Season 2: Post 4.
Morning miles have made their sweet return! This morning I churned out a lovely 8-miler and it felt pure bliss. Although, tomorrow I will be taking a rest day as it’s a travel day and with the forecast for America looking to be full of long distance runs, it makes sense to give my legs a little break so they’re fresh for US soil.
Today, my morning lesson was spent teaching learners how to write songs. Due to having to simplify the formula into speech they could understand, I wrote out a basic guide on “how to write a song” and thought I’d share it on my blog because either; one, of you might want to try writing a song using this formula yourself, or two, you might even want to steal the idea as an activity to do with a group or something? Either way, here is what I wrote on the basics of “how to write a song.”
How to write a song:
Step One: “About You.”
Firstly, let’s establish a foundation – tell me about you.
What artists/bands do you like?
What is your current favourite record? (Check your iPod/Spotify/mp3 for reference)
If you could be an artist/band, who would it be?
Using your answers from these questions, you are going to (in reference to Austin Kleon) “steal like an artist” and start by almost copying the artists/bands/songs you’ve listed. These artist and songs will be a reference to the sound you would like to create.
Now you’ve established a sound you’d like to create, list the instruments you hear in the artists/songs that you’ve listed in this step. You can refer to these when it comes to recording and building the song up from its bare bones.
Step Two: “Song Structure.”
It is wise to adhere to a common song structure; you may think it as creative to deviate from popular or typical song structures, however, when it comes to producing material that fits to the average human attention span and other characteristics, a typical structure works well.
A typical song structure (the one you will follow for this exercise):
The song should be in one key, typically Major or Minor – keep it simple i.e. C Major. For the contradicting sections such as the Middle 8, you may go to the relative Minor (or Major) depending on your original key.
For an idea of the chord patterns for these sections; refer back to the artists/songs that you listed in step one. Figure out the chord patterns that are common in those songs and quite literally – use them. Typically, the intro chords will be the same as the chorus, the verse might only use 2/3 of the chorus chords or just drop to one instrument playing the route note and, as said previously, the middle 8 should somewhat contradict the chorus by perhaps going to the relative minor or major key.
Step Three: “Lyrical content.”
The most important part of the song to first establish lyrically is the chorus. A chorus should contain the main point to the song and therefore will theme the rest of the lyrics. The main line of the chorus, or the one that is most memorable, is typically the final line – we will call this the “hook.”
To establish the hook, simply think about how you feel right now or how you felt when you woke up this morning. (A learner of mine this morning said “I feel like making electronic music” – we turned this hook to “I feel electronic”.) Keep it simple and make sure it’s only 3-5 words long; nobody remembers more than 3-5 words.
Now you have a hook, you have a theme. List lots of different words that are associated with the theme of your hook. Use these to build the remainder of your chorus. If you’re lost for an idea in how the melody should sound then refer back to the songs in step one. Sing the exact melody but then perhaps swap some notes around and make sure you’re using your own lyrics. Don’t worry if it sounds very similar – when it comes to you performing it, it will sound like you.
Make sure the chorus is only 3-4 lines long, it doesn’t need to be full of words. The simpler, the better.
To build your verses, take your hook and use it as the first line of the song. However, sing it in a different melody to how it sounds in the chorus. Now use your associated words to build the rest of the verse. If you are writing a song that rhymes, establish the first two lines of the verse and then for the next two, use a rhyming dictionary to match the last word of each line. Also, make it so the syllables of each line match up. Your second verse could use the exact syllables and melody as the first, however perhaps make it half the length of the first.
For the Middle 8 – much like its chords and key, make it so lyrically it is contradictory to the chorus. Bring in an alternative perspective or a different point of view. Perhaps if your lyrics have a negative connotation, this is where the song hints at positivity, or vice versa. Keep this section short with only 2 lines.
Step Four: Put it together.
Establish how the sections will flow – if you have copied the chordal pattern to another song then this should not be a problem. Now record it with just one chordal instrument (i.e. guitar or piano) and one vocal. From this we can then build up other instruments and sounds. When layering up instruments, it is typical to have the loudest/most instruments in the chorus and leave the verses quitter/stripped back.
At the end of the lesson I helped the learners record their finished products. A couple of them had gone all electronic so we just used Apple Loops and MIDI instruments, a few others had drums, bass and guitars – they all managed to (sort of successfully) write a song each.
So why not give it a go?
What do you think? Sound easy enough?
I’m so excited right now because I fly to Philadelphia tomorrow meaning… America blog posts start tomorrow!
Peace & prosperity.