Archive for the ‘melody’ Category

Lake Street Dive: Songwriting Masterclass at NEC

November 4, 2015

I had to share this video that combines songwriting and Lake Street Dive. If you haven’t heard LSD, check their many many live videos on YouTube.

Songs performed and discussed:
“You Go Down Smooth” (Olson) begins at 5:20
“Look What a Mistake” (Price) begins at 20:30
“Seventeen” (Kearney) begins at 46:20
“I Don’t Care About You” (Calabrese) begins at 1:06:05
“Let Me Roll It” (McCartney) begins at 1:51:35

After meeting while students at NEC in the early 2000s, Lake Street Dive has catapulted to stardom. NPR notes that they blend “jazz, folk, and pop in dangerously charming fashion.” In this workshop, the band—vocalist Rachael Price ’07, trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson ’05, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney ’08 Tufts/NEC, and drummer Mike Calabrese ’07—returned to NEC to share its wit and songwriting expertise with students.

your theme song

October 7, 2014

Last week I happened on to an interesting niche of songwriting. I saw a fb post wherein a casual friend mentioned she needs a theme song for her life. This was part of a longer post, but something in me clicked when I read the bit about a theme song.

I immediately offered to write her theme song, if she was serious. I know her well enough to guess what she was after: something uplifting, empowering, maybe like a rock anthem or a mantra set to music (a chant?), but with a good beat that makes you want to move. It turns out I was pretty close. She was into it. I didn’t charge anything, I just wanted to see if I could do it.

Somehow it all just flowed easily and a week later I had a complete song, based on my knowledge of my friend, my intuition and some ideas she gave me.

I was surprised how fast it came together and was very happy with it musically and lyrically. And, fortunately, my friend loves it! That’s a win/win. Because I don’t refer to her by name in the song, I have been able to use it, singing it a live shows and it’s going over well. I always tell the story, giving her credit for the idea and for providing me with some pithy lyrics (which became the heart of the chorus).

The last time I sang it, someone came up afterward and asked if I would write her theme song. She said I should market this and she called it branding.

Have you ever heard of anyone doing this? Let me know if you’ve done it or know someone who does.

The only similar thing I’ve ever done is a song I co-wrote one time, years ago. A reader of this blog contacted me. He had written a poem for his fiance that he read during their wedding ceremony and he hired me to put it to music for their 10th anniversary. That long distance collaboration worked out well, too.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress and after I get permission, I’ll post some of the music.

Favorite Paul Simon quotes

October 13, 2012

From Performing Songwriter magazine.

“As soon as your mind knows that it’s on and it’s supposed to produce some lines, either it doesn’t or it produces things that are very predictable. And that’s why I say I’m not interested in writing something that I thought about. I’m interested in discovering where my mind wants to go, or what object it wants to pick up.” —Songtalk, 1991

“A lot of talent is a gift, but a lot is also luck. I’m very aware of that. I was born in the right place at the right time. I am also blessed because I’ve never been a sex symbol. I’m spared the embarrassment of acting young.” —Associated Press, 1993

Read more Paul Simon quotes at Performing Songwriter magazine.

Pat Pattison master class: melodic & lyric rhythm

May 7, 2010

Master Songwriter Pat Pattison’s insights into songwriting with this Master Class session.


June 22, 2009

Whats up fellow songwriters- I was doin some songwriting research online just looking for inspiration on the craft of songwriting and came across a really cool technique for coming up with melodies.

Basically the idea is set up a loop in a recording program (garage band) that goes for 20 minutes. Maybe the four chords your verse or chorus uses. Then hit record and sing melodies over that progression for 20 minutes. Ever come up with melodies for 20 minutes? Its pretty weird that’s a long time! And you can’t judge what you are doing you just kind of let it all come out, let yourself really just get creative. I found I felt tapped out at 5 minutes! Then to keep myself going had to get really creative and sang some really high ideas. Then really punchy ideas, then borderline rap melodies. When you finish let it sit for about an hour then go back and pull out your favorite ones. I had 13 I thought were really cool. AWESOME! 13 melodies i think are awesome, now the problem is figuring out which one i think is the most AWESOME. Good problem to have,

Much love tell me how it goes for ya-

Andy Grammer

with permission from Andy Grammer, a comment he posted to the Facebook group Performing Songwriters (United Worldwide).

How do you write melody?

February 13, 2009

Here’s a question we hear a lot.

Q. I have the very frustrating situation that, although I am good with accompaniments, I need help with how to arrive at a melody.

A. Good question. I bet a hundred different songwriters would give you 100 different answers. And then you would have to figure out which one (if any) would work for you. That’s not such a far-fetched proposition. But I’ll get back to that.

Here are some things that work for me. It helps if I’m not starting from absolute zero. What I mean is, if I have no music, no lyrics, no chorus, just a blank piece of paper, that’s the hardest place to start from, IMHO.

If I’m writing music to a set of completed (more or less) lyrics, that’s much easier. It doesn’t matter if I wrote them or someone else did. What I do to find a melody is to follow the rhythms of the syllables. I speak the words out loud to see how they flow. I may add a word here or there to make the flow better. Or I may stretch a word out or
make a section of words staccato. All this without singing a pitch. That usually leads to bits of melody, which lead to more bits which usually build into a complete melody.

Another thing I pay attention to in lyrics when I’m looking for a melody is the meaning or the mood. I want to support whatever mood is created by the words. Simply put, I don’t write a bouncy, happy melody to lyrics that tell a serious or sad story and vice versa. If you really listen to the words for meaning and mood, I believe you’ll hear the melody.

What if you don’t have the lyrics first. Another piece of the puzzle that can help find the melody is the chord progression. Some people, myself included, like to write the chord progression before writing melody. Maybe that’s because melody is hard for me to write, I don’t know.

At any rate, the chords give you a huge head start. You can limit your melody to only using notes in the chord being played at the time. That’s a good place to start. The chords also set a mood, so pay attention to that.

All right, now the toughest question. What do you do when there are no lyrics and no chords, no theme, nothing. One teacher I know suggests walking around. In fact, many writers do their best creative thinking while ambling about in nature. There’s something to this. It has to do with getting your blood flowing to your brain and with breathing more deeply than you would sitting at a desk. It has to do
with inspiration in the outdoors (even in a city) and it has something to do with relaxing, taking the pressure off. I has to do with all those things and probably a lot more. I can’t explain it. It just works.

I hope some of this was helpful. Now back to the 100 songwriters. Since all of the above is just one person’s opinion, wouldn’t it be better to get opinions from a large variety of talented songwriters? There are over 11,000 songwriters registered for the STJ message boards, plus thousands of others who drop in every month. Check it out.

Good luck.

Let the world know you’re a songwriter and proud of it, with Songwriter’s Tip Jar caps, T’s, sweatshirts, mouse pads and other swag. Check out the swag here.

Dummy lyrics

December 23, 2008


Do you have trouble remembering your melody when the melody comes before the lyrics? To fix that, write a set of dummy lyrics, words that fit the melody but that don’t necessarily make any sense. They don’t even need to rhyme. It will help you remember the correct flow of syllables and accents.

Did you know that Paul McCartney’s original title for the song Yesterday was Scrambled Eggs? — a dummy title to go along with dummy lyrics. Apparently he had the melody, but until he got the right lyrics, he substituted the nonsense phrase scrambled eggs.


December 11, 2008

There are many elements to a song. Within each of them, a
little variation, a little contrast is helpful.

Let’s take the element of melody as an example. One common way to use contrast is having the verses in a lower or middle range, with some high notes in the chorus. In rock you often hear a verse sung an octave higher than the previous verse. This not only contrasts pitch, but the intensity of the vocal.

An example using melody and rhythm can be found in a song like Johnny B. Goode or almost any of Chuck Berry’s hits (Nadine, Promised Land, Roll Over Beethoven). If you don’t know his music, think of the Billy Joel song ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’ The verses consist of rapid fire syllables, almost one syllable per beat. That makes a strong rhythmic statement.

But to carry that on throughout the entire song would be monotonous. So in Johnny B. Goode he throws in a little contrast in the chorus: not so many syllables, a little more room to breathe for the singer and the listener.

You can use contrast to add interest in your lyrics, for example, intimate, specific, personal lyrics in the verses and a more philosophical chorus.

So far, we shown examples where verses contrast with choruses, but you can use contrast anywhere. For example, the beginning of every verse can be somber and maudlin while by the end of the verse it can be more hopeful.

Or you can use contrast across different elements. An extreme example would be a bouncy, happy musical accompaniment for lyrics that are serious or depressing. This is a little tricky. If you can make it work for you, it can be very effective.

Writing melody, a tip

December 8, 2008

For me the melody is usually the last thing to fall into place. I can write the chords first and then the words or the words first and then the chords, but either way, I usually leave the melody for last. Oh, I may have a rough idea of the melody or a working melody, but I don’t really focus on melody until the end.

If I find myself unsatisfied with a particular working melody, I’ll move the song to a different key, say up or down a fourth or a fifth (or about halfway to an octave). Since I don’t have a wide range as a singer, I won’t be able to hit all the notes in the new key. So I’m forced to improvise a new melody in those spots where I can’t reach the notes (too high or too low). Often some of the new improvisations are better than the original melody.

This tip is easy to try if you use a capo (guitarists) or with software like Band in a Box or any of the MIDI sequencers.

5 Tips for Writing Melody

July 15, 2008

1. Make it sing-able. If you are not a singer yourself, ask a professional singer (or a voice teacher, or an advanced voice student) to sing your melody and give you feedback. Sometimes there are too many syllables (or too few) or too many consonants. A good singer will notice these and other problems right away.

Of course, if your style is rap or Gilbert and Sullivan, perhaps too many syllables isn’t an issue. Were Gilbert and Sullivan the first rappers?

2. Make it sing-able, part II. Keep the singer’s range in mind. Write for a tenor or an alto range, not for those rare super-singers who can hit notes in the bass range and handle soprano notes, too. Again, having a professional singer try out your melody will quickly bring these issues to light.

3. Make is sing-able, part III. Everybody has to breathe. Leave spaces for the singer to breathe and for the song to breathe. Miles Davis says the space between the notes is sometimes just as important as the notes themselves. Too much space between the notes, and people would think that the concert was over and go home…

4. Make it memorable. More easily said than done, but think about this – you want people to hear your melody and remember it after hearing the song once. Sure, if your song gets constant airplay on the radio, we’ll all eventually know your melody. But if people hear it once (say, in concert), will they leave the concert humming it? Will they remember it if they hear on the car radio, while negociating rush hour traffic, making a phone call and holding a cup of coffee?

One trick is to keep it simple. Another is to repeat it. Memorable lyrics help the listener remember the melody as well.

5. Make it fit. Make the overall feeling of your melody match the feeling portrayed in the lyrics and vice versa. A good melody complements and enhances the emotional quality in the words.