Songwriting Tips:
Lots of Them...



    STYMIED?  Here are some songwriting tips which may be of use to you:  They include some basic music theory [Don't worry - They are as simple as the alphabet or the counting of numbers.]

    Also: some general "rules of thumb" which I know you will find helpful.

Songwriting Tips - General:


    "A work of art must in some way model or demonstrate a possible human situation or experience. Otherwise it will not evoke a response."

    "DOES MUSIC [or songwriting] HAVE ANY "RULES"?

    This is what the great LEONARD BERNSTEIN has to say on this:

    "All music—whether folk, pop, symphonic, modal, tonal, atonal, polytonal, microtonal, well-tempered, ill-tempered, music from the distant past or imminent future—all of it has a common origin in the universal phenomenon of the Harmonic Series."

     [see diagram of how all strings vibrate, below - this is the "origin" of the Harmonic Series]

     ["aside": I've started listening to his Harvard Lectures, and, wow!  Are they intriguing and compelling!   I recommend you do the same:  Even if you are not an "academic", you CAN get some great insights from them, if you carefully get all the unfamiliar words defined as they come up.  This isn't hard, just keep one or more dictionaries open by your side, or on a separate tab.]


Songwriting Tips: Scales, Melody, Harmony, etc:

    [On, THE "UNIVERSALITY" of the DIATONIC [Western Music] SCALE:

    As, Mr. Bernstein and others have observed, at least as far as Western [hemisphere/European sourced] music is concerned, the overtone series-based musical scales are more likely to be perceived as "music", to people, than 'atonal' or non-overtone-based scales.

     This does not, however account for the longevity of non-diatonic music among certain cultures, such as that of Bali.  In this case, I myself chalk it up to "agreement" and "expectancy".  I. E.: if that's what you grew up with, then THAT'S what music is and sounds like.]

     Another Bit of Theory:

    You may know that if you double the frequency of a note, you get a note one octave higher, and if you halve that frequency, you get a note one octave lower.

   And, EVERY note on the "Western" musical scale arrangement has a rather simple relationship to every other note [as shown above].

   It's the relationships which give the coherence to the music we are used to hearing as music.

   [However, if you are a songwriter, rather than a mathematician, you can bypass the complexity of mathematical formulas without damaging your craft, In my opinion.]


   Here are some areas which can all prove helpful to mastering the art of songwriting.  I propose that all great songwriters know all of the below, either "instinctively" and/or through study:

     *a the various relationships among notes in a scale,

     *how these points affect the 'tension' and interest of the melody,

     *how the melody works with the chords,

     *how the chords work with each other,

     *how this all works against the meter, or "pulse" of a song,

     *how this all adds up to "song structure",

     and so on.

   [If you are not familiar with using 'numbers' rather than 'letters' to designate notes on a scale, hop on over to my page where I explain this, then come back.]

   Take a look at the following diagram:

    This is a unique way to represent a "perception" of music, known as "TONAL GRAVITY"

   The above diagram shows the weak and strong "forces" which "push" [or"pull"] a song back to it's starting point: The 'one' [first note of the scale] or 'tonal center' or 'root' of the scale the song is written in.

   The chart works like this: Say you are writing a song in "C".  You've gone to "A minor".  Well, you can go from A minor to G [moderately strong] to C [relatively weak]. OR.. etc.

   I thought of the 4-chord pattern of "DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' as a tremendously powerful demonstration of these "forces" which lie "dormant" in the chords, waiting to be unleashed! :)

   Here's another idea: expanding these "tonal gravity" forces, into another arrangement: THE "CHASE CHART" [below]:

   It's called a "Chase Chart" because you can "chase" around the circle, clockwise, either in single or multiple "jumps", so as to compose &/or analyze a song.  I do like this.

  And - I personally think it might be more accessible to somebody just starting out, than something like THIS:

Songwriting Tips:  What About Lyrics?

   So much for the music.  Now, how about LYRICS?


   "Words with music, unlike words without music, there are pauses (rests) which break up the "flow" of musical notes and their accompanying words into "vocal-melodic phrases", each consisting of a handful of “note-syllables”— syllables or words (or one-syllable words) sung to individual notes."

   Here is an example of the above:

      "SomeWHERE* O-ver the RAIN-BOW,
      BLUE -- BIRDS -- FLY." ...
   *Note that the syllable "-where", is emphasized by the beat and by the melody.  However, in normal conversation we would say: "SOME-where." -

    A further example:

    "PEACE and QUI-et and O-pen AIR,
    WAIT for US -- SOME-where."
    ["Somewhere" - from the Broadway musical: "West Side Story" - Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim]

   In the above example, the sung/musical accent of most every word coincides with the way they are naturally spoken.  This is one of STEPHEN SONDHEIM'S principles of lyric writing.  [And his track record isn't too bad, hm?]

   You can use these ideas to analyze material.  Where applicable, they can help uncover where and why weak points in a song exist, and how to fix them.  But you also don't have to consider them as "absolute".

    Great artists know WHEN to break the rules, and when to keep them.

Songwriting Tips:  The Wrap-Up:

   In our quests for the "perfect lyric" and "perfect songwriting system", we all continue to hunt around for tips from those who've made a success of songwriting.

    But, I Hope these are of use to you.

    Here's to Great Songwriting!!

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