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Thread: Song Writers???

  1. #1
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    Default Song Writers???

    What comes first for you? Lyrics or melody? New territory for me and I’m not sure what comes easiest. Kind of the old “chicken or the egg”.
    I have often wondered about this but now feel as though I have a need to know.
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    It can be either. I sometimes scat melodies and later ad chords and lyrics, sometimes I write words and rhymes and then build from there. One '20s-sounding song I wrote started with the idea that curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. Another song came from considering the line "Knowledge is sometimes a dangerous thing."

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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    In my early days of writing I wrote a lot of almost-folky, lyric-heavy songs that usually told a story of some sort. Most of the time I started with some sort of song idea; (story line, title, a line or two of lyrics, etc.) - and then built the music around that.

    In more recent years my songs have become more light-hearted and usually begin by banging out some sort of chord progression on the guitar. Once I have a basic chord structure, I just start singing whatever nonsense lyrics pop into my head, until something sounds relatively intelligent. Once I have the skeleton of chords, lyrics and melody - then the real songwriting process begins.

    In the old days the average song took me 24 to 72 hours to write - but I only worked on one song at a time . . . nowadays I often have two or three songs going at at time, and completion of any one song can take anywhere from a week to a month

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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    I haven't written enough songs to establish a real pattern yet, but...

    One song I wrote had the lyrics come first (inspired by an old graveyard epitaph).
    I never did find the musing to set it to and it remains unfinished.

    The other song is one I dreamed up -- literally.

    Last week I was nearly awake one morning when I had a haunting melody come to me in that lucid state that's not quite dreaming and not quite wakeful. The entire tune -- verse and melody -- was playing in my mind. It was an old-time sad and sentimental waltz -- and I swear Charlie Waller and John Duffey must be playing together up in heaven, because I could just imagine their voices singing it, with Charlie on the verses and John's voice soaring up into high lead on the choruses. So maybe they sent it on down to me...

    It got me so excited, I had to get up and whistle it into a voice recorder app on my Ipad so I wouldnt' forget it.

    Some of the lyrics were already there in the dream, too, so it wasn't too hard to fill in the missing bits.
    So the "melody-first" approach has definitely worked better for me, and was a lot more fun. Although I feel the song was just out there in the ether and my internal antenna simply picked it up.

    (I hope my song doesn't turnout to be an actual one that I simply remembered and thought I'd written, or I'll be awfully embarassed)

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    Americana in France? Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    A wonderful songwriter and a well know English folkie named Reg Meuross has said the words should come first.

    For me, like the posters above, the reality is a bit more complicated. The only quick answer is, "whatever works for you." Your process will be unique, even if it shares some basic commonalities with other people's processes.

    For me, if the melody comes first I tend to let it be a tune. If I am inspired to communicate lyrically, I tend to write out a few lines (maybe as much as a verse and a chorus). The rhythm of the words will determine the time signature and hint at a melody. Then the melody can shift a bit as I find the chords to suit my ears. Tonality (key signature) can change too. Sometimes I write a little too low or a little too high for my voice.

    (Playing a 5 string emando has allowed me to explore F and Bb. Guitars and mandolins don't really favor those keys, so this is an unexpected benefit of the expanded range.)

    While doing the above, I usually edit the lyrics for cadence so that the syllables fall in a way that supports the melody. Sometimes this changes the subject of the song, sometimes it doesn't.

    Throughout both of the above processes I leave myself open to new and/or better ideas. This allows things to be fluid.

    Once I have settled on a melody, a chord progression to support it, and solidified the lyrics of a verse and the chorus, I finish up the lyrics of the song. I usually write 3 verses and 1 chorus. But I am trying to pare things back these days. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus is a really good formula that I am trying to employ more.

    Hope this is helpful...
    Daniel

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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    I remember hearing an interview where Billy Joel said he always did the music first.

    I don’t write much - lyrics seem to come first for me

    It was surprising for me to find out so many people say songwriting is a long process and a skill, I kinda thought all these tunes came fully formed from people’s heads - not unlike Athena springing from Zeus’s head.
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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    The idea, is first for me whether music or lyric. I never have luck "trying" to write, it has to be pretty spontaneous. Not saying not to try just what works for me. I can write while trying, but it comes across as contrived and usually boring.

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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    Quote Originally Posted by Frankdolin View Post
    The idea, is first for me whether music or lyric. I never have luck "trying" to write, it has to be pretty spontaneous. Not saying not to try just what works for me. I can write while trying, but it comes across as contrived and usually boring.
    Yes - Frank brings up a very good point. Very rarely have I ever said to myself; 'I am going to write a song today' and then been able to come up with something useable. Inspiration (great or small) is the key

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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    With me it's usually a story line, then the lyrics, then the melody. But not always; sometimes it's a chord progression, sometimes it's a riff, and at least twice it's been a bass line. Whichever way it comes together, it involves a good bit of conscious work more often than not. The trick is to make it sound as if it hadn't required that.
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    There's a great little book called The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook which has many great strategies to keep you moving forward. Some people rely on inspiration, but this and other good songwriting books will help, as long as one actually works the material, when inspiration is short.

    One of the best exercises in Frustrated, especially if you are fortunate enough to know others who want to work with you, is of the five-minute song. You go into it with a broad theme, and come up with something. Sometimes it's bad (and that's okay, working without filters to prevent blocking great ideas with the bad), but I have come up with quite a few great songs using the technique.

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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    The thing for me is matching the two up. I'll have a lyric or hook and a set of changes …. then I have to play them and play with them to get a solid feel of partnership between the two. I would say it is more an organic process than a technique oriented one. R/
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  17. #12

    Default Re: Song Writers???

    I'm learning mandolin partly because I'm terrible at melody in my song writing.

    Words are my strength so I start there. My method may be like Explorer's above. I call it reverse engineering a song. I start with a phrase I really like, build that into a chorus, write a bunch of verses to go with the chorus then start editing.
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    I have tried for years to write a tune that is interesting to play. While I haven't given up, I have lost all enthusiasm.

    It's a little like making your own beer or wine. Unless you have some early success to give you hope it starts to seem ludacris to consume so much bad beer and wine when such good stuff is available at prices much less than costly than the hobby.

    But I know folks that have the knack. And it is amazing what they can do.

    Lyrics the same way. I know people that can write some really great lyrics. Songs that fit together seamlessly and sound like they have been around for years. Me, while I like words and wordsmithing, I cannot write a lyric that I would want to sing, much less anyone else.

    Curiously a song writer I know says the process is more one of discovery than creation. It's like this mystical faith that the song is out there and he has to find it. Its archaeology, as opposed to molding in clay.

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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    What comes first for you? Lyrics or melody? New territory for me and I’m not sure what comes easiest. Kind of the old “chicken or the egg”.
    I have often wondered about this but now feel as though I have a need to know.
    Thank you all for the insight. I have some theme lines (hooks) in my head and was not certain how to proceed.
    From what I have read I think I will coordinate a melody for the hook and go from there trying both approaches to see which works for me. While I read music, I have never attempted to write it. This will also be new territory I am exploring.
    Any other help on this will be equally apreaciated. The Cafe is truly agreat community.
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I have tried for years to write a tune that is interesting to play. While I haven't given up, I have lost all enthusiasm.
    If you listen to a majority of pop songs today, you'll notice that the melodies usually span less than an octave, and rarely have leaps of more than a third.

    There's a great book by Jack Perricone called Melody in Songwriting. It doesn't come with any audio, but if you're willing to work with standard notation, you'll get a great deal out of the book. If I recall correctly, the book is from where I initially learned of controlled, pleasant novelty to generate interest. I don't have it nearby at the moment, but I remember it using examples like The Pink Panther Theme to make its points on the matter.

    I also was fortunate to have learned directly from guitarist Michael Hedges about the advantages of composing melody on a different instrument from what will be used. It's easy to fall into guitaristic or mandolinistic idiomatic phrasing, which leads to it all sounding the same. Writing instead at, say, the keyboard will allow you to avoid many pitfalls.

    ----

    Lastly, regarding inspiration, I try to find at least three inspirations a day. "What? You're scared of clowns?" "Wow, your neighbor should leash that dog!" A friend recently couldn't describe a particular color, and expressed it as "the opposite of green"... which is a great idea for lyrics about forgetting a failed relationship when your ex has found someone new, right?

    Just for such moments of inspiration, and also for melodic snatches which occur to me, I carry a small pocket notebook, a pencil, and a tiny digital recorder. I put down as much detail as possible about the circumstances from which the ideas come as well. Later, when I have a moment and need inspiration, I can open the book, listen to the hummed/sung melodic fragments, and see where they lead.

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  22. #16

    Default Re: Song Writers???

    Hook
    Structure
    Chorus melody
    Chorus
    Verses
    Verse melody
    Bridge
    Bridge melody
    Rewrite
    <><><>><<><><>
    Start slow, fade early

  23. #17
    Registered User Bad Monkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    it can be either, or both. very rarely does it start with a chord progression. or a riff for that matter.

    songwriting is indeed a skill you can learn and get better at. It's like anything else, it takes practice and refinement over a span of time. If you sit around and wait for inspiration you're not going to write many tunes. Sit down and tell yourself "I'm going to write for an hour" and then sit down and work for an hour. It's a skill, a muscle that needs to be exercised to get stronger. Sitting around waiting to be able to to 20 pull ups isn't going to happen. Sitting around waiting to write a tune out of the blue isn't going to happen either.
    You have to start writing to write a tune. So start writing. It doesn't matter if it's crap. Most of what everyone writes is crap. Even stuff we finish, edit, refine, and re-write a dozen times might still be crap. In fact, even if we love it, it's likely crap. Doesn't matter. Write it. Write another one. Write some more. if 10 percent of the tunes we write are something that other folk want to hear we're doing great.
    But you have to write regularly, and often. You can't wait for 'inspiration'. It takes perspiration.

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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    As you can see in all of the posts above and in most any interview with a songwriter where this question is asked, songs come to writers in a variety of ways and not consistently the same way.

    I keep a journal where I jot down thoughts, song ideas, things I've heard or read that were interesting. I also keep a sheet music/tab book where I jot down musical ideas that come from just playing around on an instrument. Later I will go through the ideas and see if there are any things that work with something else in those notebooks and start from there. But that is just one of MANY ways I have written songs.
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    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    All good advice. There is no right or wrong way to write a song, and a songwriter can’t tell you how to do it, only how they do it. I have found that keeping a journal is essential. Sometimes I write lyrics and don’t use them in a song, but they are usable in another song. Otherwise I might forget the lyric.

    I am better at writing so I start with the lyrics. Finding a melody and chords is the hard part for me.
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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    One of the greatest songwriting lessons I ever heard came from Paul Simon.

    The story is that one day he was a guest lecturer at some college, and as part of his lesson he simply said: 'Turn on your radio, listen to what is being played, and say to yourself - I can write something better than that.'

    Truer words were never spoken.

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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    I'm not much of a songwriter. But engaging, meaningful lyrics are the most important part of a song to me. I've been inspired for over 40 years by songwriters like John Prine, Steve Goodman, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, etc. More recently its writers like Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, James McMurtry, Lyle Lovett, Slaid Cleaves etc. In the last few years I've been impressed by Joe Pug, Jeffery Martin, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West.

    In western music (North and South America, Europe) there are only 12 notes. A few keys. Just a handful of rhythms. I have not heard a new melody in 25 years. But there are almost 200,000 words in the English language. You can't write a new tune, but there are still thousands of unwritten new songs.

  30. #22

    Default Re: Song Writers???

    I’ve done both. I used to play guitar/bass in a rock band and there were two songs we played that I wrote (we collaborated on several). On one of them the music came first with lyrics I later wrote fitting into the melody. However, this project ended up being one where after we worked on it, we decided the lyrics didn’t fit well with the melody. Both were fine, but together they didn’t fit - the lyrics were rather dark and dramatic while the melody was pop-punky. On another song I wrote, I had a concept in my head and wrote the lyrics as I imagined them in the concept and later worked out the music around it. This track was a huge improvement and the song was much better. It actually made people get up and move!

    On collaborative tracks, there were times when my band mates or I were stumped lyrically and one of us could usually step in and either finish a verse, bridge or chorus (whatever was needed) rather quickly.

    I’m not in a band now, but I continue to write. Mostly lyrics now, but I do come up with melodies and arrangements. It really depends. Sorry that I couldn’t give you a clearer answer. I guess if you are really inspired by either a riff, melody or lyric you create, figure out how you can build around that.

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    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    I have long written songs, and performed and recorded my originals. From the first in 1972, I wrote the words, tune and played the chords as I went, writing down my ideas. I was a guitarist first, but found that writing with a piano was often the best. Once a pattern is established, and you have a verse and a chorus, you can proceed to write a second verse (possibly a third) and often I add a bridge. I don't think there is a right way-- my favorite songwriter, Jackson Browne, writes the lyric in what to me is a poem, and then fits it to music with his piano or guitar. His lyrics are so full of great thoughts and ideas, that this process makes sense.
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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    I was a guitarist first, but found that writing with a piano was often the best.
    I have long wanted to compose more on piano, but for some reason almost every time I sit down at a keyboard to write, the songs are either very droning and mundane, or sound like a bad outtake from an early Elton John album. Over the past 20 years I have only been able to write 2 'useable/recordable' songs on piano. One of them had lyrics written by somebody else, and the other one got transposed to guitar when I got into the studio. Hardly a good track record . . . .

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    Default Re: Song Writers???

    Respect for those who can write songs. Like Jeff above, my brain just isn’t wired that way. I’m good at wordsmithing, and will often hear lyrics and think, “man, they should have said blank instead of that.” My brain is more prose than poetry, sadly.

    When my kids were young I was pretty good at coming up with silly songs and rewriting lyrics of pop songs to fit to something about my children or a family situation, but, alas, I never got to meet the guys who do “Veggie Tales,” lol...

    So, I’ll have to be content with being like George Strait, who almost never did original material, he says in an effort to have constant variety in his music, rather than having everything “sound the same.” Oh, wait, I’m ugly and can’t sing worth a darn, either. Insert head slapping emoji here.

    Playing in my living room, obviously, I play whatever I want, but if I play out (usually at church), I use songs listed on CCLI (so the songs are permitted for use in a worship setting) and include all of the copyright info with the lyrics/in the bulletin.
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