Music Theory, Songwriting, The Muse, Writing

Saturday Songwriting: It’s Shadow Shall Appear

Today is Halloween. This week, I figured I’d share something scary–or at least potentially spooky–and focus in on chords in a minor scale. Not merely a minor scale, but the A minor scale and how to find the chords in it, and play around with them.  

Minor scales are notoriously unstable, and there are lots of different ways for a scale to be minor, while there is basically only one major scale. The plus side of the variety and instability of minor scales is that tons of different chords and substitutions will sound “good” in minor scales. (The definition of good here is dependent entirely on the amount of dissonance you can bear). 

I’ve included a worksheet below so you can create lots of different progressions and see what they sound like.   

The Prompt:

Here’s a link to Pitch Canker’s Art

The Musical Idea:

Here’s a downloadable pdf of the worksheet above:

Here’s a downloadable pdf of the worksheet above:

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Fearless Challenge, Imperfection, Songwriting, Writing

Something Will Surprise You

One of the best things about writing a song, about sitting down and writing one whether I really want to or not, is learning; “I can write a song, and I can write a song at any time.” 

Lots of people wish they could write songs. Many of those people think they can’t. But they’re wrong. They usually defining “a song” as something epochal and out of reach, unpossible. Of course, a song can be epochal, but they can also be dead simple. Some are both.  

The point is what songwriting writing has taught me: I can do nearly anything given that I set the states low and give myself space to learn the skills required. Some people call this “giving ourselves permission.” To me that’s a little too mommy or daddy looking over my shoulder and saying what I can and can’t do. 

If giving yourself permission works, that’s fine. I find I need most is to remember to set the stakes (and my slights), very, very low. For me, that creates the space for my work to surprise me. And when I give it space the Work often will surprise me, especially if I’m doing the work often enough.  

If songwriting is something you’ve always wanted to do, set your sights low and start writing. Eventually, your work will surprise you. Sit down everyday for a week and simply write for ten minutes. Maybe don’t ever look at it. Stick it in an envelope until the end of the week. When you do look at it. Something will surprise you, and it will be thrilling. 

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Music Theory, Songwriting, The Muse, Writing

Saturday Songwriting: Through the Woods

Some songs I hear for the first time and I’m just floored. “You Are Not Alone,” performed by Mavis Staples is one of those songs. The lyric is simple, but deep. The chords and melody, likewise are pretty straight forward. But there are some kinks.  

Watch for the moment about 30 seconds in, right after the line “What’s that song . . . “  where Jeff Tweedy extends the song a measure on the Em and Mavis has to stop herself from singing the next line, because it’s what a person would expect to happen. That moment of space and melancholy fits the song perfectly. Could adding space, (or taking it away), help a song of yours? The only way to fing out is to try.  Here’s the video:

The Prompt:

Here’s a link to Jennybird Alacantra’s “Tender”

The Musical Idea:

Here’s a downloadable pdf of the worksheet above:

Here’s a downloadable pdf of the worksheet above:

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Music Theory, Songwriting, The Muse, Writing

Saturday Songwriting: I Needed a Myth

Sometimes things can be virtually the same, even though they look pretty different. That’s the case with the C and G chords on the guitar. They are built in the same way, but use different notes. Also, their fingering on the fretboard appears pretty different because of the how the guitar is tuned.  

This week, why not play around with just the G and C chord in a song? 

What happens if you only use two chords, G & C major, in a song anyway? Some thoughts that may or may not be useful to you if you decide to use just these two chords: 

1) There are five notes in these two chords.  C, E G, B, and D, which are Do, Mi, Sol, Ti, and Re, in Solfege.  

2) These two chords share only one note, G, or Sol. 

What happens when you use a note in the melody that’s in the chord, what about one that isn’t? 

What happens when you use a note that isn’t in either chord, but is in a scale the chords share? (This might be F, or A (Fa or La) in the key of C.  (In the key of G, the notes would be A or F#, (La or Fi in solfege) 

Stretching things a bit further—what if you were to write a melody in the the relative minor of one of these chord (Am for C, or Em for G) 

These are all just questions and experiments. If you like, work with one that feels comfortable to you. Simply playing around with only two chords could be plenty.   

The Prompt:

Here’s a link to Ann James Massey’s “The Connoisseur”

The Musical Idea:

Here’s a downloadable pdf of the worksheet above:

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Imperfection, Resistance, Writing

When a Dry Spell Ends

As I remember it, in a class I took with Josh Ritter, he said, I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in dry spells. Dry spells happen, and I think they happen in every profession.  

At the restaurant I earn my money in, there are days I feel great about my work. And there are days I feel bad about it as well.  

There are days I start off feeling great about the work and by the end it changes. There are also days I start off feeling awful about the work, and by the end, it changes. 

For a writer, (or any person who is their own boss), there’s a temptation to think there’s a choice to show up or not. If a person has a boss, they show up and do the work when they’re scheduled because it’s how they keep the job. There’s an axiom which says early is on time, on time is late, and if you are late, you’re fired. Which is to say, lots of people view work for the perspective of a hammer looking for a nail; It’s something you do whether you want to or not.  

A different way frame could be: 

When you show up you never know what will happen. 

Sooner or later the dry spell ends.  

And it will end while doing the work.  

It never ends otherwise. 

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