Ideas and Advice for Real Songwriters (formerly http://healthsavy.com

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Songwriting Improvisation Part One

A little freebie for you: part one of ‘Songwriting Improvisation’, a little PDF I’ve put together.

Get your copy here: songwriting_improvisation_part_one.pdf

What’s it for? Well, the fact is a lot of our best songwriting ideas come to us during improvisation. But I find it’s easy to run out of things to try. You can end up feeling like you’ve played every combination of chords and sung every combination of notes.

Songwriting Improvisation Part One contains some graphic prompts to help you look at improvising in a fresh way. There are some structural prompts and some contour lines. How you interpret them is up to you, they could dictate the structure of an entire song or just one verse.

All they are supposed to do is give a sense of structure to your improvising.

Feel free to share Songwriting Improvisation with any songwriters you know, and if you do use them, or any of the sheets from ‘Worksheets…’  please let me know. Even better, send me a link to your songs!

Quick Songwriting Tip – Inversions

What is the root note of a C major chord?

C, of course!

What bass note should you use for a C chord?

C!… or E…. Or G?

Come again?

You get a choice. Often you’ll hear C in the bass of a C chord, but that isn’t the only option. An inversion or ‘slash’ chord is where you change the bass note. So a C chord could be in…

  • The root inversion – C in the bass
  • The first inversion – the 3rd, E in the bass
  • The second inversion – the 5th, G in the bass
  • The third inversion – The 7th, B (or possibly Bb) in the bass.

Here are some other good posts about chord inversions:


Related posts:

  1. 4 ways to write a bassline
  2. Quick songwriting tip – A Gospel Ending
  3. Quick Songwriting Tip – repeating a phrase a third higher
  4. Quick Songwriting tip – another standard chord progression
  5. Chromatic chords – A few options

Songwriting Clichés – the list so far…

I’m collecting songwriting clichés, for my own amusement.

Here’s the list so far:

  • – The ‘tone-up’ key change for the final chorus
  • – A saxophone solo in a power ballad
  • – Rhyming self/shelf, love/above, together/forever (thanks Jannie)
  • – Using an established folk tune (looking at you Bob Dylan).
  • – Overuse of the word ‘Baby’ (thanks Corey)

Have you got any others I can add to the list?

Songwriting Principles

Another recomendation: Gary Ewer’s ‘Songwriting Principles’ series on his Essential Secrets of Songwriting blog.

  • Songwriting Principle No. 1: Contrast Makes or Breaks Your Song
  • Songwriting Principle No. 2: Energy Propels Your Song Forward
  • Songwriting Principle No. 3: Chord Progressions- What Makes a STRONG One?
  • Songwriting Principle No. 4: Fragile Chord Progressions Will Suit Your Verse Melodies

I particularly like the concept of weak and strong chord progressions – weak progressions being those that are harmonically ambiguous, strong those that are definitely in one key.

Songwriting by Numbers part 1 – Title and Lyrics Lyrics

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Welcome to the first in a series of articles in which I’ll write a song ‘by numbers’. What do I mean by that? I’m going to write a song as an exercise to illustrate a lot of common songwriting points. I’m going to go through it step by step, one element at a time. Now, songwriting is supposed to be a challenge to discover something new and different. But not this time. This one’s going to be an exercise and nothing more. It’s going to be cheesy, it’s going to be one huge cliché, it’s going to have bad lyrics and an …

Melodic Shape

I want to draw your attention to three great posts by a man named Jerry Gates.

Melodic Shape 1

Melodic Shape 2

Melodic Shape 3

They’re about three types of melodic shape that Jerry calls ‘Line’, ‘Circle’ and ‘Square’.

I’m not sure if I would have picked those particular shapes for his examples, but the principles he’s talking about are sound and should help you get a handle on the type of melodies you want to write.

Songwriting Worksheets

In my everyday life as a music teacher, I tend to design quite a lot of worksheets.

In my online life trying to share songwriting ideas, I’ve never put this skill into use. Until now, that is.

You see, a written worksheet can be a very useful thing. As songwriters we’re often scribbling on random bits of paper. A worksheet, properly designed, can give order to the chaos of our ideas, doodlings and scribbles.

It can help us make sense of what we’re writing.

Worksheets for the Songwriting Guitarist

That’s the working title for my new ebook, which I’m going to gradually publish over the next few months. Here’s the first installment:

The Lyric Brainstormer

Lyric writing can be one of the most difficult parts of the songwriting process. Part of the problem can be the sheer size of the task. Where do you start? Simply writing down the first line and going on from there isn’t always the best thing to do.

The lyric brainstormer is here to help!

This sheet is designed to help you order your thoughts before you start writing lyrics.

I find the keywords/ideas boxes particularly useful because they allow you to draw parallels and connections. In my example, a song about the fear of new technology, I had the theme of futuristic technology, and words, like stars, sun, machines. This neatly chimed with both the phrase ‘nothing new under sun’ and the idea of luddites smashing machines.

Ropes around the Sun

Will we wait till men are up there,
Tying ropes around the sun?
Will we still be scared of reason
Will we walk or will we run?

We made a prison of our nightmares
Conjured locks and books and chains
Will we move with change of season?
Or will we fall behind again?

Got that hammer in our hands now
Time to smash these cold machines
Oh won’t we live the same centuries again?

Splitting light and chasing fusion
Soon we’ll cut the sky in half
Will we still be scared to leave here,
When we’ve stained the sky so dark?

Finally, when all the clouds boil away,
We will need the ropes around the sun.

And here’s the worksheet for you to have fun with:
Lyric Brainstormer.pdf
Lyric Brainstormer.doc


Second FAWM song

Black water’

First draft lyrics:

Treading water, wound in my side
Overboard in the dark of the night
grinning faces threw me to my doom
and now my arms and legs burn with the strain

Threw me right in, cursing my sins
here alone, I’ll admit that they’re right
All the traces, the things that I’ve done
I thought I’d get away with all that pain

Black water, Floating out on the tide
Salt water, filling me up inside

Once a while ago, thought I might stop
Though I’d sinned there was time to make right
And now pace has, become too much,
as I go under I begin to pray

Black water, Floating out on the tide
Salt water, filling me up inside

But a rescue comes at last
Rough hands pull me out
cold lips on mine
some god took pity on me
some ragged angel came to my side

And if I’ve my time back,
Might I make things right?

But who’s gonna take me in?
If I find a way out of here?

Ideas to steal:

  • Main riff is in 7/8
  • chorus melody is the same little phrase twice with very different chords underneath: Eb Maj 7 F#min7 Bmin Faug.
  • Structure is dictated by the story, so there’ s a big change in pace on the line ‘But a rescue comes at last’

Some more fawmers: Elaine DiMasiMike SkliarPhil NormanPigfarmer Jr

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