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SSG 6 - Discussion 2 - tried & true versus other methods?

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David Hodge
(@davidhodge)
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I'd like to quote a recent entry from Ray on our "chicken or egg" thread:
The songs I'm happy with all started as riffs and chord progressions. Melodies came easily: lyrics were hard work. For me, inventing and playing the music is 90% of the enjoyment of a song. I have not been able to start with lyrics and add a tune that flows well or doesn't sound corny e.g. The Trees They Stayed Green Longer (GN assignment)...

I've got about 80 riffs and chord progressions recorded for future use and about 50 sets of lyrics in my scrapyard that I wrote when no instrument was to hand. Do you think I can match them? The few that I have tried have been dogs. Even with songs I'm happy with I frequently go back to teh original idea and find that the original musical feel has been spoiled by chopping it to fit lyrics. Elton John is a master at finding music for pre-existing lyrics - sadly it's not my forté.

The BIG question is 'should we continue in the way we find easiest or work at the other method until we get something?'

It's indeed a big question and one that we'll be addressing in earnest starting next week over in the Sunday Composers Workshop. But in the meantime, it's certainly worth discussing here.

There's definitely something to be said for "tried and true" methods that work easiest for oneself, but I've found that this approach can very easily lead to the "all my stuff sounds the same" syndrome. Quite often, simply stepping out of your box, even for the shortest distance, can put a song into a direction that lends itself nicely to lyric writing. And on occasion, lyric writing can give you the feel of the music enough so that you can fill in a lot of the pieces.

With pre-existing lyrics, I usually try to work out a rhythm first and then try to get a feel for what that rhythm may lead to. If I can get a rhythm, then I can usually (not always) start singing a melody line and from there it's not too hard.

With pre-existing music (and I tend to write music first), it's not always as easy for me because I tend to pre-edit myself and reject a lot of things that might be good. Part of it is the sound. I'm not sure I can describe it, but sometimes there are certain sounds from words that seem to go well with certain musical phrases. A word ending with a long A sound, such as "away," has a different voice to me than a word such as "house," just to have a word as an example. So I'm often way too fussy about the sounds of words and then trying to find words with those sounds to fit in lyric-wise. Quite often the last thing I think about is what I want to say. And that's not necessarily a good thing. And may explain why I'm a bit slow on the lyric end of things.

That's one reason why I do try to do these assignments on a weekly basis (and I am working on Week 3 as we speak - promise! :wink: ) because I almost always come up with the music (or at least the basics of the music) and then stop short when it comes to the lyrics.

Some songwriters make it a point to sit down and write for a particular length of time every day. There's something to be said about a regular practice schedule. Even though they may not come up with a song every day, if you get a verse, or even most of a verse done every day (music and lyrics), you're on a good pace to get a song a week done.

More thoughts?

Peace


   
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Vic Lewis VL
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I don't think there's such a thing as tried and true - tried and tested, tried and rejected yes.....but I don't think there's any such thing as a fail-safe method. The thing with songwriting, it's hit-and-miss - even if you come up with something that sounds perfect to you - lyrics, melody, chords, arrangement - someone's going to point out a flaw somewhere. (It's happened to me a LOT in the SSG, and I have to say 99.99% of the time I've only seen it once it's been pointed out to me.)

Purely from my own songwriting POV, I find it far easier to put music to existing lyrics - but then again, I usually have a fair idea of the melody when I'm writing lyrics anyway - than I do putting lyrics to a chord sequence or melody. I find the latter quite constricting - the lyrics HAVE to fit the meter and the rhythm, whereas the other way round I can sort of bend the rhythm to the lyrics. I've mentioned this before, Roy Orbison was good at that - take a look at some of his lyrics, there doesn't seem to be a coherent structure sometimes, but he always manages to fit the lyrics to the music - or is it the other way around? No matter how long, or how short, a lyric line may be, he always managed to fit it to the music somehow - and make it sound natural!

What I've tried to do, since joining the SSG, is build a song around a hook - get that, and the rest seems to follow. So I suppose that's MY tried-and-fairly trusted method. I do know that songs where I've had the music first, and written lyrics afterwards to fit the music, always seem a bit forced lyrically - whereas if I write lyrics first (as I mentioned, usually with a fair idea of the melody, tempo, rhythm etc....) the music seems to come more easily.

Although it's good to think "out of the box" once in a while, I guess we all have our own methods, complete with our personal idiosyncrasies, quirks and foibles....which begs another question. Should we use the SSG purely for writing practise, and try something different - out of our personal "comfort zones" - every week - or should we stick to our normal (whatever that is!) writing regime? I know a lot of songs - most of my own songs that I actually like, and play now and then - started life as SSG topics, and these days I'm a bit disappointed if I write a song and it's not a "keeper."

:D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


   
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Raystrack
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even if you come up with something that sounds perfect to you - lyrics, melody, chords, arrangement - someone's going to point out a flaw somewhere

If you're honest with your soul you'll know when a song is right. Third party comments are nice-to-haves; fine to help with the business of making it as widely popular as possible, and from the craft point of view it's good to have someone point out where you've been lazy or suggest a better line: but in the end music as an art form has to stretch norms and boundaries. I can't imagine John Lennon accepting criticism for his material and many of his would have been panned.

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pbee
 pbee
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I tend to start the song writing process songs with guitar in hand. I've generally got a hook in my head and use the guitar to get a feel for what type of mood suits the catch phrase. Once I've got the feel of the song I then record the music for the verse and chorus (if I got that far) and put it on my PC at home and at work. That way when I get some spare time, say in my lunch break I can start writing more verses. Of course when I record the song in earnest I often find that adding another instrument e.g. congas or bass changes the feel of the song and sometimes means that I have to rewrite some of the lyrics. In the times that I have written the lyrics first I've found that when I composed the music I had to dramatically change the lyrics, which for me is a clear indication the music really dictates my songs. Changing the music to suit the lyrics has never really occurred to me and to be honest is quite a scary thought, definitely out of the comfort zone, still it might be worth a try.

Paul


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katreich
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I always start with lyrics first. I consider myself a lyricist! But, truth be told, I probably initiated the conversation with David about songs starting to sound the same. But I recently read an interview with Kris Kristofferson, where he addressed this very criticism. He said "they all sound different to me!"

Falling in love is like learning to play the guitar; first you learn to follow the rules, then you learn to play with your heart.

www.soundclick.com/kathyreichert


   
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Celt
 Celt
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Like Kathy I consider myself a lyricist and generally start with lyrics first but
usually have some sense of rhythm to go with them.

Lately I've been doing more of my writing with guitar in hand though and working
on words and music at the same time. This method seems to be work well right
now but things can always change.

I also tend to view a song as a living thing that is never quite finished and
always open to new interpretation. That may be another topic all together.

John

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" It's easier than waiting around to die" Townes Van Zandt


   
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David Hodge
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...I also tend to view a song as a living thing that is never quite finished and
always open to new interpretation. That may be another topic all together...

Indeed, it might! :wink:

As Vic mentions, there are a lot of potholes where one can find oneself and how one looks at the SSG can both help and hinder. About two years back I found myself in a place where I was writing a good song, meaning one I could see myself performing, once a week. So I started looking at the SSG as my "finished product place."

Then things started geting back into the "norm," and I found myself not submitting things that were perfectly imperfectly fine but not "keepers." It shouldn't be so easy to forget how much you have to write to come up with something that works - all I have to do is look at any of the hundreds of songs I never play and haven't since I've written them.

But sometimes you never know what method or approach can work. When I was writing the bass tutorial book I also wrote hundreds of musical examples to go with it. A number of those bass lines were later worked into songs, the best one so far being the SSG assignment on color that moved me to write Orange and Cinnamon. This was a case where the music I had already mostly mapped out and managed to come up with lyrics that fit both the music and the assignment.

So my big "new year's resolution," at least as far as SSG Year 6 goes, is to make myself write an assignment no matter what. Even if it takes me weeks, I'm going to do something for every week and see how things go. I may not end up with fifty-two songs but if I get five to ten great ones then I'll be more than pleased. :wink:

Peace


   
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Raystrack
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I also tend to view a song as a living thing that is never quite finished and
always open to new interpretation.

I think it was Paul Simon, a self-admitted tinkerer and perfectionist, once said that a song is never finished, you just have to decide when to walk away. In context, he was referring to the recording process but I think it applies equally to the writing.

http://www.raystroud.com
http://www.myspace.com/raystroud


   
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