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HOW do you write your songs?

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Bert 19 Jul 04 - 12:04 PM
M.Ted 25 Jun 04 - 04:47 PM
Amos 25 Jun 04 - 03:33 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 25 Jun 04 - 03:21 PM
GUEST,Betsy 25 Jun 04 - 02:30 PM
Amos 25 Jun 04 - 09:52 AM
GUEST,Page, Bonham, Plant & Jones 25 Jun 04 - 09:13 AM
GUEST 25 Jun 04 - 08:49 AM
early 25 Jun 04 - 08:13 AM
GUEST,Betsy 25 Jun 04 - 08:04 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 24 Jun 04 - 09:19 PM
M.Ted 24 Jun 04 - 05:50 PM
GUEST 24 Jun 04 - 05:35 PM
Amos 24 Jun 04 - 03:40 PM
kendall 24 Jun 04 - 02:21 PM
GUEST 24 Jun 04 - 10:29 AM
jack halyard 24 Jun 04 - 04:18 AM
Podger 23 Jun 04 - 11:57 PM
GUEST,mg 16 Aug 02 - 09:11 PM
GUEST,Fred Miller 16 Aug 02 - 07:36 PM
drummergirl 16 Aug 02 - 12:38 PM
Naemanson 05 Mar 01 - 12:10 PM
Marion 05 Mar 01 - 09:24 AM
KingBrilliant 05 Mar 01 - 06:13 AM
black walnut 04 Mar 01 - 01:08 PM
Jeri 04 Mar 01 - 12:33 PM
Amergin 04 Mar 01 - 12:16 PM
black walnut 03 Mar 01 - 04:27 PM
wysiwyg 02 Mar 01 - 09:35 PM
Marion 02 Mar 01 - 09:20 PM
black walnut 02 Mar 01 - 04:09 PM
mousethief 02 Mar 01 - 03:52 PM
Naemanson 02 Mar 01 - 02:24 PM
Naemanson 02 Mar 01 - 02:21 PM
Amergin 02 Mar 01 - 12:37 PM
Trapper 02 Mar 01 - 12:28 PM
Grab 02 Mar 01 - 08:25 AM
KingBrilliant 02 Mar 01 - 04:52 AM
wdyat12 02 Mar 01 - 02:19 AM
Hawker 01 Mar 01 - 06:33 PM
Jim Krause 01 Mar 01 - 04:55 PM
Jim Krause 01 Mar 01 - 04:39 PM
Amergin 01 Mar 01 - 03:10 PM
GUEST 01 Mar 01 - 03:03 PM
folk1234 01 Mar 01 - 02:28 PM
Naemanson 01 Mar 01 - 02:08 PM
tiggerdooley 01 Mar 01 - 01:31 PM
black walnut 01 Mar 01 - 01:10 PM
nutty 01 Mar 01 - 01:06 PM
wdyat12 01 Mar 01 - 12:57 PM
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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Bert
Date: 19 Jul 04 - 12:04 PM

You can keep your model Amos. I'll go with those bare breasted females every time. Here


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: M.Ted
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 04:47 PM

I was sort of teasing you, Amos--though, as GUEST above noted, the Muses do seem to have a reality that transcends our inner landscapes--

I watched a documentary on Fellini recently, and his view of Nino Rota(who wrote the amazingly quirky music in many of his films) was that he was simply had some sort of conduit that allowed him to reach into some remote sphere that others could not reach for his musical ideas--

There have been many times when unbidden, the ideas flow like a wild river, and others where days of labor produce nothing of worth--


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amos
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 03:33 PM

I am frequently inspired, Betsy and sometimes I turn out first-class shlock, as a perusal of the hundred or so Song Challenges we have had here will demonstrate.

Visited, as though by a separate person passing by? No, I would not call it that.

A


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 03:21 PM

Many years ago, I wrote an article on The Care And Feeding Of Muses:

It starts out thusly:

In more genteel days, muses wore togas, played lyres and harps and struck attractive poses. Composers sat in deep thought, their fingers poised above the keyboard and communed with their muse. They didn't have to carry out the garbage or stop their kids from dissassembling each other. Creativity was a good business to be in. While you might think that those days are gone, muses are still around if you take the time to listen to them, and for a musician, The Care And Feeding Of Muses is an essential skill.

The first thing to realize about folk muses is that they are far more liberated than any of the old Greek godesses. Because the pay is so small, it's hard to say that folk muses even work for a living. Without having to worry about record sales,they have become an independent lot. When you try to find something in common between the muses of Utah Phillips, Gordon Bok and Sally Rogers, you have to do to some pretty heavy thinking. When I first went in search of my muse he (I expect that women have female muses) responded by giving me a song. He was very explicit about his needs in the chorus:

   And I feed my muse on rhythm and blues
   And old time country songs
   All nights talks and long slow walks
   And playing until dawn

And the article goes on... if anyone is interested, I'll post a few more paragraphs. The article led to making and exchanging muse food tapes, figuring that even the best muses need to hear a lot of music in order to be stimulated to inspiration.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,Betsy
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 02:30 PM

Amos ,you write as if you have never been "visited " - can you confirm that you indeed write the occasional song or tune to entertain yourself and others ?
I wouldn't have thought that thinking about "bare-breasted female spirits " would help with the process - but who knows ? - you may have started a new school of thought on the matter.


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amos
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 09:52 AM

I was not trying to encroach on your favorite mythologies, M. Ted. The fact that the mythical Misses have been formed into icons adds nothing to the argument about what the phenomenology attributed to them really comes from, unless you believe that there are actually a clutch of bare-breasted female spirits floating through the cosmos downloading songs to people. I think my model is closer to the truth, that's all.

As for the risk of entertaining such heretical notions, it is entirely my responsibility.

A


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,Page, Bonham, Plant & Jones
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 09:13 AM

I just find an old blues or folk song that I think nobody has heard and copy it!

Loadsa money - no talent ha! ha!


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 08:49 AM

Early - you have a soul mate.
The Muse visited - you embraced her - gave her your full attention and in return
she provided you with all your requirements .
This may be Bullsh*t to other people - but it helps me to reconcile
a truly irritating question of how you can finish a good song in virtually 5 mins
and struggle for years over other songs which
may or may not reach your required standards.
My underlining thought,is, if (and you say the audience loved it )
one writes primarily to bring something good into peoples lives,
somehow the song "comes" easily .
Maybe that's what the Muses are searching for -
persons bringing something into the world for the good of others.
Yes , that thought is good enough for me !!!
May you have many more successful visits and give pleasure with all your music making.


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: early
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 08:13 AM

i don't write many songs but when I do they usually arrive almost comlete with the tune and lyrics seeming to float in from some melody or theme i have just been messing with in quiet moments with a guitar in my hand - for instance having arrived early at my folk club last week with no-one about i sat down tuned up my guitar played a chord and the first line popped into my head within ten minutes the song was complete and i performed it later that night and subsequently with my band the following week to a great response.
When I have deliberately tried to write a song i have invariably failed even when a theme / story was presented to me - so maybe the earlier post about the muse fits the bill for me also. either way I just make the most of it where possible and resign myself to wait for the next visitation tight lines M


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,Betsy
Date: 25 Jun 04 - 08:04 AM

I wrote as Guest 24 Jun 04 - 10:29 AM just before Kendall. I'm sorry my name didn't show.
M Ted thank you a million times for your Eloquent and Educated reply / explanation.
It put into formal language all the sense of mysticism I tried to express - which
for me ( apart from penning the occasional song )
being an Engineer and thereby pragmatist by nature , is at times difficult.
Jerry as usual - rounds the story off in his own uncomplicated manner and I had no difficulty
in embracing and empathising (especially) with your last paragraph .
M Ted.- Many thanks again.


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 24 Jun 04 - 09:19 PM

Just about every way imaginable. Each song comes in it's own way and at it's own pace. That said, I think I've only set out to write two or three songs in my whole life. I've had major portions of songs come in dreams, I've had them come fast and furious, and some that took months of living with to finally come together. I've never written lyrics first, but have occasioanlly added words to a melody. Twice, at last count.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: M.Ted
Date: 24 Jun 04 - 05:50 PM

For those who realize that Amos is off the mark, here are the names of the actual Muses, with tips on recognizing them, so you won't embarass yourself with tedious questions when they appear:

Euterpe the "Giver of Pleasure" is the muse of music and is represented with a flute.

Calliope (Calliopeia), the "Fair Voiced" and the eldest Muse, is the muse of epic poetry and is seen holding a writing tablet in hand, sometimes seen with a roll of paper or a book, and crowned in gold.

Clio the "Proclaimer" is the muse of history and is often seen sitting with a scroll and accompanied by a chest of books.

Erato the "Lovely" is the muse of love poetry and mimicry, and is seen with a lyre and sometimes wears a crown of roses.

Melpomene the "Songstress" is the muse of tragedy in spite of her joyous singing and is represented by the tragic mask.

Polyhymnia (Polymnia), "She of Many Hymns," is the muse of Sacred Poetry and is seen with a pensive look upon her face.

Terpsichore the "Whirler" is the muse of dancing and is often seen dancing with her lyre and a plectrum.

Thalia (Thaleia) the "Flourishing" is the muse of comedy and of playful and idyllic poetry, and is seen with a comic mask.

Urania the "Heavenly" is the muse of astronomy and is represented by a staff pointed at a celestial globe.


If artists are to be believed, the Muses tend to go about with one or both breasts exposed, in the French fashion--but they are not to be trifled with, even by the likes of Amos--it seems there was a fellow, Thamyris, a passing to fair minstrel who challenged the Muses to a musical contest at Dorium in Messenia--the agreement being if he won he would take pleasure from all of them. The Muses won the contest, and Thamyris lost his his eyes and his minstrelsy as well(which must have been painful)--


In my experience, it helps to research and make notes on your musical subject in advance of the Muses arrival, and to be ready do do finishing and polishing after they depart--they resent having to do all the work themselves, and visit less often if they have to do all the prep and clean-up--


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Jun 04 - 05:35 PM

Well Amos - I guess that's the end of THAT thread !!!!


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amos
Date: 24 Jun 04 - 03:40 PM

The Muses mentioned above are corners of Selfhood that have acheived sufficient capacitance to fire off a burst of reality. They're not separate beings, but corners of one's Self thaty are -- or are not -- allowed to stay in communication.

A


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: kendall
Date: 24 Jun 04 - 02:21 PM

I only write about things that happened to me. That's why I don't write much.
One exception, The Last Whale Hunt didn't happen in this lifetime.


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Jun 04 - 10:29 AM

There exists the Muses.
I've read the thread and I don't think anyone has mentioned that
there is a Muse which is related to Song and therefore songwriting.
This Muse probably lives in Paul McCartney's attic, but for some of us
it visits us unannounced , and stays for a few split seconds or until it finishes
it's intended work.
Not knowing when it will visit is the big problem – but it seems to be
coaxed when your emotions are on an extreme high or a low – it doesn't seem to
be around when things are going normal.
The emotions are more pronounced e.g. when you have a few more drinks than
you should , times of adversity , times of great happiness , etc etc ., and when
it visits you've got to acquiesce and fondle it until you can complete your task
together.
It will not be abused or mistreated – hence that brilliant song and idea you
had in your head when you were walking home pissed after missing the last
bus – it's gone next morning - in spite of all attempts to properly recall it .
You have to embrace the Muse and make it totally welcome.
To those of you who have made this wonderful Union – even just once,
and truly have felt fulfilled, and especially shared this fulfillment by giving pleasure
to your fellow men and women with the fruit of this mystical Union ,
then indeed,you are a most fortunate and chosen person to have
received this (what must surely be) a God given gift.


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: jack halyard
Date: 24 Jun 04 - 04:18 AM

I take my model from clay sculpture, I get an armature on which to build. I borrow another song which gives me a metre and a rhyme scheme. I write my first verse and chorus to this structure. The rest then follows almost automatically.
I then use the same idea for a new tune.

For those who know my work, the song "Llewellyn Walking" needed a slow, processional sort of pace. I chose "Angel of the morning" as the armature. That gave me the verses.
I then took "Nimrod" from Elgar's "Enigma Variations", knocked it to pieces and re-assembled it around the words. Elgar's ascending motif gave the song a sort of forward,rising positivity.

Mostly, then, I try to build my own tunes to fit my words.Sometimes, however, a tune demands to be used.
The tune usually sung to "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" was known to me for years only as a profoundly beautiful tune associated with radio progammes heard in my earliest childhood. It kept popping out of my subconscious and reducing me to tears. Finally, I decided that only singing it to a set of words would lay the ghosts. I wrote a set of words called "Newell Highway Anthem".

Margaret Walters sings "Llewellyn" on her latest CD "Power in a song"
and Newell Highway on "Who Was Here?"
                                       John Warner/Jack Halyard


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Subject: RE: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Podger
Date: 23 Jun 04 - 11:57 PM

Well nah, I starts at the beginnin and finishes at the end an I tries ter put sumfin in the middle.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 16 Aug 02 - 09:11 PM

I have some songs but I don't consider I have written them..more like musical transcription..like dictation. Words just come into my head. I let them float around for a while until I have about 3 or 4 at least partial verses. Then I write them down. If there are holes in the lines I just leave them until something pops in. It is like setting type. A word will fit into this slot if it has the right rhyme and rhythm etc.

What is wierd is I an feel a song coming on, like a prodome I guess. Once I was at a music camp up in B.C. and I knew a song was there just waiting to be gotten. Bill Gallaher was there and I told him there was a song by the church. He said he knew there was but he had people he had to see etc...it was more his "turf" than mine. So I went and got the song. I didn't think it was a good song, so I just let it slide. But I somehow wrote the words out for a graduate student grandmother in my department. A year later she said, oh thank you, your poem meant so much to me..I went huh???I don't even write poems. And she told me what it was and that her grandchildren were descendents of Chief Joseph. It was about teenagers in the Indian boarding schools on Vancouver Island or thereabouts...mg

p.s. I would like to hear about the Columbus Day storm song. I remember it....was about 13 at the time..my little sister was very traumatized by it. A tree crashed through our living room right where my father had been sitting..

mg


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 16 Aug 02 - 07:36 PM

I have trouble finishing songs. I usually plant some personal anchors in a lyric, though I don't write about myself. I have an oblique reference to my hometown in a recent tune, something like that. Usually some dumb little tech thing might get me started, a chord voicing, or rythmic figure. Don't start with pen, but usually have lyrics to develop the tune with, wind up changing them and tinkering.

Tend to work from sprawl of variations toward enough repetition and structure--I try different things, different line lengths in verses, and then have to prune and trim toward the structure, variations that work. I'm no example to follow, but that's what I do. I've wound up with homeless lyrics when I've discarded the original music. They sit around in desk drawers, drinking from paper bags, begging for completion.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: drummergirl
Date: 16 Aug 02 - 12:38 PM

I saw this thread through a search and I thought that it was worth being seen again, so back up to the top we go!


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 05 Mar 01 - 12:10 PM

These are all great. I am going to steal bits and pieces of the posts that are here and make up a sheet of instructions on writing. Then I will post it next to my music corner and refer to it every once in a while. Maybe that will jog something loose.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Marion
Date: 05 Mar 01 - 09:24 AM

Amergin and Black Walnut: I've never tried using a rhyming dictionary, and I can see how it would have advantages over the alphabet method (faster, and maybe more thorough for perfect rhymes) and disadvantages (leaving out imperfect rhymes that would be good enough for me). But my gut feeling is that using the dictionary wouldn't do as much to draw out my creativity as discovering and writing down the words myself.

Marion


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 05 Mar 01 - 06:13 AM

Trapper - I'm going to print out your list & keep it somewhere handy. Sage advice for those times when I can't figure out where to start.
I just had an example of how powerful songs can be as 'therapy'. I had written a song about how a particular person seems to really dislike me & how it was sapping my confidence & the chorus basically is my dad's advice to me to let it go & not bother about it.
I was at a singaround on saturday & the first song I sang went absolutely crap, due to lack of confidence & the fear that certain people didn't want to listen & I couldn't open my throat enough to hit the notes. Absolute nightmare.... Anyways - I decided to try to cure myself by singing my therapy song & it worked 100%. I could sing again & it was a miracle!!
I think its a once-only song though & I'll just have to believe that the magic once cast will last forever :>
I'd never really gone for writing heart-felt songs before, but that one seemed to work, so perhaps I'll put a bit more of myself into my songs from time to time now.
As for writing down the songs when they pop up - I often end up writing the lyrics in the back of whatever paperback I'm currently reading. Not very sensible really, because they risk going back down to the charity shop with the song still in there...
With tunes, being not very musically-literate, I just have to work out the chords, write those down & hope I can reconstruct it later.

Kris PS. I wrote a quickie last night after a fair amount of wine (oops - fell off the wagon again) - it seems great & deeply meaningful last night, but the cold light of day revealed the cracks somewhat when I read it this morning!


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: black walnut
Date: 04 Mar 01 - 01:08 PM

Amergin, I think that Marion is saying that her alphabet method is a more complete way to get rhymes...you don't get the words that nearly rhyme from a rhyming dictionary. I also don't think you get as close to the words. It helps to yank them out oneself.

imho.... Marion, am I close? ~ b.w.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Jeri
Date: 04 Mar 01 - 12:33 PM

Marion - I sometimes do the alphabet thing, too.

Here is one problem I've had, and a solution. I want to get it right the first time. I used to get stuck on a verse and not be able to continue until I got it right. The solution is to keep going and ignore the one you're stuck on. Write verses past it, or even try writing the same verse differently. This last can be tough, because you have to let go of what's already in your head. You can save the verse you're stuck on. Often if you look at it after it's had a chance to sit for a while, something will come to you.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amergin
Date: 04 Mar 01 - 12:16 PM

Marion....I use a slightly easier method....some may even call it cheating....I use a rhyming dictionary....


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: black walnut
Date: 03 Mar 01 - 04:27 PM

Marion, I love your alphabet idea. I'm going to use it. I've been doing something like that in my head, but heck, why NOT write it down? It sounds like an excellent way to fan the fire.

~b.w.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 09:35 PM

Naemanson, sometimes you need to be revved up pretty good for them to start. For me, writing anything can get the song thing started too.

For you, if the tunes do come, I would suggest the tape recorder. Keep a little cheap one handy.

As far as words-- well heck, send me an e-mail describing what you'd like to write about, and let's see if we can pop a song loose.

~S~


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Marion
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 09:20 PM

My secret weapon: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

When I'm writing lyrics, I write out the alphabet on the top of every page I use for rough work. Then when I have a line I want to rhyme, I study the alphabet and write down all the rhyming or close-enough-to-rhyming words I can think of, regardless of whether or not they seem to be good ones. Then I study the list of words and wait for a possibility to strike me as to how one of those words could end a good line. If I get nothing, I see if I can rephrase the freely-written line to have another word at the end, then try again.

It's kind of cliche, but you know how they say genius is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration? That's really been my experience in writing songs (the inspiration/perspiration part, not the genius part). It seems that writing songs is mostly tedious - writing down lists of ideas that could be included, writing some tentative lines, looking for possible rhymes, messing around endlessly with the lines until you get a rhythm and rhyme that "will do". It's a laborious process but will fairly dependably result in an OK song if I stick with it.

But that little bit of inspiration - the original theme for a song, or the line that "makes" the song - seems to come as a gift, and is very necessary to get started and to motivate me to stick with the process.

Marion


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: black walnut
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 04:09 PM

Thank you, N.!

~b.w.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: mousethief
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 03:52 PM

Something bubbles up from that unnameable place that says "hey! I'm a song!" -- usually it isn't; usually it's just a chunk of a song, and I have to write the rest. Sometimes it's the whole thing. Sometimes I sit down with my guitar and say, "I'm gonna write a song." Then sometimes something happens, and sometimes it doesn't.

On these songs for the Challenge!s, I read the story Aine posts, and then some phrase in the story, or some phrase I piece together from reading the story, tickles something in my brain, and that something is some old song that the phrase fits nicely into. Then I craft together the rest, and if I'm lucky, something funny results.

I know why people talk about having a "muse" -- some stuff that bubbles up is so well-formed, and so complex, and I know I didn't exert any work to create it, and you think, "well, it had to come from SOMEwhere..." -- so you call that "somewhere" the Muse. And that somewhere becomes a someone, and a someone with a very capricious sense of humor at times. I don't fully believe in the existence of a Muse that feeds me chunks of poetry, but I can't say I fully disbelieve, either. A cranky old gal sometimes, but the more I feed her, the better work she does for me.

This entire stanza from a poem (I haven't written music for it yet) popped into my brain completely intact and without precedent, on the night of Nov 11, 1987, just as I was drifting off to sleep:

I'd love to stay and argue but I haven't got the time
Why do you think these courtesans are waiting in my mind?
They're waiting for the night to fall and sleep to coat my brain
It's there they paint the dreamscape where they dance and entertain

("Night Court" copyright 1987 Alex Riggle; all rights reserved)

The rest of the poem followed, albeit in smaller chunks, within the space of a half-hour. Freaky.

How do I write songs? Um, I have no idea.

Alex


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 02:24 PM

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.

********************************************************

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


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 02:21 PM

[Posting for Black Walnut]

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


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amergin
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 12:37 PM

Wd, there is another Guthrie quote that I like alot:

When speaking of another songwriter he said, "Oh him? He just stole from me, but I steal from everybody."


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Trapper
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 12:28 PM

WHEW! This is longer than I thought it would be! Here's my thoughts, for what they're worth.

- Al

ASSIGNMENT: This can be a "commission" - a song requested from someone else, or you can assign yourself a job. Aine's monthly Song Challenges in this BBS is a good example of an assignment.

A GREAT PHRASE: Listen to language and you can get great inspiration for songs. I think of Randy Travis' "On The Other Hand"... a common phrase that when viewed from a songwriting perspective became a much deeper thing.

A GREAT STORY: Take a story and rhyme it. I usually write the first couple of lines and then the meter and rhyming scheme create themselves. You can use news stories, poems, or personal stories.

A GREAT JOKE: This is fun. Take a joke, write the punchline into a verse FIRST, and then write verses in front of it to deliver the set-up. I wrote a song called "Twenty Years Experience", all to set up the line "I'm not 40, I'm 20, with 20 years experience."

PURE INSPIRATION: These are always the most fun, but also the most rare. It's that "Lightining Bolt", where the song just writes itself. John McCutcheon credits "Christmas In The Trenches" as this type of song.

A DEADLINE: Can be used in combination with any of the others. Just tell yourself, "I'm going to finish this song by ____", then do it. What you have as of the deadline is your "first draft."

DON'T BE CRITICAL (on the first time around): I disagree with some of the others here in that I don't set out to write "great" songs, I just write the things....

EDIT AND RE-WRITE: ...but I WILL come back later and clean them up, edit them and change them. THIS is the process that may take years for me. I had a song I wrote on "self-assignment" called "Groundhog's Day" that didn't have a proper ending for about 14 years.

TUNES: Tunes come harder to me than lyrics. Michael Smith says to define what a song is "like", then give it a tune "like" that. ie, is it like "Steamroller Blues", is it like "Blowin' in the Wind", or is it like "Mood Indigo"... etc, etc.

SUBSTITUTION: Paul McCartney's original words to "Yesterday" were "Scrambled Eggs"... he just put in nonsense words to flesh out the meter and melody, then came back later to put in better words. Same is true the other way - you can write your words "To The Tune Of" a familiar song, then create an original tune later.

PARODY: Some folks don't consider this real songwriting - tell it to Homer and Jethro or Al Yankovic. I like writing parodies. And I like writing them as CLOSE to the original meter and lyrical content as possible. The joke is sometimes all the funnier because of the closeness. (ie Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and Al Yankovic's "Eat It".) Parodies are also usually easier than creating "Original" songs, so it's a way to hone your songwriting "chops" until you're ready to make brand spanking new ones.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Grab
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 08:25 AM

Almost exclusively late at night.

Songs usually start with a single good line or a good couplet coming to mind. If I've got that, that's like the corner of the jigsaw - the rest builds up around it.

Sometimes I'll find a nice riff or chord sequence on a guitar which I can wrap something around, but usually that just ends up as the basis for an instrumental thing rather than a song. And I've not (so far) had enough inspiration to put a complete instrumental together, just a few nice sequences of riffs so far.

Grab.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 04:52 AM

OOh I just remembered...
My dad is just coming up to 70, and has only this year started to come out and sing at pub sessions with Hamm & I.
He was happily selecting songs he knew from ages back & polishing them up - then he started to add new verses to old songs (respectfully of course) - then one evening he settled back in his chair for a snooze & was most startled to find himself writing a song!!
He has written several now & is hoping to come up with new tunes as well as the next development.
I am so proud of him & just gutted that it took him so long to get started....
His voice has improved with practice as well - its gone from an old man's voice back to the melodious well-controlled voice I remember from the few occasions that he sang at home when I was a kid.
Its never to late to start, is it?

Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: wdyat12
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 02:19 AM

folk1234 and Amergin,

Thank you, your quotes from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger are compforting. Why should I strive to be original anyway? Is my ego so big that I can't be part of the ongoing folk process? I guess these questions every songwriter asks. I feel better now about all those "sounds like thats" that have surfaced in my music. I might even retrieve a few from the recycle bin.

I met Pete Seeger backstage in the summer of 1969, while setting up the sound and lights for another "Summerthing" Stagemobile performance on the Fens in Boston. I was so impressed with his easy demeanor when he asked me where the bathroom was.

Thanks again for your wisdom,

wdyat12


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Hawker
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 06:33 PM

I have a file containing poetry I have written over my lifetime from about the age of 12 to now (30+ years). Until 2 years ago I believed that I could not write songs 'cos I couldn't do the music bit. Someone told me the easiest way to write a song is to take a song you know, change the words, then change the tune... I tried this and was very pleased with the result, however the next song just happened, I was reading a book about fishing traditions in Cornwall and this tune came to me, I sang it into my trusty tape recorder and then wrote the words to fit the tune. The next song was about a matter that stirred me to write a poem from the heart, I then put a tune to it. Recently, I wrote a tribute to a friend, the chorus I am very happy with, but I feel that the verse is partly plagirised from another song, and no matter how I try I keep going back and am not happy. I therefore conclude that there are no hard and fast good ways to write a song, but I never go anywhere without my tape recorder and find that most of my best song tunes come to me on long car journeys! Best of luck all you composers, and like I've said before, the test of whether you have written a REALLY GREAT SONG is whether it is still being sung in 50 years time! Cheers, Lucy


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Jim Krause
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 04:55 PM

On the other hand, when I'm really stumped, there's this warehouse in Omaha. . .
Jim


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Jim Krause
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 04:39 PM

Mostly it is just plain darn hard work with my favorite fountain pen, and a pad of yellow legal paper in front of me. I like to start out writing the lyric first, since this seems to be the most difficult part of the process. If I have a title, that keeps the lyric writing phase in phocus. Otherwise, I use a writer's trick; I just start writing without regard for spelling or punctuation. I write free form this way for maybe five, maybe ten minutes, then put my pen down, close my notebook, and have another cup of coffee, or go for a walk, or post a few messages on the Mudcat. Next day, I come back to my notebook, and see what I have written. If something leaps out, all is good and well.

The other method I use is to consult the mailing list from the local songwriter's circle. They issue monthly song challenges such as this month's challenge to write a song about a childhood memory. That was easy, I am writing one about the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 in Oregon.

It's pretty rare that a song just gets handed to me from the ether somewhere. But when it does, what a rush!

OK, so now I have the lyric just the way I want it after having gone through maybe three, or four drafts. Then and only then do I pick up my guitar or my banjo and begin to compose the melody. By this time, the lyric will have already suggested the meter if not the melody too.

Well, that's about it. Jim


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amergin
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 03:10 PM

Pete Seeger also said something that his father Charles Seeger said....."Plagiarism is basic to all cultures."


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 03:03 PM

I Think song writing is like farming, first thing you need to do is learn the lay of your land, where the fertile soil is, plant your crop there,and rotate the crops every once in awhile it's good for the soil. I think people put to much emphasis on the "art", it is more craft really, and if you are honest and persistent in your attempts you will hear you in the work and that is when "artist" is tagged on. All art is craft first really. Listen to lots of music especially within the style(s) your working with, reinterpet, borrow themes, set out to write a song inspired by a phrase or feel. Work the folk process like a mule. There is nothing new under the sun. "new" is woefully overrated. There are only diffrent people ,with diffrent perspectives, diffrent strengths, diffrent weaknesses. You show me an innovator I'll show you someone who tweaked something that was already here after learning it DEEPLY, and INTERNALIZING IT. Draw together the things you love, the things that made you want to play, and want to write. Keep what feels like yours, Don't mimmick. GOTTA GET BEHIND THE MULE IN THE MORNING AND PLOW, AND ALWAYS KEEP A SAPHIRE IN YOUR MIND.- djh


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: folk1234
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 02:28 PM

Neamanson: I'm probably too well-adjusted to sing, play, or compose the blues. But for your sake, I hope to hear that you are composing 'Happy-talk' from now on.

wdyat12: Fear not. Pete Seeger said that Woody Guthrie said, "...plagiarism is inherent to the folk process.....without it, the process would die".


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 02:08 PM

KingBrilliant, the algorithm would never be "Art" because Mr. Thieme would never use it.

WYSIWYG, I was afraid that would be the answer. I generally cannot focus well enough to keep a tune in my head and words, which I can pour out when communicating, just dry up when trying to put together something creative.

Something KingBrilliant said about the cunning plan reminded me of the group of Scots who wanted to be known for their ability to plan. Unfortunately they would get so wrapped up in the words in their planning reports that the were never known as for cunning plans but they were known as the punning clan.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: tiggerdooley
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:31 PM

To quote something that I have said on another thread:
I get reallllly stressed and ratty when there'e a song bubbling up. Sometimes it can take weeks (and it has been known to take months). I begin to put it down to hormones or something like that, but then all of a sudden, a song emerges, and I love it and I want to share it 'cos I'm not embarrassed like I am with some of my songs. Then my bad mood goes away!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: black walnut
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:10 PM

I'm having a bit of trouble posting, but I'll try this again.

Okay, Naemonson, I'll tell you what I wrote on that precious little fast~food~restaurant paper napkin. It was way back in August of 1997....

Let me see if this much gets posted onto the thread, and then I'll continue my story....


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: nutty
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:06 PM

Most of my stuff gets written when my mind is empty ...........usually when I'm on a long drive -- 2-3hours at the wheel usually achieves something although not always a song ... I write poetry as well

At home and in the camper , I have a cassette recorder which I use to keep my mind focassed on what I am doing .. otherwise I forget words/tunes and am constantly changing them

The song has to be learned and "sung in" just like any other song and I may "fine tune" at this stage


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: wdyat12
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 12:57 PM

My greatest nemesis in writing songs is my plagiaristic subconscious.

wdyat12


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