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Song Coaching

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snabbu

Why bother getting stress right?

The purpose of a lyric is to communicate something. An emotion a feeling or perhaps a story. For that to be put over the best way it can be, it needs to sound natural. For a lyric to sound natural and conversational, it needs to use language that we use everyday, in the way we use that language when speaking to each other.

Now every multi syllable word in the English language has an agreed stress pattern. These can be seen in a dictionary. Not only that but each multi syllable word has a melody. Some syllables are pronounced with a higher or lower pitch than others.

The reason for this is when we hear a multi syllable word for example "evenhanded"

You will notice that the stressed syllable "hand" is a higher tone than the others.

Why is this so? It is because we do not hear a multi syllable word as four separate syllables, we hear it as one entity. It is like driving a car when you turn a corner you do several things automatically without thinking about them separately. You are just thinking I am going to turn the corner. The things you need to do that happen automatically it is a learned response.

So if you hear someone speaking a foreign language it always sounds as if they are speaking really fast. The reason being you do not know the agreed stress patterns and tunes of that language, so you are hearing it as separate syllables. They are not speaking fast at all.

Now what does this mean to song writing? Several things. It means if you do not place your stressed syllables in the corresponding positions within matching meter lines, within a section of a song. You will end up with unnatural stresses, and forced rhymes. If you do not match the stresses in the same lines verse to verse, you are going to end up with a lot of melody variation between the verses, or a stumbling meter when it's read out aloud.

What about single syllable words? Normally verbs nouns and adjectives are stressed other parts of speech are not. The exception to this is some times you may want to stress a pronoun to get a particular point across. For example "it ain't ME babe" the idea being that it is not me your looking for. Because I am not going to meet your expectations.

Ok enough of the boring English lessons what to do?

Well you can sit there in silence and say each of your lines as you would say them in normal speech, then go through and underline each stressed syllable.

Then check that you have the right number of stressed syllable per line, in approximately the right places.

Note and this is important.

line length is determined by the number of stressed syllables per line.

Line length is not, I repeat not determined by the actual number of syllables in a line.

Now I don't know about you but this seems to be a boring and laborious way to go about things. So what else can you do?

You can write new lyrics to existing songs making sure the stresses all work and you can do that in your head.

Or you can get, or make yourself a series of loops. Either straight drum loops, or drums and pad, or drums and base. Then say your lyric out loud to the loop. Test the stresses, just hear them. If English is your mother tongue you will instinctively hear what is correct and what is not. So no need to go through the stress analysis on paper. Just feel the meter of it naturally.

Now this can also be done by tapping a pencil in time on the desk. It is however easier to begin with to use loops. Especially if you are writing to a groove. Less to think about.

Songs are meant to be heard and felt, not read. So it doesn't make any sense to be writing in silence. It is like writing in a vacuum. Say the words out loud, hear how they feel.

Now and here is a bonus for writing or polishing a lyric to a loop. Prosody.

Make your line FEEL the same as what you are saying.

This is achieved by how the lyric is phrased, where it is positioned in the beat.

To test this put on a drum loop in 4/4 time and recite this line to the beat.

" I feel good today"

Now the first time you recite it just say it naturally with out the drum loop.

You will hear that the natural stress of this line is.

"I feel GOOD to DAY"

So the first way we are going to try it is as a positive statement, simply it's a great day and I feel good and all is right with the world.

To FEEL this from the lyric the first stressed syllable "Good" will fall on the first beat of the bar. "I feel" are pick up notes from the previous bar. So count one two three "I feel good today" with the "I feel" as half notes on the fourth beat of the pick up bar, "good" on the first beat of the bar, "to"on the second and "day" on the third, rest on the fourth. Say it several times like that and note how it feels.

If you then try this, you can get a slightly different feel. This time count one two on the pick up bar and say "I" on the third beat and "feel" on the fourth beat, then the rest of the line the same as in example one. Now it could be saying "I" feel good today, you may not , but "I" do.

Now if in the context of your song this line is conveying I feel good today, but maybe I won't feel so good tomorrow, because today I'm drowning my sorrows, and tomorrow the hurt will come back.

Then try it like this.

Count one "I feel" as half notes on beat two, "good" on beat three, "to" on beat four, and "day" on beat one of the following bar. Now it should feel as if your actually saying "I feel good today, but". You should feel a certain doubt or anxiety to the sound of the line.

Now having said all this, if you write your own melodies you should be having an aha moment right now. Because the lyric is dictating the grove, meter and feel of the melody. You will also notice the pitch. " good" will be a higher pitch and "today" will be descending, because that is how we say it in natural speech.

This has to tell you, that if this statement is in a verse, Then in the corresponding line in the next verse, if the natural shape of the language doesn't move pitch wise in the same direction,you are going to have a melody variation. That is ok, easier if you don't, but no big deal it is done all the time. Just note that it is there, so that when you set the melody, in one verse you may be going up in a spot, and in another verse going down.

Even if you are not writing the melodies it is your right and responsibility to get the feel to the lyric that you want. So make Margin notes. For example if you need the "I feel good today" line to be simply I feel good today. Note that you want "good" on the down beat. IE, beat one of the bar.

The technical term for these phrasing techniques is "back heavy" and "front heavy" phrasing.

Front heavy being the first stressed syllable on the first best of the bar.

Back heavy being the first stressed syllable on the third beat of the bar.

When I am preparing a lyric for melody writing. I make notations on the lyric sheet, for the phrasing notation I will write ( BH) at the end of any lines I need to have that feel, the assumption is that if it's unmarked it's front heavy. This is not a convention it's just my own short hand.

So if I ask the question again: Why bother getting stress right?

The answer might well be because if you don't, you have some nice words on a page. But what you don't have is a song.

In summary

Write to drum loops it's so much easier.

Play with the phrasing to get the feel of how the lyric sounds, to match what it is saying.

Happy writing.

Cheers

Gary

snabbu

The Chicken Or The Egg

Now the following applies to songs that contain some element of narrative. A lot of song writing techniques are genre specific. So for songs with no story this would be less applicable. But even so, still I think of some help.

Now what this is about is, what to write first in the writing process. When you are writing there is a hell of lot to think about at once. Rhyme, meter, story, flow, Prosody, making the chorus work with all the verses, making the bridge work. This can do your head in. And your chances of getting it right are much diminished, if you try to do everything at once.

This is my opinion and while I will give good reasons for writing like this what you do is up to you. It is a matter of personal choice. But this may save you a bit of heartache, or headache.

Write the chorus first.

Why?

Because each verse should support the chorus, give it more weight, and each verse must move into the chorus, making sense. If the chorus idea is in your head, unwritten, you have to think about the chorus as you write the verses. This is an unnecessary waste of brain power. If your song idea can not be summed up in a great chorus with a good hook, don't waste energy writing the song, or at least not in verse chorus form because it's a waste of time. Maybe it needs to be in AA form with no chorus. If you have written and honed the chorus, creating hook emphasis, and a catchy rhythm, it may generate ideas for the verses. Also having a completed polished honed chorus done and dusted you can stop thinking about it, which means all your concentration can go to writing other parts of the song. That may just make for a better lyric.

Write the bridge second

Why?

Usually the best place to put the why of the song or the pay off is in the bridge. Because if you put it anywhere else it's too early in the song and the interest is not held till the end. The why of the song is the main song idea as opposed to the song hook which is in the chorus. Why are you telling me this, why has this happened etc. sometimes this is a reveal of what the song is actually about. Sometimes called the pay off. The function of the bridge is to get you from chorus two to chorus three. At the same time revealing some extra information about the story. As I say normally the why of the song. So it follows if you think about it you can't write the bridge until you have written the chorus or you are writing a bridge from nowhere to nowhere.

Write the verses last.

Now knowing what the reveal or the pay off is in the bridge and knowing what the summing up or answer to the question is in the chorus, you can now write the verses. Making sure every image in the verses sets up and supports either the chorus and/or the bridge. You can't do this if you don't know what's in them.

So in summary write in this order. Chorus, Bridge, Verses.

It is a lot less work and that has got to be a good thing.

Cheers

Gary

snabbu

Song Form

Song form is an agreed convention only it is not cast in stone. You can vary form if you like but it is a good idea to know what the conventions are, so when you break them you have a good and valid reason for doing so. Because if you don't you will end up with a lessor song.

Song form is to some point genre dependent. This is because the function the lyric is designed to perform is different for different genres. The lyrics to a dance song are there only to convey an emotion they tell no story have no beginning middle and end. They are secondary to the music. So what we are talking about here is song form where the lyric plays an equal or more important part in the success of a song.

The forms.

AB: This is not often used these days and I am unaware of it being used in a hit song since "Hey Jude" and that was a long time ago. It is a more common form in musical theatre. An example is "Somewhere over the rainbow".

The form consists of two contrasting lyrical sections they normally run to twelve bars each. There is no chorus.

So in the Hey Jude example you have the "Hey jude don't make it bad section and the "Anytime you feel the pain" section. Both different rhythmical structures. In the case of Hey Jude the song ends with a three minute long extro but it is still AB form.

AA: Form This also has no chorus but quite often can have a refrain that is a single repetitive line that ends every verse. This is most suitable to story telling. Bob Dylan used this form quite a lot. An excellent example of the form used for story telling is "God help me I was only nineteen" because he does not use the repetitive refrain line after every verse. In the beginning it appears every other verse. So he has stepped slightly outside the form. He has contrasting verse sections, in that verse one and two have a slightly different rhythm and melody. This is different to the AB form mentioned first because it is not a totally unrelated melody, its a variation of the first verse melody. This is quite often a device used when writing AA songs because it adds contrast, making up for the lack of a chorus. The second verse melody variation usually goes up in pitch from the first verse melody to add to the contrast. At the back of the song he reverts to one consistent form for the last two verses which both have the refrain. And he has a good reason for doing this so he can hammer the hook line "God help me I was only nineteen" towards the end of the song. So he doesn't stick slavishly to the form but where he doesn't the reasons for doing so are valid which makes it a great lyric. Here is a link to the lyric if you are not familiar with it. http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/r/redgum/i_was_only_nineteen.html

ABA: Form Verse chorus verse. This is the most common. And it can come in many settings. Like AABABB verse verse chorus verse chorus chorus. But essentially they are all the same thing verse chorus.

ABCB: Form verse chorus bridge. This is essentially the same as the ABA form and can have all those variations, however it is usual to have the bridge section between two choruses.

Embellishments to form. I consider Intros and Extros to be embellishments to form rather than a form unto themselves. Just a note about the term extro, it is convention that the language of music is italian so we talk about legato fortissimo we don't say smooth or loud. For some reason all US song writers and songwriting professors have decided to refer to the extro (which has ex as its latin root, as in exit, exodus, etc.) as "outro" so when I am talking about extros it refers to what you may know as an outro, makes no difference same thing.

It is a interesting technique to use form variation to create intros. Two different choices I am aware of are adding lines to the first verse to set up the song story " I loved her first" you can see an example here where the first four lines of verse one don't appear in the following verses. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/heartland/ilovedherfirst.html

The second choice is to open with a variation of your chorus. A good example is the John Lennon composition "Help"

The chorus is:

"Help me if you can I'm feeling down

And I do appreciate you being 'round

Help me get my feet back on the ground

Wont you please, please help me."

The song's intro is a variation of this.

"Help

I need somebody

Help

Not just any body

Help

Wont you please, please help me"

link to help lyric http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/help.html

What is good about this technique is you get a chance to hammer your hook idea. In this intro the hook "help" appears four times.

He uses exactly the same technique in the extro where he repeats "help me help me"

So that is the basics of song form. The main points are to know what they are, so if you step outside the accepted norms you know what you are doing and have a good reason for what you are doing. Also consider your variations of your main idea to use in intros and extros.

Cheers

Gary

snabbu

Writers block.

The title I have writers block is untrue I never have writers block. If you are suffering from writers block either one of three things is the case.

(1) You lack the requisite imagination or intellect to write songs. The solution is to do something else.

(2) You are aware of what you should be doing technically but you can't really be bothered doing it. The solution is to stop reading now, your wasting your time, bone idleness has no place in song writing. It certainly has no place in this blog.

(3) You are blissfully unaware of the technical solution and having writers block is giving you a severe case of the irrits, you are not allergic to work, you have a modicum of self discipline and persistence.

While I refer light heartily to work ethic, if you are not prepared to work you are wasting your time. That is the truth.

Now for the rest of you of course if your 19 years old and can SMS faster than an auctioneer can speak you can use your iPhone. If like me the buttons are too small and it takes you two minutes to type in "Ok see you at the end of the blog" Do the following.

Go to the stationers and buy a small note book small enough to be carried everywhere. Buy a pen.

Write on the cover "your name's" hook book.

This now goes everywhere you go. You should no more think of leaving home without it, than forgetting to put on your underpants. Unless you are some kind of deviate and that's OK too. We are not here to judge, other than laziness and lack of application.

Now you are prepared, you are ready to work.

The title of your notebook is a little misleading in that what you are going to write in here is not only hooks but song ideas.

To do this you need to get out of the house and interact with other people.

Song writing is about communication. Therefore to create song ideas you need to involve yourself in communication. Merely sitting at home and jotting down thoughts that pop into your empty head will produce song ideas that in the end will produce songs of empty angst that no one gives a toss about. You need to write about what's important to people. It is your job to say in a lyric what they are feeling, but are unable to express lyrically themselves. You are their troubadour. It is not your function to be sitting in your ivory tower dispensing pearls of wisdom as you see it.

Listen to what people are saying, what are they talking about, what turns of phrase are being used. Can you make a song out of that? Jot things down. Ideas, turns of phrase, hooks. Ask questions. If you are telling a story in your lyric you will need to provide your audience with answers to certain questions. They are what who where when and why? So why not get the answers from your research subject? Write it down.

If you feel like a bit of a spy that's OK it's in a good cause. Because you will never have writers block again. When you need to write something just work your way through the book, developing your song ideas.

Like all work there is vacation time the good news is the vacation time associated with keeping a hook book is very generous.

I can assure you that a couple of weeks of serious effort in keeping the book will provide you with enough material to last for months. This does not mean you can stop carrying the book. But it does mean you are "on call" The book is in your pocket, you are not actively hunting song ideas, however if something juicy pops up you will of course jot it down.

Give yourself a buffer, whatever your comfortable with. For example if you get down to ten undeveloped ideas in your book it's time to go hunting again in earnest.

What will be achieved by all this?

Firstly you will never have writers block again.

Secondly you will not be wasting your time writing songs that no one is interested in, and no one could give a toss about. Your songs will have a genuine reason to exists. A raison d'être (google it, it's french) why? Because they are written about what real people are talking about, in a real persons voice. They will be communication, it is as simple as that.

Cheers

Gary

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