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Song writing questions

23 Mar 00 - 12:13 PM (#199943)
Subject: Song writing questions
From: Homeless

I've never had any desire to write lyrics (or poems, or stories) but some of the song Challenge topics that have been presented are too interesting to pass up. So I made a couple attempts at writing songs, which has raised a couple questions for me.

When I start writing a song, basically I have a few ideas and/or rhymes, but have to really work at getting the sentences(?) put together so that the rhythm and accents are correct. I write a line or verse, go back and change a couple words, possibly add a syllable, re-read it and sing it out loud, and maybe scrap it and start again. Is this common, or do most of you just have the songs flow right out of your mind on the first attempt?

How long should a song be? The longer I worked on the last topic (devils inside the computers) the more ideas I kept getting. I could have kept writing on and on, adding themes and expanding ideas, but at 1am I decided to go to bed (since I had to be up at five). How do I know when to stop writing?

Is song writing supposed to be akin to writing a composition in English class, i.e. should there be a topic sentence/introduction, supporting paragraphs, and summary/conclusion? This is the approach I've taken on the songs I've done so far. Are there other pieces that should go in also?

Keeping in mind that I don't plan on ever doing "serious" songwriting, e.g. record an album, perform, or be published, I would appreciate input from anyone who would like to answer my questions or express their opinion on their own style of songwriting.

23 Mar 00 - 12:24 PM (#199953)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)

Whatever works: I don't think I write lyrics the way you do, but if the English-composition approach helped me write, then I'd stick to it.

Once, recently, I got a "gift" lyric that came out of my head easily and quickly. On another occasion I had to work over the lyric for a long time.

If the song seems too short, you can (if so inclined) add an instrumental bridge passage.

If the song seems too long, but you can't bear to part with any of the verses, then consider devising a "short version" in which you leave a few verses out, and a "long version" with all of them in. Which version you sing would depend on your sense of your audience.

Keep in mind, though: I've probably written fewer lyrics than you have!


23 Mar 00 - 12:26 PM (#199954)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions

Songwriting is art and craft. Most good writing of any type has a million revisions and tests in it from the author before it starts to sound reasonable. I have a written a few songs and they have always involved singing them over and over again to get the words right. It always helps to get something out that you can change and edit rather than keeping it all in waiing fo rthe perfect phrase to appear. A good book about writing that you might like to find and use is "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg. Sorry I'm rambling. I also find that different songs and topics seem to demand or require different structures. So you may find that as you write more that you are experimenting with alternate formats.

23 Mar 00 - 01:06 PM (#199995)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bert

Amos is the only one who has songs that 'flow right out'. I don't know where they flow FROM though;-)

Gotcha Amos.

Seriously, no they don't flow right out, you have to work at them.

A song should be no longer than 3 minutes.

A song needs a beginning, a middle and an end.
The beginning's job is to get the listener's attention.
The middle's job is to build up to the end.
The end's job is to deliver the punch line, message or moral.

The song MUST have an end, 'cos that's what it's all about. If you don't have an end, you don't have a song.

So you stop writing at the end and it should be no more than three minutes (song time that is, not writing time) away from the beginning.

You should do real good if you keep the thought that you 'don't plan on ever doing "serious" songwriting'

You have just started on a very enjoyable part of your life.


23 Mar 00 - 01:15 PM (#200002)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Mudjack

May I suggest Steve Gillette's book available through Sing Out called SONGWRITING and the Creative Process. I'm in the process of reading it and so far find it useful and rewarding. Mudjack

23 Mar 00 - 02:00 PM (#200021)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Amos

Possibilities may flow out, but the devil is in the cutting. You may have a large crop of nice rhymes and ideas that make decent couplets, but trimming them down, even if painful, can make the whole adhere to a good structure rather than just a collection.

A good structure, though depends on viewpoint; a rollick from bar to bar ends up in the jug, while a maiden's lament may never end in time although the song can end by showing the timelessness of it. Some songs have a surprise ending, or a sort of ineluctable conclusion where the end ("I'm the last of the Irish Rover!" leaves little to be said), while others refuse to end decently, of which the archetype is 99 bottles of beer.

The point is that the raw material of ideas will bubble around and evolve hopefully into a clean structure.

Two parts of good songwriting sometimes not noticed are the use of implicit images -- the things only suggested sketchily which provide a full image in the listener when well done) and on a different note the interesting adhesions and tensions that can come from internal rhymes, using syllables within the line, not because the end syllables gotta rhyme, but because the internal resonances make the body of the song sing more vibrantly or adhere differently.

An example of these from the "Irish Rover" is the passing reference to 48 bales of old nanny goat tails, or the "great load of bricks for the new City Hall in New York". The latter conjures up in one little line a whole image of the import of bricks from Ireland to New York and the situation of Irish immigrants using them to build Tammany's City Hall -- all by implication. And the internal rhyming in "bales of nanny goat tails" makes it flippant and funny.

These are some tricks I use and if they are useful to you, welcome to 'em, and if they are

23 Mar 00 - 02:19 PM (#200033)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

This is great! Just the kind of thing I'd hoped would happen as a result of the SONG CHALLENGE! threads. I'm always jealous when the 'guitar guys' get going on one of their threads -- leaving out the poets (whether they be one of the 'guitar guys' or not) amongst us. I'd love to see this thread go to 80 or so messages!

Homeless is a natural songwriter and I, like the rest of you, welcome him/her to the wonderful world of words.

Now to give you my $.02. Often my songs will come to me alost whole and I have to rush to keep up with the Muse to write it all down. But, more often, I have to work, write, erase, work, write, scratch out, work, write, groan and moan, work, write and finally decide to leave the poor pupply alone.

Sometimes the words to a song come first and then I have to spend hours coming up with a tune. Sometimes the tune comes first and I have to struggle for hours to come up with words for it.

If the tune comes first, I record it on tape (just a bunch of la-la-la's) to save the tune. Then I put it away for a couple of days and then start listening to it again until I get a feeling for what kind of song it is -- sad, happy, wistful, melancholy, silly, etc. Then I start the process described above to bring the words and music together.

If the words comes first, I already have an idea of the mood of the song and I go from there to play around with a tune (or I go to my tune tapes and see if I've already captured something that might work with the words).

Since I write in two languages, the word-craft varies, depending on the language. In English, I'm more likely to rhyme words at the end of a phrase, but not always. In Irish, I have a little more freedom in re rhyming; and use internal alliteration and internal rhyming and the rhythm of the words to construct the song. Both are very rewarding and fun. (But then, I like to write crossword puzzles, too.)

For the most part, Homeless, whatever works for you, use it! As you go along, you'll find that each song takes on its own needs and demands different things from you. That's were the beauty and enjoyment of songwriting comes in. A word to the wise -- NEVER throw ANYTHING away!! You never know when you'll be able to go back and find just the 'right' word or line in that pile you call junk.

Great good luck to you and let's hear from some more folks here!

-- Áine

23 Mar 00 - 02:19 PM (#200034)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)


If you had been paying attention at any time during the literary portion of you formal education, from the nursery rhymes in Kindergarden to the painful expeditions into Keats, Shelley, Yeats, Elliot, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Spencer, Dante, Homer, you would know the answer to this question;-)

Seriously--go back and read the poetry of writers that you like or have studied you can look it up on the internet--I have nearly always been able to find what I was looking for, from Keats and Thomas Campion to Longfellow) to see how they dealt with expressing ideas using meter and rhyme--

The English language is relatively cumbersome and awkward when it comes to writing verse, and so writers are compelled to use rather complicated sorts of gramatical tricks in order to put syllables when they scan properly--

Your ability to do this, to a great degree, will determine how "good" you are--and as sickening as it may be to consider, some people are "naturals" and some have to work really hard at it--

James Taylor (and family) has the gift, as did such characters as Meridith Willson, Cole Porter, and Larry Hart--

Hart in fact, often dashed off his songs, with of the most subtle and intricate rhymes ever devised, in just a few minutes--

Don't be afraid to take a poem or lyric that you like and imitate as much or as little as you want--remember that the greatest poets in history have often rewritten the works of the other greatest poets in history--

Bert's ideas are a good place to start--but poetry and song lyrics havve moved past that linear narrative style a long time ago(if they were ever there)--so don't feel bound to it--

One tip, the muse comes and goes--if you feel the lines and verses coming on, grab a pen and paper and write them down--don't put it off, because those precious lines can disappear as fast as they come into your head, and you will not be able to recreate them or greturn to the same frame of mind that started the verses flowing in the first place--

23 Mar 00 - 02:40 PM (#200047)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bert

Áine - of course you have a little more freedom writing in Irish - all the words sound the bloody same;-)

Homeless, also look at Pat Pattison's books "Writing better lyrics", "Managing Lyric Structure" and "Rhyming Techniques and Strategies".

Amos, you're dead right about the use of images. Another example of that is Gordon Lightfoot's Song for a Winter's Night. The first line is just magic - "The lamp is burning low upon my table top".


23 Mar 00 - 02:46 PM (#200052)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Whistle Stop

Homeless, this is an excellent thread, and I'm glad you started it. The one rule I would impart is that there are no rules. Sometimes songs just seem to drop into your lap, from nowhere at all, and you have to scramble to write them down and/or record them before the inspiration fades. Sometimes it's a very tedious process, trying things, rejecting them, honing, polishing, etc. I write a lot, and I've had things come to me in a variety of ways. One of my favorites literally came to me in a dream, and I found it running around my head as I was waking up. Others have taken months, and/or have started as pages and pages of text that had to be ruthlessly edited before I had something coherent and concise enough to work. If your first song follows one path, and your second follows another, don't worry about it -- you did the right thing both times.

Other advice I would offer is to avoid editing too early; just get the ideas out at first. But to balance this out, make sure you'll be willing to edit later -- as Amos said, it can be painful, but it's necessary. I also agree with Amos's points about implicit images and internal rhymes; these are good tools to have in your kit, or at least good concepts to be aware of. I'm not sure I'd agree with all of the comments that have been made in this thread -- there are lots of good songs that last more than three minutes, for example -- but it's good to consider these things.

Remember, though, that this is a creative process, and sometimes breaking the "rules" can bring interesting results. There are some songs that don't rhyme at all, but fall easily on the ears just the same -- I remember noticing this about a song by John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival) called "Long As I Can See The Light". Others were started with no clear idea what they were about, but ended up being quite coherent and appealing. Dummy lyrics can be a good tool to help you make progress on the musical end even if the words haven't quite caught up yet (the most famous example of this is probably Paul McCartney's "Scrambled Eggs," which he carried around for a long time before eventually transforming it into the most covered song of all time --"Yesterday").

I'm looking forward to checking back and seeing what other ideas surface in this thread. Good luck.

23 Mar 00 - 02:47 PM (#200053)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: wysiwyg

All I know is you hang around Mudcat and songs come. Whether you want them or not. Oh-- you mean GOOD songs?

I haven't a clue.

Amos-- cut????????? Noooooo!!!!!! Oh all right.

I have a file in my WP I call the Doodoo Dump. All the words I am madly in love with that had to be cut because they just did not belong in whatever I was writing. The perfectly crafted stuff that just did not... fit. I use 'em to start something else, later! A phrase may pop out that is just right for something brand new. And then I don't feel like I've killed them, just put them in a coma!


23 Mar 00 - 02:51 PM (#200058)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

Ah Praise, only a writer could come up with the term "Doodoo Dump"! I love it -- may I plagarize you, please? Sounds like a great title for a song, too (Mmmmmm).

And no that point -- How many times do we get the title of a song first, then have to come up with the lyrics/tune for it?

-- Áine

23 Mar 00 - 03:20 PM (#200071)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

I posted my piece without having read Amos and Aine's comments--good and heart felt advice from people who know their craft and take it seriously--

Two things I might add--I try to think about how my audience will respond to what I am writing, and I always think about the emotions that I want it to evoke--

I suppose there is an implicit third thing, which is making sure that the song is accessible to the performer--that it is easy for them to put it across--

And the thing last thing, which, I suppose I should not admit, is that I am very competitive--so when I write my song, I try to thing of everything that do make my song get a better response than say, Amos and Aine's songs--

I may not succeed, but it is what I always shoot for--and I assume that they do, too---

23 Mar 00 - 03:46 PM (#200089)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Amos

Gee, M. Ted, I am flattered to be on yer radar. Y'know, I hope you continue to pour out songs that get high marks, and acclaim. I admire your honest assessment; and I am just now searchig my head to see if I get that competitive burn. I think the honest answer is that back when the Challenges started I was infatuated with this whacky redhead and her irresistible enthusiasms, that I got competitive about winning her kudos, and she was always ready from her infinite supply, which is part of her great beauty. But ever since DH sent me to the cold showers I have been reformed; and my joy in songwriting is a more sober celebration of the creativity that comes out of these many "goldurned" talented characters in these parts, 'cuz it is so funny to see what they come up with!

'Course if we were contesting for remunerative publication I'd get all hotted up again and try and scheme superiority into my compositions, but after due introspection I think I'm off that hook for the moment... so it's okay with me if the best man gets the best applause even if it's you...godammmit... :>) Now, about that bridge...

23 Mar 00 - 04:55 PM (#200131)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

To be honest, again, nobody much has heard what I've written for a long time, and there hasn't been much acclaim(x-xept in my narrow world of friends) but I contiue to write, almost everyday--and like a mad scientist, I entertain various schemes, preparing to assault the world--

Whether it is fantasy or not, I don't know--But I continue to get energy for my work by listening to the work of others and trying to learn from, and shoot for(and maybe surpass) what I hear--

Also, if someone else (even me) happens to get more applause--remember, there is always another audience, and you can always write another song, this time lifting a bit of what made my song work--

23 Mar 00 - 05:31 PM (#200151)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Mbo

I can do lyrics so some degree..obviously, but I'm much more of a tune "flow from me" but always when I have no place to write them down!


23 Mar 00 - 05:35 PM (#200154)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

Amos -- Boy, do you know how to suck up or what?? And don't be fooled folks, DH (Dear Hubby) loves Amos' songs as much as I do...

M.Ted -- I think it's great that you write everyday. Keep on exercising that songwriter's muscle! And thank you for putting me in the same company as my dear Amos -- it keeps him humble, don't ya know.

As far as being competitive, I write my songs for myself first, then the outside world. Now, that doesn't mean that I accept less from myself; probably the opposite. I do want folks to like what I've done, after the song has past the rigourous self-test, of course. Then, there are those songs that one is simply compelled to write and 'competition' and 'choice' are completely overshadowed . . . you know the ones I'm talking about; the ones that come from gut. And usually, those are my favorite ones.

-- Áine

23 Mar 00 - 05:57 PM (#200172)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bert

Ah Whistle Stop, you're right 'there are no rules'
I was at a songwriter's workshop one time and they said DON'T USE CLICHES (Their emphasis not mine). I thought 'Well there goes Country Music'. And I got to thinking about cliches.

The more I thought about it the more I concluded that you SHOULD use Cliches. For a few reasons.
1. They only exist because people like them.
2. They say you have to hear a song several times before you remember one line of it, but if you use a cliche your song will have instant recognition.
3. English professors won't like them but do you wan't to limit your audience to English Professors? Or do you want to appeal to ordinary folk?

So I started using cliches and found that people started remembering my songs and requesting those with cliches.

If you can't think of a cliche that fits your current song then make one up. Yes, you can do that believe it or not, (Amos did with "When your pickle glows at night") sort of an instant cliche, just get a catchy phrase and repeat it many times, 'till it's fixed in the listener's mind.

I like to think of different techniques as 'tools' rather than 'rules'. Not every tool will be appropriate for every song.


23 Mar 00 - 05:57 PM (#200173)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bert

deleted double posting

23 Mar 00 - 06:05 PM (#200178)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Mbo

My composition teacher said I "Used folk cliches well to produce good material." I guess I'm a cliche user/abuser too...


23 Mar 00 - 06:34 PM (#200203)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Kim C

I'm going to respectfully disagree with Bert about the 3-minute rule. I'm not sure it really applies to commercial songwriting anymore; besides, a lot of really great songs are longer than three minutes. Some time ago I heard a radio interview with Ray Price, who said you can tell when people write for a market, because the songs have no heart. You can hear when someone's just writing for the paycheck. I also heard Tom T. Hall say that people should write what they feel - I agree wholeheartedly. A good many of his songs break traditional songwriting rules, and no one can argue that he has had a splendid career.

A long time ago I was at a club watching a songwriter I really admired. I said to my friend, man, I wish I could write like him. And my friend said, don't write like anybody but yourself.

Sometimes they fall out of the sky. Sometimes they don't. But I've found that too much forcing is evident in the final product, so I don't force anymore. I just coax gently. :) But everybody has their own way. -------Kim

23 Mar 00 - 06:40 PM (#200208)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Mbo

Right! My mega-version of "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore" is 12 minutes long, and my song "Fontenoy" is about nine. But that comes from listening to a LOT of ELO, who produced that magic feeling in an 11-minute song where it feels like nothing. "Kuiama" is 11 minutes long...and sometimes it seems way to short..there's so mych going on in the song, it keeps you so entertained, you don't realize it's that long. That's the optimal thing to work for, I think, if your song is long..keep it interesting and attention-holding.


23 Mar 00 - 06:50 PM (#200212)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions

I like 2 minute songs. That way I can take one 10 minute tune and, with minor alterations, have 5!

23 Mar 00 - 06:58 PM (#200221)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Amos

I dunno who you're being today, but ya made me chortle, you plagiarizing Guest!

23 Mar 00 - 07:53 PM (#200271)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: McGrath of Harlow

"I like to think of different techniques as 'tools' rather than 'rules'" said bert.

I think of them more as tricks. No rules, lots of tricks.

Or if there are rules, they are like the Ferengi's "Rules of Acquisition", where, for any rule saying one thing, there's probably another saying the opposite. ("War is good for business", "Peace is good for business") Or like proverbs, where "many hands make light labour" and "too many cooks spoil the broth" and "he who hesitates is lost", but "fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

Any rule you can make about how it's done promptly falls down, because there are times when the opposite rule works.

Bob Dylan once said, when asked how long it took to write a song, that it was quicker if you had a good pen, because you could get the words down quicker. And everyone thought he was joking - but for some songs that is just how it is. Songs where you aren't so much making the words up, but catching them out of the air before they get away.

Computers are handy for that, because you can put all the repeats in quicker than you could writing, and you can move all the verses and the lines round and round, and put down the line you know is going to come in somewhere down at the bottom out of the way, until you can find a place for it.

But there are other songs which wait around with just a line or so, and gradually add on others over a long period.

More often than not what happens for me is, I get a phrase stuck in my head, and the song builds around it pretty quickly, and I get it down in writing, or up on the screen. And then it changes, and keeps on changing, in little details. A couple I've kept an eye on, and I've found that there isn't a line or a phrase that hasn't changed. Quite likely the phrase around which the song grew will be long gone.

Rhymes are much less important than rythyms. You can get away with all kind of half rhymes and assonances and things, or no rhymes at all. (One trick that can help if you want to get in a tricky rhyme, with one of the words being a bit unusual, is to use the unusual word first, and the more normal one second. Sounds less forced somehow. Unless you are going for a jokey rhyme, when it'd be the other way round.)

But the syllables have got to fall in the right places (which might not be the same places in different verses - the idea that tunes have to be the same for all verses is a barbarism instituted by lazy folk song collectors).

The trick is to do that without the language feeling out of keeping. I like to feel that the lines I end up with could be used in conversation, which doesn't mean they can't be reasonably high flown at times, because there's room for that in converation.

Rudyard Kipling wrote something which I think applies here, and in lots of other places too:

There are four-and-twenty ways
of constructing tribal lays.
And every single one of them is right!"

23 Mar 00 - 08:02 PM (#200279)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

We have now heard from one of the Masters!

Wonderful and sage advice, Kevin. And thank you for it.

-- Áine

23 Mar 00 - 10:11 PM (#200385)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Bert, I remember hearing Phil Spector, many years ago, talking about how good it was to use cliches--He said that cliches were cliches because they spoke to people--

Meanwhile, I know that the songwriters are out in force here tonite, because I can go through this thread and pull out at least twenty hooks that could be used for songs--

McGrath, you deliberately stuck a bunch of cliches and quotes, but even without them, I got:

"And then it changes, and keeps on changing"

Which scans perfectly to the melody of "you are my sunshine"--

Kim-I got this little bit from you:

you can tell when people write for a market, because the songs have no heart. You can hear when someone's just writing for the paycheck.

Which I ironed out to:

You can hear when someone's writing for the market, Because the songs they write have got no heart You can hear when someone's writing for the paycheck And it's sad when they pretend, and call it art--

(ItScans to "When the Moon is Shining Bright Upon the Wabash"and probably others)--

You also gave this away:

"Sometimes they fall out of the sky, sometimes they don't" I think it could be a big hit, or maybe a jingle, a bit like "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't"

You people are throwing away some great lines--Mbo, maybe you should cull through here and see if you can hang a melody onto some of these things;-)



24 Mar 00 - 02:26 AM (#200591)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Eluned

I'm not a regular musician like a lot of the folks here, but I have read one thing over and over from different people in this thread; "When inspiration strikes, write it down as quick as you can. The music and lyrics are slippery things, they'll go back where they came from if you don't act fast"......and they are soooo right!
what you need is one of those note-taking portable little tape-recorders. The cheap ones are not high-fidelity, but will serve to bring the songs back to you later. I had one once when I delivered pizzas, and couldn't take my hands off of the wheel to write things down. I wore it out. (I still miss the thing, but it is not high priority for me....bills come first.)

24 Mar 00 - 08:35 AM (#200641)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Whistle Stop

Really worthwhile insights here -- anyone who laments the "good old days" in the Mudcat might get some renewed enthusiasm out of this thread. McGrath, the Dylan quote is a gem; always loved his wit. Also, I agree absolutely with your advice about it being perfectly acceptable to go with half-rhymes and sort-of rhymes, as long as the words have a "conversational" aspect that flows naturally with the rhythm of the song. And your tip about putting the more awkward word first in the rhyme scheme really works; this has been in my bag of tricks for a long time, and it has made a lot of my songs sound less contrived than they might otherwise.

M.Ted, I love what you did with lines from other people's messages; I know it was semi tongue in cheek, but it shows what can be done. And Eluned, I've been carrying a cheap Dictaphone around with me for a long time. The thing warbles and and wobbles and generally sounds awful, but it memorializes what I've done so I don't have to rely on my dwindling and overtaxed brain cells. Great ideas all.

24 Mar 00 - 08:54 AM (#200652)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Homeless

Amos - does this hit close to your imagery idea (esp. the last line)?

The devil called his minions to him, deep in the bowels of hell.
and said, "I've got me an idea, I think will suit us well
Why should we wait 'til after death to torture the souls of earth?"
And a wicked smile wrapped itself around his face's girth.

I was trying to project the image of an evil smirk kinda slowly creeping across this fat, ugly face. Did it work? Is that the kind of imagery you had in mind?

24 Mar 00 - 09:06 AM (#200656)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

Homeless -- I don't know about Amos; but, I like it!

-- Áine

24 Mar 00 - 10:15 AM (#200674)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

The Devil isn't ugly,
He's as handsome as can be.
The kindest man you'll ever meet
A friend to you and me

As generous as ever was
He'll never wish you ill.
He offers gifts and pleasures.
And feasts! He'll grant your fill!

Dismiss his reputation,
It's grown much oversize.
Your soul, it's assignation,
Is all that he desires.

24 Mar 00 - 10:44 AM (#200684)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Oh, I forgot to attach my name and claim of authorship, to "The Devil Isn't Ugly",composed in a trice, a trifling bit of nonce verse, but still, it's all that I have--

But seriously, Homeless,the last line is bit cumbersome--when you write in that sort of polysllabic scan, you're lyrics need to seem more effortless--I played with it, and got:

"And a wicked smile extended crost his face's flaccid girth"

Which I humbly offer, not to supplant the gift of your Muse, but only to inspire you to greater heights of..oh, well, you know what I mean....

24 Mar 00 - 10:47 AM (#200686)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Homeless

M.Ted - I read your comment about paying attention to my literary education, but the fact is we never studied poetry very much. I once had to memorize Robert Frost's "Stopping by the Woods On a Snowy Evening" which I managed to do by putting it to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Of all the names you listed, the only one I've ever read is Shakespeare - and that was 4 of his plays. And I've never liked poetry, so I haven't much read it on my own. So given that I'm poetically illiterate, and Shakespeare was indecipherable, where would you suggest I start my poetic education?

24 Mar 00 - 10:49 AM (#200687)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bert

Actually it's not 3 minutes it's 3 1/2 minutes. But I usually say three minutes because it's human nature to over run and 4 minutes is too long.

Now of course in the millions of songs that have ever been written you're going to be able to find a few exceptions. But I'm not a good enough songwriter to write those one-in-a-million songs.

It's also a function of MODERN listeners, in times gone by, people had more time - and songs stories and books were all longer.

Here's an exercise for those who don't believe me.
Next time you hear someone singing a long song - take a good look at the audience. See how many are paying attention. See how many are waiting for the singer to get to the point. See how many are just waiting for the song to end.

You can do this yourself by singing something like "The Barley Mow"


24 Mar 00 - 11:39 AM (#200731)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Homeless!!! Robert Frost to "The Saint Go Marching In!!! That is the most wonderful thing--you have a gift!!!

I am serious, too!!! I will never read or hear that poem again without hearing it to that melody, and neither will anyone else who sees your post--

The goal of the artist, what ever the medium, is to convey a vision that transforms the way the world sees things--and you did it, in posting that one thought, just as surely as if you had wrapped the Washington Monument in illuminated scaffolding!!!!

I am honored that you would ask me for references on poets--your little effort above reminds me of Milton's Paradise Lost though he is a little hard to understand, at least initially--

I have been reading Ezra Pound (sorry, I can't find the pages with just his poetry, but if you plug his name into a search engine, you will find a lot--he is now regarded as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century) lately, but he is also kind of difficult to understand, but I've also been reading William Butler Yeats and Harte Crane check them out--poetry is easy to read on the internet for some reason--and enjoy!!

24 Mar 00 - 11:41 AM (#200732)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Mbo

Read A.E. Housman, my sister loves him!


24 Mar 00 - 12:28 PM (#200758)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: GUEST,Me again

Homeless: John Donne, Richard Lovelace, William Blake, Walter Scott, Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owens, Siegfried Sassoon, Wallace Stevens. Try three poems of each, any you don't find easy to understand put back on the shelf and go on to the next one. You'll be able to find somebody you like.

24 Mar 00 - 01:02 PM (#200766)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest a poet that you might not think (at first glance) would be relevant to good songwriting -- A.A. Milne. His poetry is not as simple as one might think, if you study it. It sings from the page and evokes experiences and imagery that both children and adults can understand and enjoy. Milne's poetry is a wonderful way to learn how to 'keep it simple,' which, to me, is the best way to write a song.

IMHO, the best songwriting is that which relates the writer's thoughts without making the words do fancy 'tricks'. For the best example of this, I'd suggest you study McGrath of Harlow's songs on his website. All kidding aside, Kevin is a master at making you think about the subject of his songs, and pleasing your ears at the same time.

All the best, Áine

24 Mar 00 - 01:17 PM (#200770)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bert

Ah Yes! He a master. Listen to "Blue Clicky Thing" while you're there. Just look at the way he uses words.

24 Mar 00 - 01:35 PM (#200776)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Amos

Soprry I didn't see the question until earlier. This one is great for the image,which (for me) is a fat and evil face, fat enough to think of as having girth...but the word girth jars a little bit because it is heavily associated with the waist rather than the face. You could play with his ugly mug being slowly wrapped in mirth, or something, if you liked. On the other hand the use of girth may be just the slightly jarring effect you're looking for, because the reader is caught by the unusual insertion. My .02 and the author's own vision is the last court in these things... But the image _is_ vivid...I'm still looking at the picture in my head!

24 Mar 00 - 02:11 PM (#200800)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Jim Krause

I start out with a title. This helps keep me focused on the subject. Before I ever grab my guitar, I get the lyric finished first. That way, the lyric doesn't become laminated to the melody when it comes time for the rewrite phase. Or, grab your guitar, or sit at the piano first and compose your melody, then when the melody is just the way you want it, write you lyric to fit the melody. I've done it both ways. There is a book about the craft of lyric writing by Sheila Davis I highly recommend "The Craft of Lyric Writing" In fact she has two or three books out on the subject. Even if you just write songs for the fun of it, the money is well spent for her books. Helped me out a lot steering me through the intricacies and clear of the pitfalls.

24 Mar 00 - 02:12 PM (#200801)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Milne and Houseman are both good suggestions--the language is contemporary and direct--the old ones are great, but their language is very different--

Listened to some of Kevin's stuff and I must say thatthe songs seem like a development and extension of the thoughts snd feelings that he presents here--I think that an artist cannot strive for more that to find an authentic voice for his own vision--

24 Mar 00 - 04:24 PM (#200871)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Amos

That's it in a nutshell, Mister Ted.

24 Mar 00 - 05:47 PM (#200932)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Kim C

Bert ----

I love Barley Mow and have sung it before to an appreciative audience. :) They do pay attention to see if you can get all the lines in there! Of course this was at an historic site, where people expect to hear that kind of stuff. I doubt it would go over too well down at the club. Which is why I stick to historic sites.

And you're right, the modern radio listener likes that 3.5 minutes. But that's not necessarily who I'm after.

Regards ---------- Kim

24 Mar 00 - 06:26 PM (#200972)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bradypus

Homeless - Thanks for starting this thread. I was thinking of starting something similar, but I hadn't got round to it.

I'm in a similar situation to you - I hadn't written much for years, until I found the Cat and the challenges, and I'm now finding something I enjoy doing, and some people seem to think I might even be good at it sometimes !!!

One thing I would say is that writing for the Challenges isn't really the same as writing songs. One of the hardest bits - finding inspiration for a subject - has been done for us. The other big difference is that there isn't time to polish the work. Someone commented about revising songs above - for the Challenges, they are lucky if they get proof read, rather than lovingly polished line by line. I'm thinking of my own stuff here - some of the stuff written in the key of five minutes flat looks polished already.

People have been sharing their writing techniques. Mine is something like this:

1 Read the Challenge, and think 'there's no way I could write something about that.

2 Get some sort of inspiration - a title, a tune, an odd way of looking at the subject. I only work with borrowed tunes - I admire people who can come up with originals, but I'm not one of them.

3 Think of a few phrases, or rhymes, or scenarios in the car on the way home. Hope I'll manage to remember the best of them! Also hope no-one else has come up with the same idea / approach as I have!

4 Sit at the computer and work out the rest of the song. I'm surprised at how quick this part can be, depending on how long the gestation period has been. I need to wrestle a few lines into shape, and hammer out a few rhythms, and see how it goes. I like to put a couple of clever word plays in if I can .. gems for people to savour, assuming they've got the same warped mind as I have.

5 Submit it, and hope for a few kind comments. I really like it when I get some positive feedback, and I know I'm guilty of not giving much myself. Part of that is due to a timing problem (it can be hard enough finding time to write my own offerings, without commenting on other people, and as a thread grows, it seems harder to comment on early stuff, even if I thought I ought to. I will try to do better!

That's about it. Aine - thanks for the challenges. Amos - thanks for the kind words, especially when I just started. Everyone - thanks for the fun - long may it continue.


5 Submit it, and

24 Mar 00 - 06:59 PM (#200990)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: McGrath of Harlow

Well, I must say, that's very nice of you. What's the opposite of a flame? Should be a bucket of water, but that doesn't seem to apply to those comments. Warm Fuzzies is what it's sometimes called when people say something nice to you out of the blue. You need them sometimes.

Of course the good thing with doing stuff on the internet is that the words can get a fair share iof the attention -when you're singing in pubs it tends to get drowned out, and you have to bellow to get heard.

Homeless, I like the sound of your devil. I mean I don't like him, but I start to see him. Looks a lot like Jabba the Hut in Star Wars. Actually the way you put it in prose - "an evil smirk kinda slowly creeping across this fat, ugly face" struck me as putting it very well. You might play around with using those words in the verse version, tweaking them around to get them to scan.

That's another thing I occasionally do, write a prose version of a song, and then translate it into verse. Not very often, but it can help sometimes. Someone who often does this is an Essex songwriter called Tony Kendall.

Further back, the 17th Century poet and mystic Thomas Traherne used to do it - and his prose versions read better than then verse tyranlsations, which are pretty good.

24 Mar 00 - 08:48 PM (#201030)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Amos

I like that idea a lot, Kevin! If i ever come back to the land of the living (I'm suffering from a cold and trying to record through it) I am going to exercise that plan...thanks for sharing a piece of mastery.

24 Mar 00 - 09:18 PM (#201043)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: McGrath of Harlow

If I say Get Well Soon Amos, does that turn this into a healing thread, and the GHOST/GUESTS come and haunt me?

I'll risk it, anyway. As they say, "Amos is as good as a smile".

26 Mar 00 - 12:51 PM (#201696)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

I wrote a song last night that is a very simple song (in line with my 'keep it simple' philosophy). Taped it so I wouldn't forget the tune, since it was late, and listened to it again this morning. Last night I was satisfied with it. Today, I'm not so sure.

I'm still satisfied with the key, the chord progression (although I've been messing with the chord voicings and the picking style). The tune is a good one, I think. It's the lyrics I'm worried about. Just to read them without any music, the words are about as "bare bones" as you can get. Still, they express what I was feeling at the moment.

My question is, I guess, can a song be too simple; even if it expresses the emotions of the songwriter?

Looking forward to hearing from you all, Áine

26 Mar 00 - 01:31 PM (#201712)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: McGrath of Harlow

That's a bit like asking if a pair of shoes can be too small. Depends on the size of the feet you are putting in inside them.

You can't get simpler than than "Happy Birthday to you". You can't get simpler than the only verse of "Auld Lang Syne" that people remember and sing.

Small is beautiful, less is more, simple is best. If you can manage to say what you are trying to say, that's what matters.

"I wander as I wander out under the sky
how Jesus our saviour did come for to die
for poor sick and weary, for you and for I,
I wonder as I wander out under the sky."

That's simple...

26 Mar 00 - 02:01 PM (#201725)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

Upon reflection, and Kevin's response, I figured that asking the question without providing the lyrics was kinda dumb. So, here they are, with the chords (as they stand now): It's in 4/4 time, BTW.

If(C) I let you fly(Em) away,
If(C) I let you go (Em),
Where will you(Am) be tomor(F)row,
Will I know(C), will I know(D)?

Win(C)ter has come(D7) and gone(C),
The redbird has found(D7) her nest(Am),
But it's time(D) for you(C) to tra(G)vel,
And it's best(Em), yes(D7) it's best(Am)

In(C) a world that's new(D7) to you(C),
But is so old(D7) to me(Am),
Will the road(D) that leads(C) away(G),
Bring you back(Em) again(D7) to me(Am),


I(C) have held you in(D7) my arms(C),
Now's the time to set(D7) you free(Am),
Will the world(D) set you(C) on high(G),
Or will it bring(Em) you to(D7) your knees(Am)?

There(C) you go with just(D7) a wave(C),
Down the road, your back(D7) to me(Am),
Not a tear(D), no sign(C) or sor(G)row,
Walking tall(Em), a man(D7) to be(Am).


26 Mar 00 - 07:13 PM (#201836)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: McGrath of Harlow

Oh yes!

26 Mar 00 - 07:31 PM (#201842)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Simplicity is good!!! Now I want to hear it---

26 Mar 00 - 09:20 PM (#201877)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: rainbow

.. well last night i got to iview jeanene van zandt about townes songwriting.... some of what she shared was that he needed to be alone to write.... hotel rooms and late nights when everyone else in the house was asleep... he'd go to bed early and get up in the wee hours.

also, his cd released after his death -- called "far cry from dead" is really interesting. listened to him read the poem (sans music) of sanitorium blues... he was coming up with a little chord structure that was on the tape... and the musicians created the song from there, playing his reading of the poetry over the music. very interesting...

his songs often came from an outside source (up "above") ... and he felt called upon to deliver them to folks.

i miss the days when i wrote alot of songs... when i would wake up and be so inspired with an idea that i HAD to write it down... for to write was to distill a feeling, an emotion, an understanding... and then when it was distilled in a form it could be shared... well, then i truly had learned from my life...

it doesn't happen as much as it used to. things used to DEMAND to be written about. now i am busy busy busy. the last writing i did was at an international guitar night concert. the flamenco music stirred up so many emotions that it stirred up many things that needed to be put into words.

i am a wordsmith in my work, and it seems the more i write for work, the less i write songs and poetry. sad i think. i would like to change that more. that's one of the reasons i visit this place. i am seeking inspiration.

i have brought out my music research books and things and they are close to the computer now... trying to create new habits and get back to the wisdom hidden in the olde songs.

... lorraine

27 Mar 00 - 09:25 AM (#201942)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

A Chaoimhín -- I guess that means you liked it. I hope so, because I wrote on the back of my printout of your own 'Listen To Your Heart', which I was trying to put chords to. I just took your advice from the song, and 'Will I Know?' came out. (BTW, if you could see your way clear to send me the chords for 'Listen To Your Heart', I'd really appreciate it!).

M.Ted -- I hope to send this in to Max for the Mudcat Radio this week, so maybe you'll get to hear it next week. (The Good Lord willing and the creeks don't rise!).

rainbow -- I'm glad to hear that you want to start writing again. Speaking from experience, even in a busy life, you can find a way to do it. I wrote 'Will I Know' with two kids playing a computer game behind me and another one watching a video in the next room, in between breaks to wash dishes and put clothes in the dryer. Great good luck to you!

-- Áine

27 Mar 00 - 09:33 AM (#201945)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: GMT

I've been away for a week but don't see mention of the Jimmy Webb book which I've found to be very helpful if a bit wordy.

Cheers Gary

27 Mar 00 - 11:10 AM (#201979)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bert

Áine, I think it's a great song, but the true test for YOU is "When you sing it now, does it make you feel the way you felt when you wrote it?"


27 Mar 00 - 11:23 AM (#201983)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Mbo

It DOES work, bert, at least for me. My song "Say Goodbye" (in the Songbook) was written for The Music Gang, the first friends I'd ever had, and the sadness of our breaking up last year at the end of our community college days. I cried when I wrote it, I cried when I sang it for them, and I still cry when I sing it now. That's why I don't play it too's too sad.


27 Mar 00 - 11:55 AM (#201996)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Homeless

It seems the general consensus is that most everyone has to work at a song to get it right (and I thought I was the only one who had to do that). I thank everyone for their input - it's been very educational. I'll be checking into some of the references listed here. And I've printed this thread for my "personal files," to look back thru when I've done a bit more writing.

But seeing that songwriting is such work, it has brought up another question, which can be found here.

27 Mar 00 - 01:52 PM (#202064)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Amos


It is an absolutely beautiful song and I would not change a word.

And it is not too simple. The most powerful phrase is the leanest one. Here is one of the simplest song couplets ever written:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; once blind, but now I see.

Regardless of the metaphysics it is extraordinarily sweet and direct and it pierces to that place that words know not, which is what songs should do whenever they can.

Yours does that. Thanks for revealing it. Will you add it to your stack of unfulfilled taing requests, please? I know it will be another that gets played over and over.

27 Mar 00 - 02:06 PM (#202072)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

Dear Amos,

Thank you for your kind words. I've already promised Bert to send it in to him, so of course you're on the list (ha!). I'm really going to have to get DH to teach me how to work his computer so I don't have to wait 'till he comes home from work. Thanks again, dear friend.

-- Áine

27 Mar 00 - 02:30 PM (#202088)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M. Ted (inactive)

OK kids, the gloves come off now--first, Amos, wake up!!!

Amazing Grace, while a charming and delightful, and venerable song, is not one of the highpoints of English coupletry--

Aine--what red bird is it that you are referring to?

27 Mar 00 - 02:40 PM (#202095)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Amos

Come to think of it here is an even more simple couplet, from a Leadbelly song which has almost mystic power in the right context because it invites so much from the imagination:

Redbird, redbird, singin in the mornin' redbird!
Redbird redbird, singin' in the mornin', redbird!

And another, which Leadbelly I think brought forward from friends on the prison gangs:

Ol' Reilly crossed the water
On them long hot summer days...

From "Here, Rattler Here". The latent imagery of the simplicity is amazing.


28 Mar 00 - 07:47 AM (#202534)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: KingBrilliant

Aine - that song was the good kind of simple! Even without hearing a tune the words worked fine (which is quite a feat in itself).

The only song I've written that my husband enthused about was very simple both lyrically & melodically. Its a melancholy little thing about death & the lyrics go:

Its been a year gone by wouldn't you think that I'd be used to it? a long long year, I am not used to it.

Oh you cold cold grave, oh you cold cold grave, oh you cold cold grave, I am not used to it.

Its been 10 years now, wouldn't you think that I'd be used to it? 10 long long years, I am not used to it.

Then it just goes on up the years to 15, 50, 85, with minor variations in the phrasing & melody. Til it gets to

And if it were a hundred years, wouldn't you know I'll not be used to it? one hundred years, I'll not get used to it.

Its probably the simplest lyrics I've ever written & it really needs the tune to put it in context. I recorded it onto a tape to give my dad, and really was just filling up space. I'd never have expected Mark to like it!!!! It just goes to show that simplicity & repetition can work. Mark is not one for compliments (swine), so I was really chuffed to have written something he liked. Especially as it was partly about feeling I'd never get used to losing him when we thought he might have been on his way out a while back - he's fine now though :).

On the three minute rule - I'd sort of reluctantly agree - ish. We went to a folk weekend recently where people were singing a lot of very long songs in the singaround, and it took a while to get used to it after the 3-min conditioning we get on the radio. Our initial reaction was to 'sit through' some of them, but as time got on we got more used to the length and it was lovely to take the time to listen & appreciate the stories in the songs. The weekend was run be a folk-club where the long songs seemed to be the norm. I think that in a more general audience the 'sit-throughers' would outnumber the 'appreciators' & so in general the 3 minute rule is safest. Hell of a shame though. Is it just a symptom of a less relaxed way of life that we don't feel we have the time to sit & listen? I feel like going & writing a 20 minute song just out of ockardness. Kris

28 Mar 00 - 08:07 AM (#202545)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Áine

Dear Kris,

Of course, I'd love to hear your song to have the full experience of it, but your words are very evocative and full of direct meaning. And I'm so glad that things have worked out for your family now.

Don't worry about your hubby not liking your songs. Write for yourself, and if he does like them, that's just an extra bonus. If your writing makes you satisfied, that's what is important!

I agree that it is sad that today's time constraints leave us without the luxury most often of listening to longer songs with rich stories in them. I'm so glad that you had an opportunity to do that -- keep finding those opportunities!

And about that 20 minute song that you're tempted to write out of 'cussedness' . . . Do it! But just keep in mind that you'll have to remember all those words when you perform it...*BG*

All the best, Áine

28 Mar 00 - 11:41 AM (#202647)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: KingBrilliant

Oh good grief Aine! I never worry about whether HE doesn't like a song. He's damned difficult to please in any arena!! If he likes one its a bleedin' miracle. About that 20 minute song - p'raps I'll limit myself to about 20 lines, but sing them REAAAAAALLLLLLY slow....


28 Mar 00 - 12:14 PM (#202658)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Bert

That's a great song! Will you sing it for us and send it in, so that we can play it on Mudcat Radio?

Re: long songs. If you're at a folk club singing long ballads, and that is what everyone expects to hear, then that's fine. But I've been to too many singer/songwriter 'song exchanges' and heard mediocre songs that go on and on and on.

By all means write a 20 minute song, if you have that much to express, but watch your audience while you're singing it. Are they eagerly awaiting the next verse or are they wishing you'd either get to the point or shut up?


30 Jul 02 - 09:20 AM (#756880)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Mr Happy

in regard to the 'essay writing' technique for creating songs, when i was at university & had to prepare assignments, one of the ways i would do it was to write out the bibliography first.

doing this seemed to have the effect of 'cueing/ prompting' ideas for the body of the work.

in some respects, i've used a similar method for songs, that is; i hear a song or conversation or read something & quickly make a note of the idea before i forget it.

having the use of a pc's been a great advantage too, except i've had 'writer's block' for over 6 months now- but i've got a couple of dozen half done creations on file- some only as far as the title.

more comments?

30 Jul 02 - 09:48 AM (#756895)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: MMario

sometimes working on something completely different for a while will relaese the block.

30 Jul 02 - 10:21 AM (#756911)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: M.Ted

Sometimes, it helps to write out a couple sentences that tells what the song is about and where you want it to go--then just keep writing phrases that relate to the subject(don't worry about whether they rhyme or scan, or even make sense). After a while, you'll have a bunch of raw material that you can work with--there is a downside, because you can get hung up trying to fit a lot of odd pieces together, but that still is better than having nothing on the page--

30 Jul 02 - 10:44 AM (#756923)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Jeri

My blocks often occur because I want the song to go in one direction, and it's headed in another. If I keep trying to make the lines fit my ideas, I can get hung up. Often, what works is not to just scrap lines, but come up with whole new ideas and quit trying to force something to work. The "wait a while" approach works, because your attachment to what the song should be has a chance to fall out of your head. Sometimes you do find a way to express exactly what you want though. In that case, it may be you have some idea of lines you can't get to work right, and the wait makes your committment to them fall out of your head.

This waiting isn't necessary if you can give up what you've already got and try something completely different. You can save your old ideas, but try something brand new just for the heck of it.

And I say this while I'm currently stuck on the last two lines of a song! I think I already wrote them - they're the second-to-last two lines. Maybe I just need a couple of almost-last lines.

30 Jul 02 - 11:42 AM (#756958)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Uncle_DaveO

McGrath of Harlow said:

What's the opposite of a flame? Should be a bucket of water, but that doesn't seem to apply to those comments. Warm Fuzzies is what it's sometimes called when people say something nice to you out of the blue. You need them sometimes.

I like "It's nice to get the flowers BEFORE you die!"

Dave Oesterreich

30 Jul 02 - 05:52 PM (#757155)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: McGrath of Harlow

Or as the Carter Families expressed the thought "Give me the Roses while I live" - and here is honking duck with a streaming RealAudio version. (And here are the words.

31 Jul 02 - 05:43 PM (#757719)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Dave & Julie

What a subject! I put some notes together for a workshop we did at Saddleworth Festival & it would be a shame not to share them (though I'm not claiming they comprise the definitive songwriting treatise). If anyone would like me to e-mail the text file please contact me at

01 Aug 02 - 03:20 PM (#758295)
Subject: RE: Song writing questions
From: Doug Chadwick


Thanks for the workshop notes. Lots of good advice.

In the section on "Inspiration" you say Songs about our work can be rewarding (though there's probably more mileage in this if you're a chemical process operator rather than an accountant - and yes, I've been both). One my unfinished songs opens with the lines

I'll sing you songs of times gone by, of men who till the soil
Romantic songs of sailing ships or miners at their toil
For there isn't much romance when your job is boiling oil

I just don't seem to find oil refineries that inspiring. More likely, I can't imagine my day to day routine being that interesting. My biggest problem is coming up with an idea for a song that I think other people would be interested in. But then I found that you had written a song about Nunsthorpe and realised that anything is possible.

One of the earlier postings said you can tell when people write for a market, because the songs have no heart.

I enjoy writing for a specific purpose – a musical interlude in a sketch for example – as it gives me a sense of direction and, more importantly, it forces me to finish it. I've got a bag full of half finished songs that I would be really happy with if only I could find an ending.

In general, I go along with the 31/2 minute rule. I've spent festival weekends listening to a series of 17 verse songs that were so intense and serious that I was ready to top myself.

This is a great thread. It could be just the thing I need to give me a push into doing something constructive.

By the way, McGrath, I tried the link to your website that was posted back in March 2000 but it didn't work. Do you have an updated link?

Doug C