The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #46494   Message #690038
Posted By: Jerry Rasmussen
14-Apr-02 - 06:36 PM
Thread Name: Songwriting 101
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
mg... true, not every song has to have a "message," despite my e-mail address. But, there has to be some reason for writing the song. It's not just mechanics and rules. Songs are first of all a form of communication. Maybe all you want to communicate is a picture, or maybe you're just enjoying having fun with words. A verse in a song I wrote just came tumbling out, and I found it amusing. I enjoyed it enough to wait for some more verses to come out, and it became a song, Blackbird. I'm sure that the song came out of my love for Old Man At The Mill and other traditional southern mountain songs.

The verse that came out first was:

"Blackbird he don't tell the truth
Blackbird, redbird, diddle-I-day
You ask for whiskey and you get Vermouth
Blackbird, redbird, penny on your head bird
Wake up in the morning and it's almost dawn

I play it on banjo and the words came tubling out to a little banjo tune I made up.

I wrote the song out of a love of similar songs, and just had fun with the way that the words flowed with the banjo. I didn't spend any time thinking, because I didn't set out to write a song. The line "blackbird, redbird, penny on your head bird" just came out and fit the rhythm. Later, I realized that the line probably came out of stories my father told me about his Mother giving him a penny a head for any birds he could shoot in her garden, just to keep them from stealing the seeds.

The rest of the song came just as easily... couplet lines fit in to the basic framework of the song:

"Blackbird sitting in a big arm chair..
Jaybird won't you tell me why life's not fair?

"Jaybird, Jaybird don't you tell me no lie
Who ever heard of blackbirds baked in a pie?

"Blackbird driving in an automobile
Winds up the motor, makes the tires squeal

I didn't sit down and say to myself, "I think I'll write a song about anthropomorphic birds, imitating a southern mountain banjo tune. I think the best thing to do when you're learning to write songs, or ride a bicycle is to do it. If you fall off the bike, get back on. If you hit a dead-end on a song, set it aside and move on.

Another thing that I find helpful in writing songs is when I hit a line that I can't come up with, I just put a temporary filler line in that rhymes, so I don't lose momentum on the song. Usually, a better line doesn't come without changing the adjacent line at least a little. It's often the last word in an adjacent line that makes the line difficult to write. If you take a line that you're satisfied with, try to come up with a different word to end that line, and that may lead you into new ideas for the one that you're struggling with.

Everyone has their own approach to songwriting, and their own reasons for writing a song. You can write songs to try to make them marketable, or just write songs because it's fun to write them. Sometimes, you end up writing a song just because you feel like it, and the idea comes to you, and it ends up being something that other people enjoy. I've had people record some of the songs I've written that I hesitated even singing, myself. In the long run, the listener decides what is good. Right, McGrath?