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Songwriting 101

14 Apr 02 - 10:26 AM (#689756)
Subject: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

I'm looking for advice. I occasionally write songs, but I haven't been doing it that long. I've been told I should aks a few honest people for feedback/criticism. I'd love to do this, but there just don't seem to be any people who are willing. I've e-mailed words to friends, I've sung the songs, and mostly the responses boil down to 1) the song being completely ignored, or 2) "nice song."

Maybe the reason is that people think I'm a bit more sensitive than I am. I honestly don't care about "it sucks" unless the person can explain why it sucks, and perhaps offer suggestions on making it not suck. "It sucks," "don't give up your day job," etc aren't criticism and don't take any actual thought to come up with. On the flip side, "nice song" doesn't take any more thought than "it sucks." Whether or not an individual likes a song is important, but it's not the same as and honest critique, and that's what I need.

Maybe it's because no one has the time, energy or will to listen/read critically and analyse the thing, then find a way to tell me what they like or what they think sounds dumb. This takes work and a willingness to do something folks may not be comfortable with.

So does anyone have any advice on how to find a few honest folks who are willing to critique songs?

Is there any sort of songwriting "workshop" on the web?

I've been to ONE songwriting workshop at a festival, and it was a particular songwriter explaining how he wrote songs. An hour isn't enough time to do more. I need hands-on experience. Are there any workshops like that? (Not that I could get to them!)

Is there any interest in doing it here?
The same reluctance to possibly hurt the feelings of others exists here. Personally, I don't care if people want to do the critique thing anonymously. I'm not stupid (not on a consistent basis, anyway ;-), and I can tell the difference between warm fuzzies/cold pricklies (ooh - the 70's all over again) and a critique - a critique is specific.

Ideas? Comments? Clues?

14 Apr 02 - 10:51 AM (#689762)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Willie-O

Well, post one and see what happens. You've made all the appropriate disclaimers...and yeah, the two responses you mentioned (three counting "it sucks") are not very helpful. Usually I've found that when people have offered me constructive criticism, I haven't enjoyed it at the time, but it does give me something to think about, and ultimately helps a lot more than insincere well-meaning compliments.

Go ahead, post one. If you don't mind the amount of chaff you have to sort through here to get the wheat. Guaranteed there will be some of each.


14 Apr 02 - 10:53 AM (#689763)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: George Seto -

Try these

Dave's Songwriting Site
Glade's Songwriting Tools
Murphy's Laws of Songwriting
Online Songwriting Course
Songwriting Resources

14 Apr 02 - 11:11 AM (#689769)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: George Seto -

Jeri, another one is

Resources for Young Composers

14 Apr 02 - 11:43 AM (#689781)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Amos


If it would be of help, I'll be glad to offer real suggestions and comments on songs.

You can send them to ne at this address, either as text in email or as .aiff or .mp3 or even.wav files for stuff you've recorded into a digital medium.


14 Apr 02 - 11:51 AM (#689788)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Jeri --

I can sympathize, I've just been writing songs in the last few months as a brain exercise -- doing something I've never done before because I don't want to get stuck in a thinking rut, but also because I enjoy singing to myself and want to try new/old ways to express ideas that don't seem to fit any other form.

Still, even though I'm a true "dabbler", I want the songs that I do write to be good ones. I've tried sending the lyrics and midis (created using Noteworthy Composer) to my father, and he has one criticism of everything I've written so far: that the rhythm of the melody doesn't match the words -- that I have too many notes, or too few -- that the whole thing just sounds wrong. Meanwhile, because I've written it using NWC, I know that the notes and syllables match up -- though I concede that maybe I've used notes of the wrong duration for specific syllables, even though it sounds right to me.

I just don't hear what my father hears, and he doesn't have the language to explain it to me... he has tried to play the melody of some of my songs for me on a small midi keyboard, to show me what he hears.... But he doesn't play the piano, and he can't play the rhythm as it should be, because he's henpecking the keyboard looking for the right notes.

I trust my father to be honest with me, and I value his opinion, but the frustrating thing is that the experience of music is so subjective. And even a specific, constructive criticism beyond "nice" or "it sucks" doesn't do much good if the critiquer can't give an alternative ("Maybe if you tried ____ instead"). I've found this to be true in other creative fields as well, particularly in non-musical writing, but also the visual arts.

Maybe that's why your friends don't give you more constructive criticism, Jeri -- they don't know how.

We have HMTL Practice threads on Mudcat... I don't see why we couldn't also have songwriting practice threads, especially with the midi-to-texts and text-to-midis programs that Alan Foster created. If the Mudcat community has one thing, it's musicians who know how to communicate!

14 Apr 02 - 12:33 PM (#689818)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

I may post lyrics a bit later in a separate thread (with a link from this one.) I've tried it here before with no luck.

Capri, I agree with you about people maybe just not being able to find the words to explain things. The people I've asked have all been capable of communicating. You can even get something out of "it sucks" if you can ask further questions to will narrow down the possibilities. I usually don't ask those questions because I sense folks just don't want to talk about it when they give me a terse answer to begin with. I don't want people to do something they don't really want to do - I'd get answers designed to get me to leave them alone and get off the subject.

As far as not supplying a suggestion when commenting on suckage, I can usually come up with ideas if I understand WHY a person found something sucky. The suggestione are often inherent in the criticism. "You rhymed a word with the same durned word!" (Change one of the words or replace both.) "What the hell is 'discordancy' and what is it doing in this song?!" (Dump the word.) "I don't frikkin' understand what the blazes the frikkin' song's about!" (Re-write the frikkin' song or dump it.)

I've wished we've had "Song Challenges" that were serious in nature. The funny ones are great, but I've often seen serious, touching posts in threads - or entire threads - that inspired me more. Night Owl's 'Thank You' thread, the "Why We Sing" threads, are a couple of examples. Even if we did this, it would only provide practice in writing songs, not critique or guidance. There would be little interaction, just 'post and go'. A workshop sort of thing would be nice. Someone (???) could say "write a song on this topic." People would write songs, then the workshop 'someone' and the rest of us would discuss and critique the songs. I doubt it would work since there's some degree of organization involved. (insert winky-face here)

14 Apr 02 - 12:43 PM (#689825)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

If you want to send me a tape, I'd be happy to send you some specific critiques, with whatever suggested changes I can make. I don't promise to send the by return mail, but I won't ignore you. You can e-mail me at


14 Apr 02 - 12:57 PM (#689833)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,Jack the Sailor

There are certain skills and rules, required for Song writing, you should know these and incorporate them before you ask others to critique your work. From your posts here, I suspect that you do know these rules.

When looking for feedback, consider the audience. Haveng recently been in your shoes I have found that the only worthwhile feedback is when people sit in rapt attention to one of my songs and when they applaud and ask to hear it again.

That being said, If you want to post some lyric for critism, I also would be glad to help if I can. Post something here or email me at

14 Apr 02 - 01:02 PM (#689836)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Amos

Jeri, I think the reason Song Challeneges are usually in a lighter vein is that it is easier to get a group to write on a common theme if it is humorous; serious songs--those that draw on the feelings--are much more subjective things.

However you will find a lot of "serious songs" in the Songbook, and I am sure the Book's Keeper would be thrilled to have you add some.

Send 'em along if you like.


14 Apr 02 - 02:25 PM (#689882)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,mg

Here is what I think is behind a lot of very good and very lasting songs....adhering to these policies (see I didn't call them actual rules..) won't guarantee the song is good but I think it will very much increase the probability of it being remembered and sung..

1. Use short, conversational words mostly of one to two syllables.

2. It has to rhyme (well, not really has to..) exactly and perfectly, about 98% of the time. Every now and then you can misrhyme a little bit.

3. It does not have to follow rules of grammar.

4. The meter has to be 98% perfect..and occasional deviation is OK but never more than one in the same song. Never cram excess words into too short spaces. Think of it like old fashioned typesetting..there is a space for a word or words with a particular meter. Don't put something in there unless it fits.

5. The tune should be singable by others..not too great a range.

6. It does not have to tell a story from start to finish. It can start and stop in "media res". People don't have to figure out or know what it means.

7. It really helps if you name the name of the person and the location and give an idea of the time. "My name is Yon Yonson I come from name is Peter Amberly.." Universal songs are less memorable than time and place and person-specific songs and are ultimately more universal.

8. Leave blank spaces rather than put in words that don't fit the meter or otherwise fit. If you can't fill in the blanks, ask for help.

9. Each song deserves its own tune, although sometimes they just jump on to another one. If you can't write tunes, collaborate. Don't put them to the Star of the County Down, Tramps and Hawkers or Silent Night.

10. It can't be too short but it can easily be too long. It can't be too simple but it can easily be too wordy or complex.

Just look at the songs that have survived...I bet most of them follow these..suggestions..


14 Apr 02 - 02:45 PM (#689897)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

First rule. It has to say something.


14 Apr 02 - 03:01 PM (#689900)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,jonesey

Hi Jeri, The suggestions from 'Guestmg' and 'J.R.' have specific value to your immediate needs. The post to review the 'greats' and 'lasting' for inspiration is right on. Also, would encourage you to find a safe forum in which to try out your new songs, i.e. an ongoing workshop or open stage, poetry night, etc. As an up and comer I once asked a well known songwriter of their approach? The answer was, "get the maximum impact out of minimum words." I'm still working at it...

14 Apr 02 - 03:41 PM (#689921)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,mg

I am not absolutely convinced it has to say something, although it depends on "what something is." Look at Camptown races...Camptown ladies sing this song, doo dah doo dah Camptown racetrack five miles long oh doo day day. That song has survived but I am not sure what exactly it says..maybe a description of an era.. maybe it just gives a visual picture..or the Beatles..Oob la di...I guess another visual picture of a working class marriage and a trip to the market..well, that is the picture I get...I don't listen to words that well..I don't think songs have to have a message though if that is what you

14 Apr 02 - 03:57 PM (#689929)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

Thanks to everyone for their advice.

Mg, I think some songs are just fun to sing, silly or not.

I can't get to Aine's Mudcat Songbook, so here are some of the songs I've already posted. Will post a new one and see how things go. I'm trying different stuff, and I don't know if it will work. I also think I should try doing a story song instead of the metaphoric, touchy-feely stuff I seem to have written a lot of.

New Song: A Foreign War
New Song: I Am The Song
My Mother's Garden
Shine Like a Diamond

Islip (Kilkelly parody)
The Way the World Should Work

I won't link to some of the sillier things I've done.

14 Apr 02 - 04:58 PM (#689956)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

The only way I know to be constructively critical is when I really like a song and want to sing it, but feel I need to change some bits, because that's the way I feel comfortable singing it.

I can't agree with mg about "It has to rhyme (well, not really has to..) exactly and perfectly, about 98% of the time. Every now and then you can misrhyme a little bit." I think for example using assonance instead of rhyme can be fine. It's not a second best, it's an alternative with just as much tradition behind it. And there are some great songs which don't rely on either rhyme or assonance. For example Woody Guthrie's Deportees (Unless you count Maria and Rosalita as part rhymes.)

And again with extra syllables, if you need them - there's no law saying that every verse has to have exactly the same tune, and in fact in much traditional music it's not even customary.

The crucial thing is, does it sound right.

14 Apr 02 - 05:19 PM (#689976)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Hyperabid

If I might chip in.

I'm currently in the process of writing a new set having has the "we're putting the band back together" conversation. As usual it's a bit of a troublesome experience.

The most important thing to remember is that opinions are as diverse as Big Macs - yet they are easy to produce, satisfying but ultimately greasy meat on cheap bread.

Last week's good music is next week's elevator entertainment - the most important thing to do is write about what you think in a way that you like.

Listen and learn but get on with it.


14 Apr 02 - 05:57 PM (#690010)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

The more I think about it, the more I realise asking a few (a 'few' means three or four, right? More, and it's 'several'?) trusted people isn't quite the same thing as posting a song. If I get criticism, I can expect multiple opinions, some of which contradict others. I can expect some opinions that have more to do with the subject matter or the type of song than the quality of the song itself, and I can expect some will re-write the verses or add to them, and...well, it would come down to songwriting by committee.

I also thought I had a song done and I completely threw out two verses this morning and wrote two new ones. Just now, I decided the last verse needs work. Oh well - I've been writing the thing since last October.

Just to explain something I said earlier, (in case I'm in trouble) I very much appreciate people saying 'nice song'. The comment doesn't take much thought in that you don't analyze the thing - pick it apart - and try to see 'areas for improvement'. You DO have to listen enough to know whether you like it or not.It's just a different type of listening, and those who listen for enjoyment probably don't want to pick things apart. In any case, I apologise if anyone thought I was saying those comments aren't important to me.

14 Apr 02 - 06:36 PM (#690038)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

mg... true, not every song has to have a "message," despite my e-mail address. But, there has to be some reason for writing the song. It's not just mechanics and rules. Songs are first of all a form of communication. Maybe all you want to communicate is a picture, or maybe you're just enjoying having fun with words. A verse in a song I wrote just came tumbling out, and I found it amusing. I enjoyed it enough to wait for some more verses to come out, and it became a song, Blackbird. I'm sure that the song came out of my love for Old Man At The Mill and other traditional southern mountain songs.

The verse that came out first was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


14 Apr 02 - 08:10 PM (#690080)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

Totally right.

Songs are like stories, even when they aren't stories. I mean stories as in jokes. The test for a joke is that it's funny - and sometimes you'll hear someone tell a joke and it won't be funny, and you can try to work out where they went wrong, and maybe if it's a good jone tell it yourself and turn it around a bit so that you find it funny.

But you can hear two fellas tell the same joke in the same words, and with one of them it's funny and the other it's not.

Or you can sing the same song one time and it falls completely flat, and another time it works fine.

It's a mystery.

14 Apr 02 - 08:25 PM (#690085)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: katlaughing


I was just on the phone with Aine and she asked me to let you know the Song Challenges were mostly meant as a fun thing that everyone could have a go at and that's mostly why they've not been more serious. I am not putting it was well as she did, but she did also say the one time she remembers posting a serious challenge, she didn't get many takers.

I know what you mean about you being inspired by what you read in the posts, as you did such a beautiful job of My Mother's Garden for my sister and me. Seems to me you are a pretty terrific songwriter already.

She thinks, and so do I, your idea of a Songwriting Workshop on Mudcat is terrific and why don't you go for it?!*bg* Really it does sound a good idea.

She's out for the count for awhile longer with an absessed tooth which infection has settled in her sinuses, but will be along as soon as she is better. Thanks,


14 Apr 02 - 08:59 PM (#690103)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

Poor Aine!!!
I understand why she did the humorous song challenges. (I think.) I also remember the serious one that went pooft. I've enjoyed them and hope she can continue when she stops having crap fall out of the sky at her. Humor is a lot more universal than other subjects and there's a lot less likelihood of us getting into the debates/flame wars/pissing contests we'd get into with more serious subjects.

Thanks for your comments on the song and my ability, kat. My main concern is the things I can't see because they're right in front of me. No one should preefroad their own work because the errors will look just as correct as they did when first typed. I can miss really stupid things in songs because the line or whatever looked right when I wrote it.

As far as the workshop goes, I was hoping for people more experienced than I am. I post mine here and occasionally sing them for one or two people. There's only one I've ever managed to sing for a group, and I haven't sung that one since the Getaway last Oct.

14 Apr 02 - 11:00 PM (#690159)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Bill D

Jeri..SongBob, whom you might have met at the Getaway posts here 'occasionally'...partially because he is on some sort of songwriters listserver or newsgroup...he and others trade songs back & forth all the time and crtitque each other....want me to find out where?

15 Apr 02 - 12:58 AM (#690208)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Big Mick

I am so grateful for you starting this one, Jeri. I have so many songs bouncing around in my head, but writing songs is a craft I have never studied. And here we have such noted writers (Jerry Rasmussen.....need I say more?)that this may be one of the most valuable threads yet. I intend to be following it very closely............may even write a song about it........LOL.


15 Apr 02 - 07:29 AM (#690314)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,micca at work

Jeri, on a practical level, I find sometimes that an idea for a song just comes along, and then if I immerse myself in the "subject matter" in a day, week , amonth , a year, I sit down and the song(or most of it) will "write itself" in, sometimes a very, shortish period of time. I carry notebooks EVERYWHERE, as it is amazing how many great ideas come when I am "on the hoof" or on the Underground, or the bus. I have one Rule, I follow diligently, ones I have the song down on paper, or computer, I set it aside for at least 24 hours and do not even LOOK at it, then if it is fresh and ok I may rewrite, or tinker, but stepping back, is, for me, very important.
One of my songs" arrived" Chorus and tune, while on my way somewhere on teh London Underground, and(as I do not write music) when I arrived, I had to go in the bathroom and sing it onto a minidisc so as not to lose the tune!!!
and as you have often done so for others, let your friends see your work, and you will learn quickly who you can trust to be honest..

15 Apr 02 - 07:34 AM (#690322)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

I know most of the songs people wrote in the Song Challenges were on the funny side, but by no means all.

Myself more times than not I found myself writing serious even gloomy ones. (For example this one: The City of the Dead, which isn't exactly a budle of laughs.)

15 Apr 02 - 07:36 AM (#690323)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

Well thank you, Mick. That makes eleven people who have heard of me, at last count. I've led many songwriting workshops and find them endlessly fascinating. But, workshops don't lend themselves to telling people HOW to write songs. You can take classes on how to repair your motor, or frame a house, but writing songs is different. Workshops, like this thread, are best for feeding the muse. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article once on feeding your muse, and a song that went with it that started out, "I feed my muse on rhythm and blues and old-time rock and roll." Songwriting is ultimately a creative process, and doesn't necessarily pay attention to rules. But, listening to others talk about how they write songs has always given me encouragement. If nothing else, I see that we all go through the same process. Some of the encouragement that I've offered others is for starters, "Shut up and listen." Beginning songwriters often draw almost exclusively on their own feelings, which is why songwriters have such a bad reputation. The truth is, there are a world of stories and songs around all of us if we listen and watch. There are memorable lines waiting to be picked out of conversations, images to be put into words if we actually SEE the world around us instead of wandering through it, self-absorbed. I've written songs where almost every line of the song was something I'd heard someone say. Lines like, "What good is a man whose idea of pleasure is a can of cold beer and the game of the week?" Lines that are musical, coming out of the mouths of others.

And how do you teach someone to write a song in a dream? Eat a large pepperoni pizza before you go to bed? But, you can encourage people to keep a pad and pen next to their bed so if an image or a line comes to them in a dream, they can write it down. Everyone has had the experience of awakening from a wonderful dream, and trying to go back to sleep to get back into the dream. Sometimes lines come in a dream, and I try to put myself back into the dream and the imagery to allow more lines and images to come.

I would hope that others would share their experiences, writing songs, rather than just keep a thread going about how people need songs critiqued. When I've talked about writing songs, I often say that everyone has written songs. Most of us just grow out of it. Kids are constantly making up songs, often as parodies of popular songs or commercials. Every family and community has a lifetime worth of songs in them. I've tried to create a family album with songs, instead of photos. And that leads to another subject... making songs visual. Kinda like, have you seen any good songs recently? From the same song quoted above, Lavender Ladies:

"And where are the men who can find their contentment
In a living room waltz or a walk by the sea?

"A living room waltz?" What kind of a picture does that conjure up? Spontaneous romance.

If this thread is to continue, let people talk about lines that they're having trouble with, or ones that were a gift. Songwriting is as much mystery as craft. Some of the best lines just "come."


15 Apr 02 - 08:29 AM (#690348)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

Agreed, Jerry. I wanted help with one particular problem, but Mudcat is a discussion forum and the discussion, like a river, finds its own path.

Mick, I don't know that this will help or not. It's just an idea that may work for some people and hinder others. Try an outline with main points for verses. Try writing a paragraph for each main point, then weed out all the stuff that isn't that important and condense what's left. Pay particular attention to the opening and closing sentences in your paragraphs. Don't worry about rhyming or fitting words into lines at first - you can do those things once you have The Plan. Please feel free to PM or e-mail me. Despite possible impressions I've given, I can limit my help to what you want. (i.e., offer suggestions on how you can do things rather than doing them myself.)

I think songwriting is the art of condensing - taking elaborate ideas and expressing them with as few words as possible. You have to use meaningful, although often simple, words. Look at the lines Jerry posted above, and imagine the paragraph those lines could have come from. (I love those lines, Jerry.)

Bill D, I'd like the information about the mail list/newsgroup very much, please. I did find a newsgroup, ( but I'm just lurking at the moment.

15 Apr 02 - 09:45 AM (#690400)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Mary in Kentucky

Jeri, don't forget the song you wrote for Joe and Christina here. (I harmonized it and made a midi of it here...can't get it to play on my computer just now.)

I'll be glad to critique your songs...FROM A PURE AND SIMPLE LAYMAN'S POINT OF VIEW! I'm certainly not a musician, and know just a little theory, but it really intrigues me how you can hear a one-line melody that seems to follow traditional patterns of harmonic progression. I can only hear a series of chords and then superimpose a melody on that. I wonder if this is an unconscious thing...

15 Apr 02 - 10:45 AM (#690458)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: MMario

Jeri - I can understand the frustration - I think you also know that some of us (speaking for myself at least)can give you a "nice song" or "I like it" or a 'yeuck!' as appropriate - but don't have the terminology or expertise to tell you WHY. However - if I ask you for permission to sing it you can be sure I like it!

For example - your New Year's Toast - which still sends shivers down my spine - and I have no idea WHY - but I know that it hit me, and many of the people I sang it to, in a deep and personal manner.

Regarding the song challenges - I think people feel more "free" with amusing subjects - but as others have said - not all the songs have ended up being fluff.

15 Apr 02 - 12:19 PM (#690556)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

I think it must be one of those things where people are wired up differently, chord sequences and that, Mary.

I hardly ever think in terms of chord sequences. I search around for a chord that sounds right with the note I want to play, using a bunch of chords that fit in with the key and the sort of tune. Ends up the same thing probably, but it's a different way of thinking.

15 Apr 02 - 01:25 PM (#690605)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: GUEST,Foe

Many years ago I worked for a contest, The American Song Festival, located in Hollywood CA, and was in contact with many "publishers," used as judges in the lower levels. (out-of-work publishers called themselves "independent producers") Also sat in and helped tape a songwriting course at UCLA taught by Al Kasha (He wrote "there's got to be a morning after, if we can hold on through the night"). The publishers, many who "fell" into the music business used to say, "If it took longer than 20 minutes to write, it's no good". Al Kasha approached songwriting as story telling. By the end of verse 1 you should know who the people are and what the conflict is. (i.e. Don't sing love songs, you'll wake my mother she's sleepin' here right by my side. And in her hand a silver dagger,- in other words - we love each other but Momma's gonna stab you) Verse 2 you come in for a detail of the picture - a close up - something that intensifies the conflict. Then to the chorus/bridge - the "hook" -Philisophical statement that explains the song. I'd tell these publishers that I'd written a song. All they'd ask is, "What's the hook (title)". Verse 3, resolve the conflict. (The resolution can be that the conflict is going to continue)

If you can put a girl's name or a state name in the song - so much the better. The judges at the Song Festival complained all the time about listening to boxes of 100 cassettes and being unable to find a positive love song. Take that song where you said "I hate you" and change every "hate" to "love." "I'm so sad, life is terrible, boo-hoo, whine-whine" songs might work for you but other people mostly want something positive. Keep your language simple. If the listener has to stop and try to figure out the meaning of the line he just heard, he misses the next line and the song is lost on him. Also exagerate. You don't say, "I'm gonna' love you I think, for a while, maybe". No! - say "I'm gonna' love you 'till the end of time!!"

As to melody - you should be able to sing the song without an instrument backing it up. If you take away the instrument and all you have for a melody is changing back and forth between two notes - you don't have a melody. Lucky Carl, a publisher, told me that he knew a songwriter who came to him one day and said he'd written a song. Lucky told him to whistle the melody. The guy whistled "That's Amore" Lucky told him, "It's a hit" Melody should mirror the words. If you say you feel "up" the melody should go up. If you sing about the moon, the melody should sound like the moon.

After all that - if you look around you'll find that many hits do not follow any of the things I just said. ?????

15 Apr 02 - 02:22 PM (#690655)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

Getting down to why you write. If you're trying to write a "hit" then Foe is probably right on the money. I took a book out of the library once, out of curiosity. It had a sure-fire way to right hits. The first suggestion sas that every time you think of a cliche, write it down on an index card and file it away. If you can write a song with a cliche as a title, you've already got some recognition... "Double Or Nothing," "Between A Rock And A Hard Place" (that one's already been taken by the Stones,) etc. If you want to reduce life to cliches, that's the way to go. That's not why I write. I don't write to make money or have hits, and in that regard I've been a whopping success! I write them because I enjoy writing them, and when someone else enjoys something I've written, that's payment enough.

As to ways to write songs, we all have our own. I have probably written at least three songs in my life, with instrument in hand. All the rest I "write" in my head. It's not until I have the song well-started with the melody in place that I pick up an instrument. Many of the songs I've written have come to me when I'm driving, so it's just as well that I'm not trying to play guitar at the same time. That's what works for me. Doesn't work for most people. Whatever works. There is no wrong way to write a song.


15 Apr 02 - 03:37 PM (#690702)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Mr Red

George Bernard Shaw said (a lot of things but also) : "the golden rule is that there are no golden rules"
it is all about context & of course there are plenty of permutations and combinations that stink. The problem I find when I am asked for comments is having that empathy with the writer to help. Lyrics without music are just words. Target audience, kind of accompaniment etc can frame the answers so much.
Persist with the songwriting workshops - some are more constructive - some more practical most seem to be discussion groups but be prepared open ones mind and consider possibilities.
consider colaborations, if you can handle the strange ideas coming at you and if you don't try to posess your own "bits of" it can be instructive. If you get into fighing over words/lines it can be a dampener. record the words and move on, suggest alternatives and record them and move on.
At the end of the day - if (and it is not a must), if you intend singing to an audience they will tell you things, just ignore those negative people, initially.
I always remember singing an anti-suicide song and two girls of the same age as the subject told me it was "right" - not good, nor well sung but "right" and that's all the feedback I needed.

15 Apr 02 - 03:58 PM (#690720)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

Mr. Red is right, too. Songs posted with just the words are just that... words to songs. I am usually pretty careful about who I share words to songs with, because they are so nude without the melody. Sometimes, the melody brings to life a word that in itself sounds like a God-awful choice. Like the word "excruciatingly," Or how about "simulated pearl." I've used both of those words in lines that worked well because they fit into the melody line well. Just seeing them on paper doesn't cut it.

I only had one experience with someone sending me a tape of their songs to critique. I made some positive suggestions, and asked some questions about the perspective in the songs, and never heard from the guy again. I thought that they were very specific suggestions regarding particular lines that I thought could use some tightening up, and found one of the songs confusing and internally contradictory. Even the kindest suggestions can be dangerous. Songs are like your "babies."


15 Apr 02 - 04:07 PM (#690732)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Stephen L. Rich

This may or may not be helpful, but it worked for me. For one year I commited myself to writing SOMETHING every day (even if it was just filling a page with random, freely associated words) and to writing one song a week. The end result, at the time, was that i had written dozens of REALLY BAD songs and three that I stillperfom today (twenty years later). The result, in the long run, has been that, though I rarely write anymore, it comes to me more easily and I am more open to spotting the parts that need to be rewritten and to doing the rewrites themselves. It's not a method that will work for everyone. But, as I said, it worked for me.

15 Apr 02 - 04:21 PM (#690739)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

Myself, if someone suggest I should change something about a song I'd quite likely find myself bridling at the suggestion.But if they took a song I'd written and sang it a bit differently, I'd probably be quite happy, because I'd be pleased they were singing my song. And I might take over some of the changes. But I suspect for a lot of people it'd be the other way round.

"Bridling at the suggestions" needn't mean I might not take them on board later. And it's different if you've laid a song out asking for comments. Moreover putting a song up on the Mudcat counts as laying it open to comments, in my view.

15 Apr 02 - 04:51 PM (#690751)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

McGrath: I've had several people record songs that I've written. I guess that I've been lucky in that they took the time to learn the words. (With a couple of exceptions.) In a couple of instances, they changed the chord progression slightly and in one of those cases, I liked the change so much I now do it that way, myself. I do wonder how open people would be to suggested changes in words of a song that they wrote. I've generally found that if you honestly praise those things that you think someone has done well, it helps them to grow, rather than critique lines and have them get defensive (even if they insist that they aren't..)


15 Apr 02 - 09:51 PM (#690896)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Jerry, you asked:

And how do you teach someone to write a song in a dream? Eat a large pepperoni pizza before you go to bed?

Actually, there are exercises you can do to train yourself to dream lucidly -- that is, that you know that you'r dreaming while you're dreaming, and can make deliberate actions that affect the outcome of the dream (such as turning around and asking the monster chasing you: "Why are you after me?" -- the monster will tell you, btw). I haven't used lucid dreaming to write a song, but I have used it to write poems and stories when the deadline was looming, and I've been stuck.

I don't write down my dreams when I wake up. Personally, I find the very act of fumbling for the pencil enough to make me forget the dream. Instead, I lay still in the bed and replay the dream backwards from the last scene I remember...

I did have one dream, back when I was a teenager, that gave me a line that I'd love to use in a song, someday, if I could figure out what to put around it without it becoming way too sacherine:

The scene: I'm struggling with my crutches (I have CP) to get up some steps and through a narrow door, when one of the people waiting for me inside the room calls out:

"Look! It's Peter Pan!"

to which I reply: "That's right! I can't walk, but I can fly!".

Well, if not a song, then maybe a sweatshirt slogan... ;-)

15 Apr 02 - 10:00 PM (#690904)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: 53

I reckon that I would belong to this class. I've help write songs before, but I've only written 1 song by myself, and I don't think that I should mention the name as the song was sort of stupid. Good melody line and some good chord changes. Bob

15 Apr 02 - 10:20 PM (#690916)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

Capri Uni: 'taint sentimental. Sounds like the foundation for a good song. You know, there's so much cyncisim in the world that if you don't watch yourself, you end up stiffling honest emotion, downgrading unjustly to sentimental. When I wrote Handful of Songs and I wrote the line, "It's not what you leave, it's the JOY of remembering," I hesitated. Stupidly. People don't use the word joy much these days. But, it seemed too tepid and limp singing, it's the pleasure of remembering (and I needed a one sylable word to fit the line, anyway.) I ended up leaving it the way it was, and accepted that there Is joy in remembering. Don't be afraid to be positive... even joyful.

Do you know the song Little John of God by Los Lobos? It's a beautiful song about a severely handicapped boy, praising him for the special gifts that he had..."he sees things in a different way." It's very touching, without being sentimental. Just recognizing that each of us has our own gifts.

And 53, don't stop at one song! I'm sure that you have a lot to say. The only way to get better is to keep writing. As Roger Miller sang, "All you got to do is put your mind to it, knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it." Write for the fun of it, and don't worry if your first efforts sound stupid to you. They may not sound stupid to others..


15 Apr 02 - 10:34 PM (#690930)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Amos

I've written scores of songs just since I came aboard the Mudcat, some of them better than others, to be sure!! My experience is that you need to sorta capture the song -- the core image or even concept -- or the core of the vignette -- and sit there with it 'on your lap', so to speak, nibbling at your ear, as it were, until it transmogrifies into the line and the very word you need.

'Course sometimes you just have to nibble back. But sooner or later you find the delirious center which puts the best of the thoughts and feelings into the best words, and Bob's your midwife!! :>)


15 Apr 02 - 10:45 PM (#690936)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Mary in Kentucky

Capri's comments just remined me of synectics. It's a process to enhance creativity. I actually wrote a paper on it once, but I'm not sure where my resources are now. Anyway, the philosophy or process is filled with exercises to pull creative thought out of ordinary minds (like mine). I liked it for combatting writer's block.

15 Apr 02 - 10:59 PM (#690943)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Bert

Hi Jeri me luv,

You asked for it. My favourite topic. So here goes no holds barred.

New Year's Toast. GREAT SONG, don't change a thing.

I am The Song. Here I'll go against one of my rules and make the song longer (Just don't make a habit of it) I would sing it using verse 3 as a chorus, Singing it, verses 3,1,2,3,4,5,3 It's another great song.

My Mother's Garden, Good song but way too long. cut it down to four verses.

Shine like a Diamond another good song that's too long. You don't really say anything new after verse 1 and the chorus.

In the First Pale Light of Morning. Kinda rambles, maybe it's the shock. Try looking at it again now that a rew months have passed.

Islip, again it's too long , but nevermind when you are famous you'll be able to get away with that one.

The way the world should work, OK but is very specific and needs the right occasion to be appreciated.

All in all, they're bloody marvelous - you should be teaching us.

Luvya, Bert.

15 Apr 02 - 11:33 PM (#690956)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Jerry --

One reason I'm especially cautious about writing about my disability is what I call the "Touched by an Angel" syndrome -- where the subject becomes iconic of a "greater spiritual being", simply by virtue of their physical attributes -- akin to the romantic notions held by whites of the "Noble Savage" back in the 19th century.

As wonderful a songwriter as Si Kahn is, for example, the last verse of his song "It's not just what you're born with" makes me cringe just a little:

Between those who use their neighbors, and those who use a cane,
Those in constant power and those in constant pain,
Between those who run to evil and those who cannot run,
Tell me, which ones are the cripples,
And which ones touch the sun?

(let's face it: the lines can never be so clearly drawn)

I've even been told (with a straight face, no less) that I'd be a good medium, because disabled people have a purer spiritual essence.

I'm not afraid of sentiment, per se, but I recognize that the idea of physical disability carries with it multiple layers of cultural meaning, and if I want my own meaning to be clear, I have to be extra precise and careful with the words I choose.


And as for Joy, well, you just said my magic word! ;-) Extrapolating from my own personal experience, I came to the conclusion many years ago that all of life was created so that Joy could be experienced and shared. Period.

After all, I put up with all of the daily diffeculties and frustrations because, in the back of my mind, there is the hope that I might see the most beautiful sunset today, or taste an exquisite morsal, or feel laughter shake my frame. And if it's that way for me, who am I to say that it's not that way for oak trees and sperm whales, too?

I don't think there is a smidgen of "sentiment" in joy, frankly. It's much more powerful than that -- a deep taproot that connects us to life itself, joy reaches into darkness, and has something of a dark side itself... Dunno if that makes any sense, but there ya go... ;-)

15 Apr 02 - 11:46 PM (#690963)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

Capri: I think that I understand what you're saying. I suppose that even being understanding can sound condescending. In the long run it seems that all you can do is treat people like people and not categorize them.

As for joy, I did a Christmas card one year that just said "Joy cannot be contained." I also encourage people not to settle for "happy," when they can shoot for joy. Happy sounds kinda wimpy in comparison to joy. Joy is power-full.


15 Apr 02 - 11:48 PM (#690964)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Amos


Thank you for the most beautiful short essay I have yet read on the 'Cat.

I dunno about this "disability=purity" computation -- it doesn't make much sense to me.

But I'd say you don't need to be touched by an angel; you have all the qualifications your own self!


16 Apr 02 - 12:02 AM (#690973)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni


The ol' disability = purity equation doesn't make much sense to me, either. I think it may be related to the belief that a weakness in one area is compensated by a strength in another -- that blind folks have super-human hearing, and the such like. If you believe that the body and the spirit are seperate from each other, you might conclude that a "weakness" in the body leads to a strength in spirit, or something.

And as for having the qualifications to be an angel... I thank you. But I'll decline that job offer. I have enough trouble being human... ;-)

16 Apr 02 - 12:45 AM (#690996)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Jerry --

It's not understanding that can get condescending, but sympathy (with the same root in the word pathetic). When people start expressing sympathy, it's most often in response to what they imagine your life to be like, rather than who you really are, or what you're really going through.

And that's what's so tricky about writing a song on the subject: A song is meant to recall memories, and draw forth strong emotion. But so many cultural memories and attitudes around disability are distorted that calling them up might actually cloud your message, rather than make it clear.

Actually, I think the best song "about" disability wasn't written with disability in mind at all (I don't think): Roger Miller's You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.

16 Apr 02 - 06:46 AM (#691130)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

Yes, that last verse of Si Kahn's song does fall away I've always thought. Veers towards sympathy rather than empathy.

I think Johnny Crescendo's in-your-face style has a lot going for it in this context. A Google search didn't come up with too many of his songs. Here's one and here's another. "Choices and rights" was the one I was looking for though.

16 Apr 02 - 08:01 AM (#691165)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: kendall

What works for me is to just drag one out in a group and sing it. Then, if someone likes it, they ask "Hey, that's ok, where did you get that"? you know it's passed muster.

16 Apr 02 - 08:54 AM (#691188)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

Hi, Capri: I see that we both love You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd. I've sung that ever since I herd it. It's the only song I do on bottleneck guitar. It has such a nice, loping rhythm that way.


16 Apr 02 - 09:02 AM (#691198)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: MMario

One of the best compliments I ever got was when a musician friend heard a song I wrote and asked for the author's name - because she wanted to look into recording it - and the utter look of total dumbfoundedment (if that's a word) on her face when I told her I was the author.

16 Apr 02 - 09:14 AM (#691213)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

Yeah, Mario... that's a great feeling. I get a kick out of it when someone thinks that a song I wrote is traditional, and asks what old recording I learned it from.


16 Apr 02 - 09:28 AM (#691231)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Mary in Kentucky

Capri, once again you're reminding me of ideas I've heard...and have trouble articulating...but here goes...

1) I love the scene in the movie Nell where Jodie Foster (playing Nell) makes the comment that people like her (attuned to nonverbal communication, and feeling greater truths in life) can recognize each other. (she made eye contact with the woman who was experiencing depression.)

2) I heard Judy Collins make a statement on the stage one time about how people in the arts and music just seemed to understand things and communicate on a level that most folks never experience.

I love the word joy too. Let me also add the words rejoice and celebrate.

16 Apr 02 - 11:40 AM (#691297)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Thanks for the links, McGrath! I've bookmarked the Independant Living homepage for later reference.

I think the dodgy thing about writing from the point of view of someone society considers "on the fringe" is that it's the point of view that becomes the focus, rather than the subject being examined.

If I wrote the song I AM PETER PAN with the line: "I can't walk, but I can fly!" chances are, the song would be end up being understood as being 'about' a disabled woman and her noble spirit, rather than about the experience of joy that we all have in common.

On the other hand, some points of view need to be shared, because injustice breeds where voices are silent, the way mold breeds in dark, damp places.

So I'm rather ambivilant about it... If I do it right, than I'll help break down walls we erect between each other and between our spirits and the fountain of life. (Thank you, W. B. Yeats, for that idea) But if I get it wrong, I'll only make those walls thicker with pity and bathos.

It must be a good line, though, because it has stuck with me ever since I had that dream over 22 years ago.

16 Apr 02 - 11:57 AM (#691310)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

It's the Peter Pan that would make that tricky, because of all the associations with childhood and never growing any older, which is terrribly prevalant a way of looking at disability, most especially learning disabioties, but ophysical as well.

"But I can't walk but I can fly" doesn't have to have that link.The same as if you said "I can't walk but I can swim"; or "I can't talk but I can sing". (And I know people like that.)

16 Apr 02 - 03:38 PM (#691423)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

You're right about the Peter Pan, McGrath, but I think it's the I can't...but that's the really tricky part, because it defines the speaker by what s/he can't do, first.

But if the song is about flights of fancy in general, and the ability of the spirit to soar no matter what frustrations we face, then we're entering the realm of the universal...

But, BTW, that is another pet peeve of mine: that flights of fancy and believe in magic are allowed only to children: that Never-Never Land can only be inhabited by lost "boys", or that Puff the Magic Dragon must face a lonely, solitary eternity when Jackie Paper grows up, or that Christopher Robin must abandon the Hundred Acre Wood when he goes to school.

If the magic wand is a metaphor for personal power, and Never-Never land is the realm of possibility, then shouldn't grown-ups take those things with them into their everyday world, rather than leave them behind?

Perhaps that is one reason why the Harry Potter books are so popular, at least on one subconscious level: in that world, childhood is the training ground for magic, and even though we won't see any more of Harry after he graduates, we know that when he grows up, he'll be taking the magic with him.

Actually, there is already a fantastic song on this topic: Eleven Easy Pieces by Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet (aka Trout Fishing in America) -- a song that proves good lyrics don't have to rhyme, even though it may not come across as wonderfully on the screen as it does in the ear.

16 Apr 02 - 05:31 PM (#691492)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

I'd see "I can't..but I can" as saying "what you see is this, but what I am is something else". Which is more or less the same as Si Kahn is saying in that song - up to that last verse it's a great song too. Which shows that even great songs can use a bit of constructive criticism.

I imagine we'll likely have a chance to follow Harry Potter into adult life. Ursula Leguin has already done that with her student wizard Ged in A Wizard of Earhsea and the later books. (And there aren't any children in the Lord of the Rings. And Tolkien was very insistant that the idea that stories like that weren't for childen as such was nonsense. Or young adults for that matter.)

There are supposed to be sea birds that can never land - whether it's striucly true I wouldn't know, but it's a powerful image that ties into that line of yours. Just as mermaids could swim but not walk, and sing but not talk.

16 Apr 02 - 05:58 PM (#691515)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

Bert, I happen to know you like short songs, and I don't notice length the same way you do.

"Shine" has four, and I could probably cut one of the middle ones - probably the "darkness and despair" one. Unfortunately, I've had people following me around with tape recorders for that one. On the other hand, I'm apt to forget a verse anyway, so if I start with four, I'll have it just right.

"I Am The Song" I don't sing this. At some point, I think it's a bit pretentious. I'll take a look at it in light of what you've said.

"Islip" got printed in SingOut! It's got the same number of verses as the original Kilkelly, which no one likes because it's too long. *G* Mind you, I don't think anyone's going to sing Islip - it's more of a novelty.

When it comes to cutting things down, I've usually tried my best. Once I've got them as short as I think I can, I need people to tell me what verses don't mean anything to them - which ones aren't necessary.

I think the line has wonderful potential, and I think you're very unlikely to convey that "oh, how special" feeling because it bugs you enough so you'd notice. I think you could write a song that makes the flying seem magical but not the person doing it. I think a lot of folks would be thinking "right on!" because we ALL have things we can't do, but we ALL have imaginations and creativity. You said "joy" isn't sentimental. Isn't that what you mean when you talk of flying?

Peter Pan gave up the idea of remaining young forever. He might have grown up (and doesn't look one bit like Robin Williams) and now can't walk. Didn't he tell people to crow, and they'd be able to fly? Maybe now he sings, maybe he just dreams he can crow, or maybe he just loves someone or something, and he can still fly, although maybe he didn't realise that for a while. Your "pet peeve" about flights of fancy would fit in there just fine. Maybe I'd better shut up before I start trying to write YOUR song, if I haven't already talked too much. I think it's a great line.

16 Apr 02 - 06:25 PM (#691534)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: harvey andrews

I think songwriting is a gift, like ball sense, you've got it or you haven't.
All I've learned in 39 years is this
Say the most in the least
Tell me a story
Don't look in, look out.
Don't sing meyour life, find a way to sing me mine, if I'd been a sailor, a soldier, a writer, a drunk,or maybe, if I'd been you.
Always remember you're singing for someone else, not yourself

16 Apr 02 - 06:40 PM (#691554)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

You could almost sing that last post.

17 Apr 02 - 12:18 AM (#691790)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Jeri, you wrote:

Peter Pan gave up the idea of remaining young forever. He might have grown up (and doesn't look one bit like Robin Williams) and now can't walk. Didn't he tell people to crow, and they'd be able to fly? Maybe now he sings, maybe he just dreams he can crow, or maybe he just loves someone or something, and he can still fly, although maybe he didn't realise that for a while. Your "pet peeve" about flights of fancy would fit in there just fine.

Interesting idea. In my dream, when the person called out: "Look! It's Peter Pan!" I understood that to be a nickname for myself -- that I was a living embodiment of Peter-Pan-ness ... in many ways, I haven't "Grown-up", either -- grown deeper, perhaps, or grown more complex (or confused ;-)), but not grown-up (ever notice that "grown-up" is in the past tense? Who would want that?).

But I like your idea of continuing the story of the character of Peter Pan, and writing the song as a ballad, though in telling the story, you'd probably have to tell what drove him out of Never-Never Land...

Maybe I'd better shut up before I start trying to write YOUR song, if I haven't already talked too much. I think it's a great line.

I don't think there's any danger of that. Even if we both start with the exact same central line, any song the two of us wrote would be completely different, simply because our experiences and aesthetic sense are different. Just look at the wide variety of songs that Aine's Song Challenges produce -- and each batch is inspired by the same event...

If you want to play around with the line, go right ahead. It came to me in a dream, but maybe the dream was only passing through my brain on the way to somewhere else.... Such as the Mudcat, perhaps ;-)

17 Apr 02 - 01:21 AM (#691812)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: KT

CapriUni, I like the way you think!!

You said, "It came to me in a dream, but maybe the dream was only passing through my brain on the way to somewhere else..." I love it!

And isn't that what song writing is all about? Allowing the message to pass through on the way to somewhere else?

On that note, I think I will go and listen for a song in my dreams tonight. Thanks! KT

17 Apr 02 - 02:11 AM (#691826)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Night Owl

Jeri....thanks for starting this thread...wonderful info in it. I've read lyrics you've written and posted here in different threads, and they speak to my heart......and I've heard some of the beautiful music you've created. I DO hope you don't get discouraged while "honing" your skills.

I'm certainly NO expert...BUT I think you've got a LOT of "stuff" in you to come out in song. I'd be glad to give you HONEST feedback (from an amateur)if you want.

One of my personal favorite songs was written by my daughter, playing around with my Dulcimer during a blizzard, when she was six.

I had to giggle reading, cuz at 6 yrs. old, she followed some of the advice given here.


"I really like it when it snows
Because my snowman really grows
Grows and grows 'til he hits the sky
Momma will watch and so will I
Grows and grows 'til he hits the sky
Momma will watch and so will I

He's got two pine cones for his eyes
If he sees me I'll be surprised
He's got a carrot for his nose
If the rabbit comes
I'll get another one

17 Apr 02 - 03:21 PM (#692314)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

That's great, Night Owl! Did you record/save the tune, too?

I really like the lines:

He's got two pine cones for his eyes
If he sees me I'll be surprised

17 Apr 02 - 05:53 PM (#692373)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Kim C

I write only to please myself. If anyone else is pleased, so much the better. But I have written a lot of things that no one besides me has ever heard, and I intend to keep it that way. Too personal.

Many years ago I was at a show featuring a local songwriter that I really liked, and I said to a friend, Man, I wish I could write like him. And he said, Why? Just write like yourself.

The songwriter and the friend have both drifted into the obscurity of times past, but I have never forgotten what he said to me.

Just write like yourself. :-)

17 Apr 02 - 05:58 PM (#692378)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: 53

I've written the music to quite a few Gospel songs and a few Country song, but like I said earlier just the words to 1, but thanks for the words of encouragement. Bob

17 Apr 02 - 07:06 PM (#692418)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Ebbie

A workshop sort of thing would be nice. Someone (???) could say "write a song on this topic." People would write songs, then the workshop 'someone' and the rest of us would discuss and critique the songs. I doubt it would work since there's some degree of organization involved. (insert winky-face here) Jeri

I think a Songwriter's Workshop on Mudcat would be great.

Anyone up for finishing a song I haven't gotten very far on? At this point, it needs not only some rhyming words/thoughts but some serious paring. Any ideas? Have at it, and thanks.

And yes. I do realize this could be seen as a navel-gazing song!

"Ten Thousand Tomorrows

Long ago, you were all the world to me
From here to horizon, far as I (eye?) could see
But time- it moved on, leaving you behind
Ten thousand tomorrows out of my mind

Once I really loved you
dah, dah, dah, dah, dah
Once I really loved you
Why have I forgot.

Forgotten the way you sat in a chair
Forgotten your smile and the scent of your hair
Don't even recall the touch of your hand
Forgotten it all, it's not what I planned.

Once I really loved you
dah, dah, dah, etc

In this morning's paper, there is your face
Next to some strangers, each one in its place
"He died yesterday" it dah, dah, dah, dah
Once I really loved you. Why have I forgot."


17 Apr 02 - 07:38 PM (#692451)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

Ebbie, "forgot" really sticks out because my brain wants to hear "forgotten."

You could put the "forgotten" in the third line of the chorus, and rhyme the second line with the last:
Once I really loved you,
dah, dah, dah, dah, dah
Why have I forgotten
dah, dah deedle, dah

Sometimes it makes it easier to just swap lines around when the rhyme is too difficult.

17 Apr 02 - 08:04 PM (#692473)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

OK - I keep threatening to do this.

More background than you want:
I started writing this after the Getaway last Oct. I started thinking how much I enjoyed being around people who were truly in love with someone or something. That love spills over into everything they do. Certain people made me realise this, but I guess I've always known it, and I've always known folks like this. This is sort of a thank you.

Please feel free to critique here or by PM. (Should I have started a separate thread?) No tune yet, but I hope the rhythm will be clear. Thanks.


I'm always on the outside looking in
I'm always looking anywhere but where I am
Backward to a time long gone or forward to a dream
Alone, out on the edges where I stand

There are those who live their lives in the center of the flame
They're never far away from heat and light
Though mighty in its passion, it's love, all the same
And love, it is a beacon when a life burns so bright

Some are no less passionate, but sing a quieter song
Their love is at the heart of who they are
The light burns though the darkest times, ever steady, strong
They navigate their lives, with love their guiding star

Your love is a light, drawing moth to flame-
It's a siren's call, far away, but strong.
One stands apart, on hushed and shadowed path,
And yearns to join the vision or the song.

And never mind the song is one not meant for me to hear
Never mind if you don't even know I listen
I stand in silence, and to me, it's wondrous and clear
On these edges, even shadows dance and glisten

Out here on the edges, almost out of sight.
I hear the joyous song, I feel the call
If it were not for your love that shows my heart the way back home
There are times I'd never find my way at all

17 Apr 02 - 08:39 PM (#692484)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

Ebbie: Maybe "How could I forget?"

(Which is ambiguous as well; I like ambiguity in songs.)

Jeri: You might try changing the pronouns, and make it "he" instead of I, or the "you" to "her" etc. I'm not saying that's needed, but it might give an interesting angle. And Sirens in Grek mythology are not safe people to be around, they lure sailors to their death - I don't know if that idea is part of the image here, or if you want it to be.

17 Apr 02 - 09:47 PM (#692526)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

Sirens got a bad rap! I wanted to get across the idea of a compelling call from afar. Nobody dies in the song. The moth and flame one is probably worse. (Crackle - poof!) Moths aren't really drawn to flames anyway - I believe they're drawn to electric lights because the frequency makes the lights pulse, and the moths think they're navigating in between divided bits of moonlight and go into the light instead of through it sideways. Or something like that, but I digress...


17 Apr 02 - 10:36 PM (#692546)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Bert

Yup, I know I go on about long songs but three and a half minutes is the absolute maximum length of a song if you want it to get air time. Three minutes or less is better.

The ONLY exceptions to this are if you're really famous or if you belong to a group that sings old ballads.

Next time you're at a sing and someone is singing a long song, take a look around the audience, you'll see that most of them are looking at the ceiling or the walls and not paying attention to the song. Is that what you want for your songs?

18 Apr 02 - 02:57 AM (#692627)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Ebbie

Jeri and McGrath, you're so right- I always knew it jarred. I think I used it because of that- but I'm not locked into it.

'Forget' is a lot easier to find rhyming syllables for, too. I'll take another look- maybe I can finally get the silly thing finished!


18 Apr 02 - 05:10 AM (#692665)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Nigel Parsons

McGofH: what do you mean "You could almost sing that/the last post" We always did in cubs. (many moons ago)
Day's done
Gone the sun
From the sea; from the hills; from the sky
All is well; Safely rest
God is nigh.

18 Apr 02 - 09:11 AM (#692751)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Night Owl

sooooo.....I have a question. When someone writes powerful Jeri has done (IMHO).....with words that stand strong withOUT the there a way to "forecast" it'll be a wonderful song....before knowing WHAT the music for it IS??? Feels like a dumb question here...gonna go re-read the advice up above

18 Apr 02 - 09:26 AM (#692762)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: MMario

if the poetry is powerful - I figure the is usually some way to find a tune that won't detract.

jeri - I have goosebumps! - literal goosebumps on both arms from reading that!

18 Apr 02 - 10:23 AM (#692816)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jerry Rasmussen

I had a friend of mine who was not a singer, a musician or a poet, who decided he wanted to perform, reciting the lyrics to folk songs. He recited the lyrics to one of my songs, and it sounded so self-important (how can you make a song about living on the river and frying catfish in a skillet sound important?)that It was difficult not to laugh. Not at him, because he was/probably still is a good man. Most lyrics to songs don't stand alone. I imagine that there are the reverse... poetry that loses something being sung. Just like I feel that there are certain songs that should be sung a capella, because the song is complete in itself and will only be diminished with instrumentation.


18 Apr 02 - 12:12 PM (#692923)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

I think it's true generally that the best poems aren't the ones that make the best songs, and the other way round. Yeats wrote a lot of poems which as poems have much more power than the Sally Gardens, but they probably wouldn't make anywhere near as good songs. I doubt if many people would rank Kipling as high as Gerald Manley Hopkins, as a poet, but when it comes to verse that makes good songs he's pretty good.

There are exceptions. One that I'd put in that category among modern songs would be Dave Goulder's The January Man (and others by him as well). And that's an example of a song that doesn't need to have an instrumental accompaniment, and in fact is likely to lose by having one imposed on it.

18 Apr 02 - 03:28 PM (#693057)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jim Krause

Jeri, Excuse me, I have not read any of the posts after your original. One of the things that opened my eyes about songwriting, or specifically lyric writing is a book by Sheila Davis called [aptly] The Craft of Successful Lyric Writing. Davis has been a professional songwriter, and now teaches songwriting at New York City College, I think. Any of her books on the craft of lyric writing are pretty good and would be worth your money.

18 Apr 02 - 08:20 PM (#693266)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

Bert, what happened to "size doesn't matter?" ;-)
The one above clocks in at just over 2 minutes when I extemporise a tune. As far as people nodding off during a song, if it's got a good chorus, I'd like it to last for a while, and choruses adds quite a bit of time onto a song.

Night Owl, I agree with McGrath about poems not necessarily making good songs. The words have got to be singable and have to fall in the right places to emphasize the rhythm. I think Kipling put that "punch" into his poetry, and so did C.F. Smith. Notes and syllables are held in songs, and they aren't when you read a poem. Some words are just difficult to sing because they twist your tongue or interfere the flow of air.

I don't know if what I wrote will sound decent when I get around to writing the tune. It's a lot easier for me to write the tune to the words than the other way around. I don't know why that's so, and I know it's not true for everybody. I have another song I'm writing. I'm trying to come up with words to fit a tune that's already done, and it's HARD!

19 Apr 02 - 01:48 PM (#693812)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Jeri --

I'm that way, too (writing words first, and then writing the tune), and generally, I try to model the melody on the sounds of the words as spoken -- that is, I speak the line out loud, as if I were having a spirited conversation with somebody (as though I were trying to convince them of the truth of my argument -- not as though I were reciting a poem for an English class), and listen for when my inflection goes up or down, and then write the melody to match that. As for the duration of each note, I try to match the spoken words, too. For example, in the word "into", it takes longer to say the second syllable than the first, so I might make the first syllable an eighth note, and the second syllable a quarter note.

The first verse and chorus give me the melody. Then I sing that over and over, and write the subsequent verses as though I were writing a filk.

It's a system that works well for my ear, and produces songs that I can sing easily while I putter 'round the house (which is when I do most of my singing). Which is why I find it completely baffling and frustrating when my Dad informs me that the words and notes don't match up. And this is true for every song I've shared with him.

It's like we're speaking two different musical languages, and I don't know how to translate.

And I haven't gotten any "second opinion" feedback on the matter to figure out whether or not it's my ear and & brain combo that is out of kilter. Though I do belong to a mailing list dedicated to singing and sharing rounds, and I've gotten feedback on the melody to a round I'd written [the overlap among the parts led to a chord progression that shifted keys]. But no one said that the words and notes didn't match up. Part of me assumes that's because the words and tune did match up. I can never be sure, though, if the others on the list had the same problem my dad does, and just didn't want to say anything. ...I really wouldn't be surprised if it was my brain, though, since visible symptoms of my CP (out of whack muscle tone, coordination and balance) are controlled in the same part of the brain that processes the experience of rhythm. And when my dad was a kid, he took music lessons as a drummer, so his ear is really attuned to rhythm. But if there is a test for "rhythm deafness", I've never taken it (being able to clap along at a song circle is not a skill that's rated with great importance by the mainstream medical community, unfortunately).

The above long ramble has been a set-up for the following question:

Is there some formula for matching notes to syllables that I can use as a back-up for when my own ear may not be reliable? Should I, for example, base duration of notes not on the length of a syllable as spoken, but on its accent (In which case, "into" would get a longer note on its first syllable, instead of its second)?

19 Apr 02 - 02:07 PM (#693822)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: MMario

Something "we" found when rehearsing Christmas carols is that some of the differences are in how people pronounce words or inflect their sentences - ; in many cases we would have to stop and decide WHICH way we as a group were going to sing a particular phrase -

The way I sing "Mingulay" and the way a friend sing it have different inflections on several lines - and after several false starts we have learned to do it whichever way the one taking the lead does it - and neither is "wrong" as we have both heard recorded versions in both styles (and several others)

the same friend and I use VERY differnet phrasing on the round "Hey ho, nobody home" and the attempts to put the two together are hilarious, since we CAN adjust while singing in unison but tend to slip back into individual styles when we break into the round itself.

19 Apr 02 - 03:53 PM (#693918)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Interesting, MMario,

Maybe I should ask Dad to read my lyrics out loud, and see if he interprets the rhythm of the lines differently.

I do know that we hear recorded songs differently (say, when we're listening to a song on the car radio) -- he almost never understands the lyrics as they are sung, and it doesn't bother him at all, but he can pick out unique syncopations that the drummer is doing in the background. I, on the other hand, hear the lyrics first: the rhyme scheme, rhythm, etc., and can memorize the lyrics after a few listenings.

As much as I want to share what I do with my father, I may have to resign myself to the fact that as valuable as his advice is in other matters, we're just too different, musically, for his critiques to be valuable.

Which is why I like the idea of a song workshop thread -- In the Mudcat, we have all sorts of musical types.

19 Apr 02 - 07:24 PM (#694039)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: harvey andrews

CAPRI UNI---you sound like a lyricist to me.I didn't realise everybody didn't record the words and the rhyming schemes in their heads as well as the tunes and the feel until I was really quite old! Although I've written hundreds of songs I still don't think of myself as a musician,although I can come up with singable tunes, I can't play in singarounds, and I really envy people who can just JAM! But there is something special about hearing other people who are musicians taking your work and putting their stamp on it.You write it, let your dad work out the rhythm section!

19 Apr 02 - 11:42 PM (#694134)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

A good backup for matching notes to syllables if you think your ear is missing a bit of awkwardness is somebody else's ear. I can't think of anything else that would be as reliable, but you'll still wonder if the other person's ear is off. (Is this the "Van Gogh Syndrome?") I guess you'd want to ask more than one person, or find someone you know is rhytmically savvy.

Your idea about asking your Dad to read the lyrics aloud is a good one. You'd figure out what was causing the problem and it may give you some insight into how he hears written words in his head.

Feel free to consider me an alternate ear if you should want one. I'd be happy to share my opinions. (Why do I think I probably didn't need to tell you that?)

20 Apr 02 - 12:21 AM (#694147)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Jeri -- thanks for the offer.

I may just take you up on it and PM you something. Do you have Alan Foster's Text to midi translating programs? If not, I can always email you the midi/s.

Harvey -- I don't know that I'm a lyricist (yet). That is a very specific skill (like illustration -- it's more than just drawing nice pictures), but I've always been a word person -- I think I was born an English major ;-). I've written poems and stories ever since I can remember... as a kid, even my self-talk thoughts were novelistic style narration (this is crazy, she thought, as she typed the words into the message,... wait, does "self-talk thoughts" even make sense?) ;-).

And as has been noted above, good poems don't always make good lyrics, and vice-versa.

Lyric and song writing do not come easily to me, which is why I want to try my hand at it, and maybe grow in the process [but not grow "up" ;-)]

20 Apr 02 - 02:17 AM (#694172)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Night Owl

Jeri/CapriUni......I HOPE you two don't stop talking here in this thread. I'm finding the conversation and "peeks" into a songwriter's brain...(the processes you guys use etc.) and the advice being given fascinating....

20 Apr 02 - 03:46 AM (#694190)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101

Man,when I think about how to teach someone how to write a song, or worse yet, how to write a good song, it really blew my mind. Yeah, I've been formally instucted, and yes I've been in cowboy bands, jazz bands, symphonies, play by ear etc... So I thought what did I do wrong? Well one of the worst things I did was to enjoy my own work too much and "ignore" those little bothersome spots I knew were not just right. The thing that I think I did correctly was to listen to myself and be inspired by what was already happening.

20 Apr 02 - 05:15 AM (#694207)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: harvey andrews

Capri-Uni..what I meant was your comments told me you were a word person. The craft of good songwriting takes years to learn (and is great fun) but as I said before it's like ball sense.Throw a ball at a kid who's got it and he'll catch it and play happily, throw it at a kid who's not got it and he'll fumble and drop it and walk away to do something else. The one with the ball sense can take it as far as he wants, there's no point the other kid trying. So if you like playing with words, pick 'em up and run with them, you never know how far you'll get!

20 Apr 02 - 08:48 AM (#694273)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

CapriUni, MidiText is fine. E-mailed MIDIs is fine.

I've grown up just enough that I pay my bills, sometimes on time, and I show up where I'm supposed to be. Other than that, my grown-upness is mostly a disguise I wear to hang around with other grown-ups, who are just as likely to be wearing grown-up disguises. (I wrote a song about this too. What a surprise.)

20 Apr 02 - 12:12 PM (#694381)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: CapriUni

Night Owl --

I wasn't thinking of taking the discussion (of general priciples, ect.) private, just specific songs... But maybe it's time to start that "Workshop" thread, where specific songs can be posted and critiqued.

You up for it, Jeri?

Are we fairly sure it won't turn into trollbait?

Warning: Thread Drift Zone Ahead>

Though having said that, I think it's time for a confession: I have a secret alter-ego. I am a Pro-fun Troll, and as such, a golden fire extinguisher is part of my basic equipment (along with a kazzoo, paper birthday hat, and a blow tickler party horn)

The Mission Statement of the Pro-Fun Trolls: To slurp bandwidth with thoughtful posts, praising what we enjoy before criticizing what we don't, enticing lurkers into the sunlight, and hosting the occasional hoedown.

Of course, like all trolls, our goal is to take over cyber-space. In our case, though, our tactic is to spread so much kindness and laughter that the nasty trolls won't have room to gnash their teeth ;-).

On Mudcat, I nominate Áine to be our Pro-Fun Troll brigade captain.

End Thread Drift Zone

21 Apr 02 - 07:53 PM (#695155)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Jeri

CapriUni, I think the best way to ask for a critique of lyrics here is to start a thread and post 'em. I still don't think this is the best place to do it. It's like asking a roomful of people if they like your dress. Most of them will just keep quiet to stay out of trouble. Two will say it's too long, two will say it's too short. Two will love the color, two will hate it. Someone will point out it looks a bit like the dress Helvitica Noodleflip wore to dinner last Friday, but NO ONE will mention, or perhaps even notice, the the big rip under your arm. (Or if they do, they'll phrase it something like "I see you've done something very different and creative with your seams.")

You can try it. In my experience, people seem to like talking about songwriting in general and don't respond to requests for help with specific songs. There are probably many reasons why and I can only speculate about what they are.

McGrath thank you for your input. You were the only person who critiqued the song at all. My initial reactions to things often don't determine what I'll eventually do, and you've given me things to consider.

Bert, you got the other songs, and I thank you too.

21 Apr 02 - 08:17 PM (#695166)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: McGrath of Harlow

I've started a part 2 for this thread, and suggest anyone who wants to post does it there instead of here, since this thread is a bit long.

21 Apr 02 - 08:37 PM (#695179)
Subject: RE: Songwriting 101
From: Nigel Parsons

*****************Thread split**********

See the preceding entry to be re-directed to the continuation of this thread.

Please do no post her, Thread split! see above.*******************************************