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Writing Songs

PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 11:06 am
by doc williamson
Nizer asked me on another thread if I write my own songs. To follow is my reply. I am posting it again here so maybe we can share our approches to writing songs and what we have found works and doesn't work when we write. I would be very interested in the writing process others go through.

Yes, I write my own songs. I wrote my first poem when I was around 8 years old and my first song at around 10. OMG, I've been writing songs for almost 44 years. I have written 100s of songs and most are junk. But, there is sometimes a good thought pattern, idea, rhyming scheme, chord progression or lick in a few of the songs. What I do then is combine, what I think is the best, into one song. I save everything I write whether it is a song idea, rhyming lines or whatever if I think it has merit. I'll then put it away for at least a few weeks and look at it cold again when I can be a more objective judge on whether I still think it is good. I do all of that if inspiration strikes but doesn't stay around too long.

Sometimes when I am playing piano I will write a whole song in 20 minutes and it is often some of my best writing. The creativity just flows and the lines come out as fast as I can write. The same thing happens with the music and it just flows. Then I'll use the sequencer on my piano to capture the song so I don't lose it and the ideas. I have found I do have to be careful with what I write on the piano. Sometimes I think I write snippets of songs that sound familiar and they are often times parts of songs I learned years ago.

Another "trick" I use is to play a chord pattern or note pattern of a long ago popular song and change the rhythm or sequence of the chords or notes so that it no longer sounds like the original but still has those key elements that made the song good years before.

This is the way I write song...Your mileage may vary.

"I chose to sing the blues." Ray Charles

RE: Writing Songs

PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 12:21 pm
by chick french
Tips I read or heard.

1. From "Hag". The interviewer says "Merle, in Nashville, record companies hire writer's that sit in a room all day and collaborate writing songs. Have you ever tried this approach?" Merle says "naw, I never could do that. I'd be afraid I'd miss writing a good one by trying to sweat out a bad one. I just write em as I feel em"

2.Harlan Howard has written countless number 1 hits. In my opinion, one of the best song writers ever. Harlan was interviewed when he was about 80 yrs old. The guy asks "Mr. Howard, whats the secret behind writing all the songs you've written over the years" Harland says "Son, there ain't no secret. "It's just three chords and the truth"

An old black guy I know told me once. You know theres a song in everything you see. You see that man walking over there? He's got a troubled mind. You can tell by the way his head is hanging down. Now you see theres a song right there.

I think where most people have trouble writing songs is in the rhyme and reason. Say you get a thought for a song. Instead of trying to sit down and rhyme something. Just start writing, forget about rhyming. Just write anything that comes to mind, connecting this feeling. Even if your mind wanders, keep writing, if you write 10 pages. There's your song. Just edit. Too often, one settles for a weak thought, only to rhyme. Every line has to be strong and stand on it's own.

Take Dann Penn for instance. I think I posted this in the "favorite line or song thread" but what the heck, I'll say it again. This guy has written some killer tunes! When I hear Aretha or Dann sing this, it makes my hair stand up. Here's just the first verse. Each line is an example of great song writing.

Do Right Woman by Dann Penn

Take me to heart and I'll always love you
And nobody, can make me do wrong.

But, take me for granted, leaving, love unshown
Makes willpower weak and temptation strong.

jes my 2cents.

RE: Writing Songs

PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 2:59 pm
by nizer
>Another "trick" I use is to play a chord pattern or note
>pattern of a long ago popular song and change the rhythm or
>sequence of the chords or notes so that it no longer sounds
>like the original but still has those key elements that made
>the song good years before.

This is a great idea that really got me writing. At first, I thought my originals sucked, so I never finished them. But when I had a band, I got bored of doing covers. So I wrote a "Chuck Berry" song. Super simple structure, just make up new words. Voila, another tune we could play. I started copying the styles of other artists/songs I liked and soon had a body of tunes that worked. The audience couldn't tell the difference - they were too busy dancing. But it made it way more fun for me.

Gradually I gained confidence and added more twists, bridges, etc., and they became more originals than copies. Eventually, I began to write totally original songs. I realize now that I was too hung up on "original" and that in fact the Blues has a long tradition of just this process: Moon Going Down > Empire State Blues > Smokestack Lightnin; 44 Blues > Roll & Tumble > Mojo Workin, etc.

RE: Writing Songs

PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 6:43 pm
by doc williamson
Some here may know George Harrison "subconsciously" lifted the chord progression and melody for his hit "My Sweet Lord" from The Chiffons "He's So Fine." I know that does happen.

What I have done in the past is take the original song structure and break it all down to parts and reassembled it like a puzzle only the pieces now made a different picture. I hope you know what I mean here. I do write toally original songs also.

A good example of a song being directly lifted and few knew about it or it might have been "subconsious" was SRV's "Cold Shot." If you listen to The Rascals 1960s hit "You Better Run" you'll find that same chord pattern for the key riff only SRV hits the chords twice. SRV would have been at the age to really study music when The Rascals hit and many studied The Rascals. This paragraph is just my opinion but give them both a listen and see if those riffs don't sound similar.

"I chose to sing the blues." Ray Charles

RE: Writing Songs

PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:43 am
by nizer
>I think where most people have trouble writing songs is in
>the rhyme and reason... Too often, one settles for a weak
>thought, only to rhyme. Every line has to be strong and
>stand on it's own.

I think this is bang on. When Sonny Boy Williams sings...

I'm beggin' of you baby
Cut out that off the wall jive
You don't start treatin' me better
It's gonna be your funeral and my trial

...he's making a point. It don't need no rhyme.

RE: Writing Songs

PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2005 5:40 am
by cheyenne
Interesting thread..

My melodies and chords come from nowhere most of the time, it's usually not planned. The words often come along of thei own accord and the single thing that I find finishes off both lyrics and the music when either are only sort of 1/2 finished, is taking a break.

While i'm going about my business, i'm then humming along or singing the words I currently have and out of nowhere because my brain isn't liking the fact that it just stops in the middle, some new lyrics come out of nowhere and they often fit really well. Usually I focus on the sound, the mood of the song rather than a set theme. The theme then comes along of its own accord.

Subconscious musical imprinting of chord progressions from the past is most likely inevitable, but it's not a bad thing, and doesn't make your song any less valid really.

There's many other ways to go about writing material, and I find I don't like to try other's techniques and I don't like to have any of it formalised into any kind of set routine. There are books on songwriting, and websites etc.. with things like lists of 10 things to do to help write your song, but I never do that, or read those books.
I don't like to get told what to do, creatively especially and I find the way some songs are made by 'writers' in suits in some office to be just total musical-mcdonalds. ie: fake, soul-less.