How To Write A Song: some tips and tricks for would-be songwriters. Blog 1- Chords

On Stange So I read a blog last week called “How To Write A Song”. You can read it here if you wish-,4aa7dc45-982f-7acb-6f18-6e18fce00689 If not, here are the skiffnotes- 1. Set aside time to be creative without distractions 2. Get inspired 3. Write everything down 4. Dare to suck 5. Be a quitter 6. Find your writing style 7. Show off My problem with the article, though the advice offered was for the most part still useful, was that the brunt of the advice was really broad, generic and can be applied to any form of writing (or almost any other creative endeavor, for that matter) and therefore, while still helpful to some, not in the least specifically helpful in teaching someone how to write a song. No offense, Lauren Lucas. So with this blog, I’m beginning a short series (that will not necessarily come out consecutively) of blogs that I will post over the next couple of months breaking down the songwriting process into manageable steps for you aspiring songwriters out there. Now, while arguably, the most crucial part that any song (even acousmatic music) needs to have at the most basic level is melody, (some might go even more scantily clad and say just rhythm, but were you actually to just play a single loop of morse code and call it a song, I imagine you’d be hard pressed to find a responsive audience; even a rendition of John Cage’s 4’33” in an anechoic chamber would fail to bring a complete absence of pitch-variation to the listener) and yes, a lot of songs are founded upon a melody or the idea of one, so certainly that is a way to begin writing a song, but in my fifteen years of guitar-playing and thirteen years of songwriting, I have found the quickest and most-effective way to start writing a song is to begin with a “feel”, and that means chords. Even if you just have a melodic riff on a keytar  or a few notes on bass, (or have stolen the tune of ‘baa-baa black sheep’ to underlay your song like Gotye) the chords are implied. Even if you can’t hear them, someone can, and if you do know what they are, it will really help you fill out the sound with other instruments. (If you don’t have a clue how to figure it out, ask a musician! We exist and are on the internet too) If you have absolutely no idea what chords are or which ones to start with, or you don’t own or play any instruments at all – besides recommending to you that you, like everybody else on the planet, really SHOULD learn at least one instrument in your lifetime, because music is the true international language – there’s a beautiful little bunch of apps available online with digital or simulated instruments, things like garage band where you can just pick a progression of chords and it will play it for you. Don’t know what chords to use? How about picking your favourite song, or a song that is in the style you want to write in, and finding out what the chords are online. But isn’t that cheating, you say, or stealing or something else equally and immorally nefarious? Well, yes and no. I’m not saying copy the whole song exactly. There are so very many songs that use the I-V-vi-IV chord progression that there aren’t enough litigators (or monies) in the world to possibly settle all the copyright lawsuits that could  arise. And even if there were, they’d most likely all be thrown out anyway for sheer tenuousness. (Oasis sure got away with it) The point is, pick some chords that you think compliment each other in a way that helps create the feel you’re going for. Even just a couple will do. There are so many songs that purely use two or three chords. Throughout the whole song! But hey, that’s okay. This is just your most basic song foundation. You can vary the chords you choose from verse to prechorus to chorus to bridge to repeated fading outro; you can vary their length, the rhythmic pattern you use, your tempo, timing, you can switch between arpeggiating them and strumming, or simplify them down to a basic riff. The possibilities are endless! And the more chords you throw into the mix, the more options you have.  Now, keep in mind that certain chords will compliment other chords in certain ways. The possibilities are basically endless, but you’re probably going for a certain sound, and the chords you choose will either be used to your benefit or detriment. And the more you understand about chord progressions and they way they work and which ones are used by your favourite artists, the more easily you will be able to emulate their style in your own music. For instance, I can tell you, by ear, that Marianas Trench, in maybe one out of every three or four songs, will supplement the tonic chord at the head of the last chorus, often right after the bridge, with the relative minor, because they obviously like the slightly different, deepening and refreshing effect it gives to the chorus you’ve already heard four or seven times. And that is something therefore particular to their sound, that, if I were trying to write a Marianas Trench song or one with the same feel, I would include in process. Let me just say, finally, that I know that this works. The very first song I wrote came about because my brother, his friend and I wanted to write a Blink 182-style song, so I made up a Blink 182-sounding riff with the I-V-vi-IV progression, and we took it from there. The lyrics were stupid and we thought ourselves so cleverly hilarious for this dumb little song we created, but hey, it was a start, and from there we all wrote our own songs about more meaningful things. Creativity isn’t necessarily about being or doing something that nobody in the multiverse has ever seen or done before. It’s about change, growth and self-expression. The three of us took something familiar and altered it until we made it our own, and that same feeling of elation we felt that day is now the driving force behind my chosen creative profession. It’s an emotional high that is both spiritual and visceral and is an integral part of who and what I am. And most importantly, it’s something that is inside of all of us, if we can but learn to tap it. So tell me, What makes you feel creative? What band/artist or feel do the songs of your heart sound like?   and.. Do you have a favourite chord/chord progression? Feel free to comment below with questions or comments on anything I’ve talked about today. Happy Writings!


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