not be a huge fan of Buddy Holly, for example, but there’s a wealth of knowledge to be gained by looking at his songs.
  4. Experiment with old songs. Try taking an oldie that you like, and see what you can do to dress it up in a new way. You should find that old melodies are quite easy to work into a 2015-type of instrumentation/presentation.
  5. Read interviews by music industry personnel. They have the years of experience and the practical knowledge that comes from their connections to others in the industry. Their thoughts on music from past generations can be a songwriter’s gold mine. You can find many of these interviews by doing web searches.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Why Starting Songs Is Often So Difficult

Creating song ideas is not often the toughest part of songwriting. Working them together is harder.

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Looking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 6 eBooks (plus 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..

____________

There is definitely a sense of beginning, middle and end when it comes to the songwriting process:

Songwriting stagesWith some songs, everything seems to happen quickly, and you find yourself moving from the beginning stage — that initial collecting of ideas — right into the middle stage where most of the Songwriter's guitar and paperwriting takes place. You find yourself polishing things up within hours. When that happens, it’s exciting and you feel incredibly creative.

With other songs — possibly most songs — your initial burst of ideas that happens in the beginning stage will happen quickly, but it’s the middle working-it-out stage where everything seems to slow down. That’s normal.

In that sense, you find that the start of the middle stage is really the start of the songwriting process itself. And there’s a reason for that. Almost anyone can spontaneously create musical ideas, but developing those ideas into something that looks like a song is your art, where the real work begins:

Songwriting - The Start of the Middle Stage

And it’s that start of the middle stage — the true start, if you will — that is the make or break stage. If you’ve got a trunk full of unfinished songs, whether literal or figurative, most of those unfinished ones probably got stuck at that stage, where you’ve struggled with trying to get a song shaped and designed.

If you find yourself always getting stuck at this early stage of writing, take heart: it’s a very normal problem in the creation of anything in the arts. Once you’ve got your song’s basic shape and purpose, you find a kind of momentum gets created, carrying you on toward the end stage of writing.

So what can you do to get yourself through that difficult “beginning of the middle” stage of writing? Here are some tips:

  1. Take breaks if frustration takes hold. There is a lot of excitement that comes from the beginning stage when you think of a great hook, a great line of lyric, or a great chord progression. But once you start to try working them together, frustration can take hold quickly as the process naturally slows down. So take lots of breaks, and don’t allow negative opinions of your writing skills to take hold. Even a 15-minute break can allow you brain to clear, and you’ll return to the task with a much better frame of mind.
  2. Listen to music during your breaks. Hearing someone else’s successful songs can help you develop and keep a positive attitude to writing. And no, you won’t be tempted to plagiarize simply because you’re listening to someone else’s music.
  3. Draw a picture of your song. Most songwriters work entirely by the sound of what they’re doing. They strum, sing, and only write down chords and lyrics. Try this: on a piece of paper, draw the outer shape of your initial idea for your song using boxes or other shapes, showing the overall design of your song. Your page should like boxes labeled as intro, verse, chorus, and whatever other sections you might include. Sometimes seeing your song as a series of connected boxes gives you enough of a different perspective that other ideas will come to you.
  4. Write your lyrics on a page like a poem, separate from chords or other musical elements. This is not to say that your lyrics should work like poetry (they often don’t, nor should they). But seeing your lyrics as a separate element will remind you of their importance. Most bad songs are bad because of the quality of the lyric. Writing the lyrics separately gives you an opportunity to see them clearly, and helps you decide if you like what you see.
  5. Experiment with completely different approaches to your song idea(s). Once you’ve got musical ideas created, don’t feel locked in to whatever tempo, key, basic backing rhythm you thought would work. Try changing things up. Maybe what you thought was a fast song should actually be slow. Maybe your backing rhythm or time signature needs to be changed. The start of the middle is the time to try improvising new and creative ways to put your ideas together.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

 

Making Clear Differences Between Your Verse and Chorus

Contrast plays a crucial role in keeping listeners interested in your music. Here’s how.

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Take your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Buy “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. And get a 7th eBook FREE, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Time to become the best songwriter you can be! Read more..

______________

Kelly Clarkson - Heartbeat SongThere’s been a principle in musical composition that has existed quite literally for centuries: making a clear difference between adjacent sections within a song. Called the contrast principle, it is so important that you see it in all genres: classical, pop, jazz, country, folk, or any other performance genre you can name.

Using the contrast principle means finding ways to make clear differences between adjoining sections, and in most music of the pop genres, that means making sure that there is something obviously dissimilar when comparing your verse and chorus.

The tricky bit about the contrast principle is that a verse and chorus also need to exhibit a sense of similarity as well. That’s the tightrope that every composer of songs deals with: getting the balance between similarity and dissimilarity right.

The reason for finding similarities is obvious: your verse and chorus both need to sound like they come from the same song. But why the need for dissimilarity? Why does the success of music depend, at least in part, on how well you contrast song sections?

The answer lies in the nature of the listener. Their minds get quickly bored with a musical idea, and within 30 seconds or so, listeners usually need to hear things changing within the structure of the song. That means that we need to offer a new melody, a new lyric, new chords, and so on. And in the context of music, “new” means “contrasting”, or suitably different enough to intrigue us.

If you find that your latest song seems to lack that critical something that makes it exciting and/or interesting, it could be a lack of contrast, especially between the verse and chorus.

Here’s a short list of the musical elements that usually benefit from the incorporation of contrast between verse and chorus. Not every song will use all of them, so it’s not a checklist. But if your song is lacking all of them, it’s time to rethink:

  1. Chord Progressions. It is possible to use the same progression for your verse and chorus as long as other elements show enough contrast. But you’ll find that contrasting your verse and chorus progressions does much to make a song interesting. So try a minor verse contrasted with a major chorus. Or try a verse progression with lots of altered chords (i.e., chords that don’t belong naturally to your chosen key), switching to a short, tonally strong progression for the chorus.
  2. Vocal rhythm. Generally speaking, a chorus melody should use notes of longer rhythmic values. This works brilliantly if it’s contrasted with a verse that uses quicker, more active rhythms. (Listen to John Lennon’s “Woman” from his “Double Fantasy” album to hear the power of this effect.)
  3. Instrumental rhythm. Find ways to make a difference between the kind of beat and rhythm you use in your backing instruments between verse and chorus. For example, in Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song” (Mitch Allan, Kara DioGuardi, Jason Evigan and Audra Mae) from her new album “Piece by Piece”, you’ll hear a fast verse drumbeat (approx. 148 bpm) that then switches to a halftime feel at the chorus.
  4. Lyrics. This is standard enough to be intuitive: contrast your verse and chorus by making your verse lyrics mainly observational (narrative) in character, switching to words and phrases that are more emotional in the chorus.
  5. Melody. Find ways to contrast verse and chorus melodies by looking first at their basic ranges. A verse melody should sit lower in pitch than a chorus melody. In addition, a chorus melody should be tighter, more hook-like, and use a more constricted melodic range.

In addition to the points above, try to keep any one section of your song from getting overly long. Song intros of 4-minute pop songs typically work best if they are less than 20 seconds in length, and you should be getting to the chorus usually before the 1-minute mark.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Goal-Oriented Chord Progressions: A Description, With 7 Examples

With songs in most of the pop music genres, you usually can’t go wrong with a solid, goal-oriented progression in the chorus.

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Looking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 6 eBooks (plus 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..

____________

Keyboard & GuitarWhen something is goal-oriented, it means that the end or target of the job is clear and obvious at the outset. And it’s actually a bit more than that. A goal-oriented person is someone who not only sees what the completion of a job looks like even as they begin, but they also see the importance of being able to view the target clearly before even starting.

In chord progressions, a goal-oriented progression is one where a listener can tell where the chords are headed once they’re one or two chords into the progression. Most of the time, a goal-oriented progression is targeting the tonic chord – the chord representing the key of the song.

These kinds of progressions are typically found in song choruses. I like pointing to the verse of Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” as the epitome of the opposite of a goal-oriented progression. It meanders seemingly aimlessly, travelling through various key centres. It’s wonderfully creative, but not the sort of progression you’d typically want in a chorus.

The quintessential model for the goal-oriented progression is: C F G C (I-IV-V-I). But you may be looking for something more creative. Keeping in mind that goal-oriented progressions should be short, here are some examples that might help stimulate your imagination a bit more than the standard I-IV-V-I progression:

  1. C  Bb  Ab  G (I-bVII-bVI-V)
  2. C  Eb  F  G  (I-bIII-IV-V)
  3. C  F  D7  G  (I-IV-V7/V-V)
  4. C  Gm  F  Bb  (I-v-IV-bVII)
  5. C  Am  Bb  Eb  (I-vi-bVII-bIII)
  6. C  F  Bb  Dm7  (I-IV-bVII-ii7)
  7. C  Am  Bsus4  B  (I  vi  VIIsus4  VII)

There’s no reason, of course, that these or any other goal-oriented progressions couldn’t or wouldn’t work in a verse. You can almost never go wrong with writing music that presents a strong verse that leads to a similarly strong chorus.

But goal-oriented progressions in a chorus have the benefit of making your chorus sound a bit more “hooky”, being supported by a progression that is pleasantly repetitive and predictable.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Sufjan Stevens: “Death With Dignity” – Why It Works

“Death With Dignity” has several features that allow it to serve as a model for how great songs are written.

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Take your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Buy “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. And get a 7th eBook FREE, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Time to become the best songwriter you can be! Read more..

______________

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & LowellSufjan Stevens has just released a new album, “Carrie & Lowell,” and I’ve been enjoying giving the entire album a thorough listen, and in particular the first track, “Death With Dignity.”

Stevens is a master of mood, delicately placing veils of emotions and sentiments using exquisitely transparent musical layers. Without a doubt, Stevens will be seen in years to come (if he isn’t already) as one of this century’s musical geniuses. His music will be analyzed and parsed for decades to come.

Stevens’ music has a way of making you not care why it sounds so good. It just does, and you want to put your analytical mind away for a while and just listen and experience the sounds and words.

But if you’re a composer of music, something in your creative mind suddenly kicks in, and you ask yourself typical songwriter questions: How is he able to captivate me with such sparsly quiet musical effects? What is it that keeps me wanting to listen? And what can I do to my music that makes my audience feel the same way?

All music can be analyzed, and with time, you can find answers. With a song like “Death With Dignity”, for example, you’ll find that solid songwriting technique hides beneath the surface, making you believe that your emotional attraction to the music is simply magical.

But it’s important to put your songwriter hat on from time to time, and see what we can learn. If you want to know what it is about “Death With Dignity” that works so well, try these thoughts for starters:

  1. The lyric is loaded with imagery, and can’t be easily parsed in a few (or even many) listens. Every time you listen, you hear something new. It may simply be that a different phrase grabs your interest each time, but nonetheless, there is something new to hear every time. A lyric that can’t be completely absorbed in one listen is a typical feature of great songs.
  2. The melodies are mainly diatonic (i.e., mainly avoiding notes from outside the song’s key), and feature beautifully distinct contours. Melodies with a recognizable shape that can be easily traced with a pencil (both figuratively and literally) are ones that listeners usually find attractive, singable, and easy to remember.
  3. The melodies move back and forth from easy syncopations to simple, on-the-beat rhythms. Syncopations tend to build melodic energy, and you find that with the opening line, “Spirit of my silence…” Relaxation comes when the melodies shift to a mainly on-the-beat presentation, “…hear you“.
  4. The chord progressions are by-and-large simple, constantly targeting the tonic chord. Harmonic complexity has a place, and I love music that occasionally takes me on bizarre journeys. But most of the time Stevens creates his music using simple progressions that serve as a rolling landscape rather than a mind-blowing feature. (Emaj7 – A – Emaj7 – F#m – E/G# – A – F#m – E/G#…)
  5. The ending is intriguing. In several posts I’ve done on this blog, I’ve mentioned that your music, to set itself apart from other music, needs something distinctive. It’s not enough to be good; you’ve got to offer something creatively, beautifully different, or else you become one more bit of noise added to the noise we call today’s music. Many of the songs on “Carrie & Lowell” end with what sounds like a contemplative soundscape, and it’s distinctive without being pretentious.
  6.  The song uses repetition on many levels and in many different ways. Repetition is an important part of what makes music pleasing. Stevens uses the kind of repetition you expect from any song: repetitious rhythmic elements in the backing instruments, repeated verses, repeated lines of lyrics, and so on. But his most clever use is the way he uses repetition in the melodic lines, both exact (“I don’t know where to begin“) and approximate (“I can hear you” – “..afraid to be near you“). Repetition is a vital part of musical form, and works to hold music together.
  7. The instrumentation is pleasantly transparent. A thin instrumentation usually stands the test of time. The cleaner, more acoustic sounds of this album will work well into the future.

“Carrie & Lowell” is a stunningly attractive album that will hook you, relentless in its ability to keep you listening from beginning to end. Every song provides lessons that you can apply to your own music as you seek to improve your own songwriting technique.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

The Role of Technology in the Writing of a Good Lyric

Technology has a way of making us think that thinking for longer than 10 seconds is an indication of a problem.

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Looking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 6 eBooks (plus 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..

____________

Songwriting and technologyThe 21st century is definitely the age of technology. Few of us can imagine going through the day without checking our phone for something: making a phone call, checking the weather, texting, and countless other now-common activities.

Technology has taken over the arts as well. For songwriters and others that work with text, you’ve got many free online services that can help make your life easier:

And if you just can’t face writing a lyric for your new song, why not let the Song Lyrics Generator do it for you?!

Call me old school, but I bemoan the fact that we so readily ask a computer to do the things that arguably should be done by our brains. Sure, a rhyming dictionary can give us ideas within 10 seconds, and yes, it may be possible to have a computer create a lyric for you, but isn’t some of this supposed to be fun to do?

I’m not against tools that help us in our hour of need, but let me recommend something here: don’t let the speed of technology make you believe that spending a week (or a month or even a year) on a lyric is a bad thing.

A computer can come up with an enormous number of words for you to consider in milliseconds, but there is value to letting your own creative brain slow the process down and take its time.

If you’re looking for a way to get creative with words, a way of allowing your own imagination come up with something uniquely you, try the following:

  1. Grab a book off your bookshelf. (OK, you’re really into technology, aren’t you? So load up a random book in your Kindle).
  2. Open to any page and point to the first word you see.
  3. Now flip to a new page, and point to the first word you see.
  4. Within the next 5-10 seconds, write a line of lyric that starts with the first word you chose, and ends with the second one.

I just tried this myself, and chose the words “minutes” and “reached,” and created the line “Minutes later my arms reached.”

Using this method, you’ll come up with tons of lyrical lines you’ll probably never use, and one that says something surprisingly cogent and imaginative. And you’ll take pleasure in knowing that whatever you create is something you generated, not your smartphone.

I don’t have a problem with technology helping us when it makes sense, but I do have a problem with resorting to technology simply because thinking for 10 seconds didn’t give you an answer.

In music, the best solutions will sometimes come slowly. And when you finally create something that you love, the fact that it took weeks will make it all the more valuable to you.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Verse Melodies: Choose Your Starting Note Carefully

Starting verses on the dominant (5th) note can help entice audiences to keep listening.

______________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleTake your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Buy “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. And get a 7th eBook FREE, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Time to become the best songwriter you can be! Read more..

______________

Thad KopecLeonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” is a great example of a song with a simple melody that has a powerful ability to keep you listening. The lulling, captivating feature comes in large part from the fact that the first part of the verse dwells on the dominant (i.e., 5th) note of the key: B in the key of E major.

A tonic note is one that represents the key of your song. For example, the tonic note of G major is G. Starting a verse melody on a non-tonic note like this is very common in most popular music genres, and starting on the 5th note of the key is a particular favourite of Cohen: “Hallelujah” (G in the key of C major); “Closing Time” (D in the key of G major); “Take This Waltz” (F# in the key of B major); and countless others.

The benefit to starting your verse on a note other than the tonic note is that it immediately generates momentum and musical energy. In music, you can define energy by its main quality: anything that provides an incentive to keep listening. A non-tonic note feels pleasantly unstable, making the listener feel that the solid, stable sound of the tonic note will eventually happen. The lack of a tonic note in the melody results in coercing listeners to want to wait for it.

You’ll find that writing a verse melody that dwells on the dominant note often allows you the option of moving up or down from there with relative ease, and indeed Cohen’s music undulates tantalizingly first above and then below that starting note in most of his dominant note starts.

Other songwriters love the mesmerizing quality that comes from “sitting on the dominant.” Give Thad Kopec’s “You Will Know Who I Am” a listen, and you’ll hear the enticing quality of a melody that references the dominant note as an important source of musical energy.

And you can also hear the musical satisfaction that comes from hearing that verse melody eventually move down and cadence on the tonic note. It’s a gorgeous tune, and hope that we hear a lot more from Kopec in the future.

I’ve mentioned mainly verse melodies in this post, because it’s the verse that needs a good amount of momentum and enticement to keep audiences listening until the chorus. You’ll find that chorus melodies feature the tonic note a lot more, particularly toward the latter half of chorus melodies. The tonic note gives a kind of musical release that’s a common feature of choruses.

Offering too much tonic note in the verse can compromise musical energy. So in your verse melodies, look for ways of avoiding too much tonic note. You should find what you’re looking for by starting verses on either the 5th or 3rd note of your chosen key.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,427 other followers