Archive Page 2

Helpful Hints for Writing an Original Song

I was asked to teach a couple of workshops on songwriting a few years back at some of my all-time favorite California bluegrass festivals, including the CBA Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley, Bluegrassin’ in the Foothills in Plymouth and the Mid-state Bluegrass Festival in Paso Robles.

In preparation for those workshops, I put together the following notes that I thought might be useful to ponder and chat about, sitting in the grass in the shade of tall trees. Nothing like an acoustic guitar, kindred friends / musicians / songwriters and a shady spot to stretch out on a warm summer day.

Before you begin…

  • What inspires you to want to write a song?
  • What do you want to say that’s unique? Expressive? Thoughtful?
  • Write about a topic that you personally care about
  • Listen often to other artists you enjoy
  • Study the songwriting styles of other artists who inspire you
  • Be ready to answer the call of the muse—whenever and however it happens—with pen and paper, tape recorder and/or your instrument
  • Remember: every song ever written was built on the same limited palette of notes that is available to every songwriter

Writing the song…

  • Possible starting points: an inspirational topic, a memorable phrase, a story you want to tell, a chord progression, a cool riff, a melody line, a chorus, free-form experimentation
  • Be open minded about where your first idea may ultimately lead you
  • When writing lyrics, establish a logical pattern of meter and rhyme
  • Avoid sounding contrived in melody and verse. In other words, just because you can doesn’t mean you should
  • In writing words and melodies, simpler is often better
  • Be specific about how the melody is supposed to go
  • The memorability test: Is the melody one that you can hum or whistle?
  • Vowel sounds are easier to sing than hard consonants

Putting it all together…

  • Ask someone else to perform your song so you can listen to it objectively
  • Evaluate the continuity of the entire song once you’ve developed it
  • Don’t be reluctant to edit the song, even after you’ve decided it’s done
  • It helps to lay a finished song aside and return to it later with a fresh ear
  • Don’t let the opinions of others derail you
  • Like any other worthwhile pursuit—don’t give up, be persistent, be prolific

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All the good names are already taken…

There are two things every blogger must do when starting a new blog: pick a subject and then pick a name.

It turns out that picking a subject is pretty easy: simply reflect on what you’re interested in and passionate about… and hopefully know a thing or two about. Picking a name? Not so easy.

Anyone who has gone through the process of naming a new song, deciding what to call a new band — or trying to think up a cool domain name or blogspot to register — inevitably runs into an invisible wall. This wall has a not-so-invisible sign tacked to it that reads “Sorry, but yer a little late and all the good names are already taken.”

Even though this imaginary wall is just an illusion, it can sure feel real enough until that happy moment arrives when you finally land on a name that 1) you like and 2) that’s actually available.

Picking a suitable name is kind of a big deal. It’s how people remember the thing behind the name. It’s also how you search for stuff, pass word to others or make snap decisions about if you’re even interested in the topic.

I originally wanted to call this blog “A Story and a Song” but, alas, that name was already taken by a dance company. Bummer. Then I thought of “Songscapes,” “SongSphere” and a bunch of other cool names that other folks had already thought of first.

Yet I pressed on, undeterred by the mirage of a pesky wall I don’t even believe in. After all, how many times have I played a game of Boggle and marveled at how many obvious words other players found that I totally overlooked? Good names are always out there, if we can but think of them and snatch ’em out of the ether.

This new blog is on songwriting. Hey, why not do a quick Google search for the obvious? “On Songwriting.” Sometimes the obvious answer = the best choice. In this case, the name was actually available. Booyah! Quick, snag it before somebody else thinks of it… and so a new blog begins.

With the name thing settled, all that’s left is to think up something interesting to write on the topic of songwriting. No shortage there. Uh-oh, is that another wall I see through the mist on the next horizon?