Song Doctor Blog
Read about how to write better songs
Sometimes to get creative, you limit something. It skinnies down your choices and provide something to push against, a tangible problem to solve or work around. And that fires up your imagination.
Sometimes it’s the length of time you choose to spend on your writing. You confine a songwriting session to 90 minutes – what can you generate in a manageable studio block on your calendar?
Sometimes, it’s meeting up with a collaborator or coach – you have to make that date or, like working for James Brown, you get fined.
Sometimes, it’s setting a ‘non-negotiable given’ for part of the songwriting process that acts as a prompt. For example, if you keep writing songs in a particular key e.g C major for keyboard players or A major for guitarists, run to the other side of that Circle of 5ths, and try writing in Ab or Gb for the session.
Another constraint can be returning to something extremely simple. Uncomplicate part of your songwriting. Try it 'just for today' and see what happens.
I was really struck by how effective this can be from one of the class ‘assignments’ for Songwriting School, where in the online teaching session, we looked at the simple song structure AAA.
For many of us, it’s the first type of song structure we learn, often by osmosis from nursery rhymes or hymns, carols and folk songs growing up. But it has stood the test of time and finds its way into multiple contemporary genres to this day.
The assignment asked the students to write a song using the AAA structure. No fewer than 3 verses plus or minus refrain. By constraining the structure, it forced the songwriting students to come up with other ways to create interest, tension and contrast within the song, because there are no innate sectional changes doing it automatically.
Each student did this in their own way – with imaginative narrative or metaphors or an illuminating chord progression or a powerful melody. But more importantly they were all able to complete the task within the week allocated – one immediately after the online class in a fever of inspiration.
And that was just one constraint!
So, if you’re floundering, try returning to something simple in your songwriting practice. You may surprise yourself or at the very least, write something new.
Talk more soon
PS To see some of Aotearoa’s finest songwriters working with constraint (song set to a Katherine Mansfield poem), come to Mansfield – In Her Own Words if you’re in Wellington Monday 14 June 8pm at the Michael Fowler Centre or Sunday 20 June 7pm in Auckland’s Bruce Mason Centre. 12 artists – 12 poems set to song - it’s quite a line-up!
PPS Songwriting School now has a second weekly class available on Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm. Email me to sign up.