Songwriting Tips:


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

    Also some general "rules of thumb" which I also think you will find helpful.

    So... Here we go:

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."

    * "Great works of art provide society with benefits every bit as useful as the benefits derived from scientific research." - [from the book: "How Music Really Works"]


    "Artists working with language manipulate words [...] to create works of art such as novels, plays, and song lyrics. Successful artists who use language innovate with words and grammar.

    "But, they preserve enough of the language's commonly-used vocabulary and observe enough of its grammatical rules to ensure reasonable audience accessibility.

    "If an artist working with language employs too much [uncommon] grammar and too many twists of vocabulary, the novel or play or song lyric becomes incomprehensible.

    "Without adequate adherence to convention, audiences find the work inaccessible and simply turn away from it, confused and irritated." - [from the book: "How Music Really Works"]

    And on this point, the author has LEONARD BERNSTEIN weigh in:

    "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]

     ["Side trip": 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 on a separate tab, or whatever.]


Songwriting Tips: Scales, Melody, Harmony, etc:

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

    "Substantial research findings show that, if you try to create music using scales that have no tones in relationships of simple frequency ratios, [you] stop recognizing “musical” sound and hear chaos." - [How Music Really Works]

    Well, 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.  OK.

   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 this info without damaging your craft, I think.


   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, from the book:

    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', or 'tonal center' or 'root' of the scale the song is written in.

   [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 from "How Music Really works" - 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 think it might be more accessible to someone just starting out, then something like THIS:

Songwriting Tips:  What About Lyrics?

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


   "Words with music, unlike words without music, do not (or should not) go on continuously. Instead, pauses (rests) 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 my own 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" - 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?]

   Still, 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 they for sure are nowhere near absolute.

Songwriting Tips:  The Wrap-Up:

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

   Hope these are of use to you.

   Here's to Great Songwriting!!

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