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Ideas and Advice for Real Songwriters (formerly songwright.co.uk)

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Basics – Alexander Rybak and how to work out a song.

The most popular post on songwright.co.uk is one about Alexander Rybak’s song ‘Fairytale’ which won the Eurovision song contest this year.

The majority of comments on it are from people asking whether I have the sheet music. I find this troubling because there is nothing complicated in the song that would warrant the need to look at a sheet of music:- your ears should be enough.

At least, I think they should. I spent the majority of my musically formative years learning chord progressions, riffs and songs by ear. We had an internet connection since I was about 10 years old, but if there was much guitar tablature up at that time I never noticed.

These days however, people invariably stick to what they can read on the internet. There seems to be a lack of interest in learning by ear, which is troubling because I’ve yet to come across an internet chord progression or guitar tab that wasn’t at least partially innaccurate.

So, in my small way, I want to help. And also, if anyone reading the original post has clicked through to this page then please please please, develop this skill rather than paying money to read a score for such a simple piece of music.

How do I work out a song?

Here is a simple set of principles that should help you work out any song you hear.

1. Listen – really listen to the song. Don’t sing along, don’t even tap your foot. Just listen to the groove, to when the chords change, to what the bass chords and melody are doing.

2. Work out the bass line. Pick up your instrument and find the opening bass note. This might be easy to find or it might take endless repetitions of the first few seconds of the song. With Fairytale you can clearly hear open strings in the opening violin – so the notes of the open strings on a violin are a good place to start (G D A E). What you’ll find with a lot of songs is that there is a simple bass sequence that repeats.

3. Repeat until you get it right. You might not work things out the first time, or even the tenth. Don’t worry, you will get there if you repeat the trak enough times.

4. It helps to know your chords. – Once I knew the first chord in Fairytale was D minor, I could already here that the rest were Gm Bb and A. How did I know? Do I have some magic special ability? No, I’ve just had plenty of practice playing different chord sequences and hearing how they work.

5. Get the chord sequence first, then learn the rest. Even if you don’t play the chord sequence, even if you are a drummer or singer, I’d say you still need to know the building blocks of the song.

6. Practice. This is a skill, a very important one. Start with relatively simple music (I’d recommend some rock’n’roll or pop punk for nice simple major key chord progressions).

7. Play along with the recording – that’s the only way to know if you’re right.

Hopefully this post will become as popular as the original post about Rybak, as this skill is one of the most important a songwriter can have.

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