The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #31433   Message #409698
Posted By: Naemanson
02-Mar-01 - 02:24 PM
Thread Name: HOW do you write your songs?
Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
I'm sorry. The message she sent to me had good paragraph breaks and I failed, somehow, to bring them through. Here is her message with the paraggraph breaks.

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Earlier on this thread, I talked about a song that came to me when I was knee-deep in water. Naemanson asked me how I kept that song in my memory...what did I actually write down on that paper napkin in the car? Was it both the words and the tune?

Well, I'm pretty sure that the first thing I did (after encouraging my husband, who was driving the car, and my children in the back seat, who were driving me crazy, to all be very quiet) was to write down the words that were racing around in my head. I didn't edit anything....I did a tiny bit of tidying up later on, but not a whole lot. There was already a clear structure to the lyrics, and the metaphors were fairly consistent and strong. My song had arrived on the scene complete with 4 verses and a chorus, and a tune to boot. My concern was to get all of this down on paper as fast and as clearly as I could so that I wouldn't forget it.

The next thing I did, after writing down the words, was to write down the tune that I had been singing while I was out there in the water. (I am fluent with regular notation, but that's not how I generally write down music I'm writing or trying to remember. I'll tell you my shorthand method further on.)

Then, over the next day or two, I sang the song over and over with the dulcimer, and I found 2 funky 4 note minor key chords to go with the melody. (I have a 4 equa~distant string dulcimer). Now this song is part of JeffM's and my repertoire....I play dulcimer and sing, while he noodles on guitar. His playing makes the song sound like a million bucks. The chorus is a sing~along....we used it to finish the Log Cabin Open Stage concert series up at The Woods last summer. ( This might be a good place to name-drop: Peggy Seeger was there in the Log Cabin, and she told me afterward that she liked the song...that "it works!") It's great to see a song develop to that point. I haven't written very many songs, so that was a real treat for me.

I have a fast, efficient way of recording the 2 things I need most to remember, which are the pitches and the time values. If I needed to write these things out for someone else in a particular key, I would do that with all the stuff with the staff lines and notes, but I don't do that when I'm songwriting...it takes far too long! For my purposes, I write the solfege (d r m's) of the tune above each syllable of text, leaving lots of space (if I have it), above the line of solfege. Above that line of solfege, I then write the time value of that syllable. I do that quickly, by drawing symbols which look exactly like regular notation, (ie. quarter notes, dotted eighth notes, tied notesm, etc.), but it is just the stick and flag and dot parts of those notes that I am drawing, not all of those filled~in circles that hang at the bottom of notes. I could put them in , but I don't, because I don't need them. Those filled~in circles are only needed if there is a staff line, otherwise they are just taking up time and space for nothing. The only circles I do need at the bottom of the sticks, or without the sticks, are the open circles which occur wiith a half~note or a whole~note. After getting down both the solfege and the time values, I might then go back and add bar lines to either the lyric lines or to the note~symbol lines, so I can feel the main beat of the music, and then I'm done. Those three lines, the word line, the solfege line and the time value line, tell me all the information I need to know. As long as I have that piece of paper, I don't have to try to remember anything. At any point, I can accurately sing back, play back, revise what I'd written, or chuck the song.

Nowadays, I actually date and number those scrappy pieces of paper and put them in a file folder....each song gets its own file. I can see the whole process that way...the beginnings, the revisions, the final song.

My system works well for me. It's quick, tells me exactly what I need to know so that I can edit my work, and it doesn't require either electicity, staff paper, or great organizational skills. I prefer it to trying to find snippets of ideas on an audio tape.

I learned my shorthand notation while I was in university. I think we were studying how to teach Kodaly. Or it might have been Orff. Or both. Whichever it was, it's been priceless. I use it all the time. Even for learning a tune from someone else, like off the radio, or when I'm in an audience at a concert.

Now, after all that, do you want to hear about the song I wrote in less than an hour while I was not paying attention in a church service? I wrote that one on a church bulletin. I began the song by deciding to write a love song in myxolydian mode. It took less than an hour to write. It gets requested more than anything else I've ever written.

Most of my songs take a long time to write, though.... a long, long, long time to write....

~black walnut