I wrote my song “The Other Way” after re-watching a lot of The Wire. There’s a famous scene between Marlo, an-up-and-comer druglord, and a security guard. After Marlo is caught stealing lollipops, the security guard confronts him and Marlo says “You want it to be one way. But it’s the other way”.
It’s a scene about how the powerful of the world, the Marlos of the world, could care less about the poor. While the security guard wants the word to show compassion for the the ill-fortunate, Marlo knows that the world benefits the powerful, not the weak. He has the security guard killed.
I thought this fatalistic idea would make a great song. So I wrote a song that hinged on the idea but was more true to my experience. The resulting song “The Other Way” is a song I feel super proud of. Check it out here.
And I’m not the only person to write songs after watching TV. Brandy Clark wrote her song “Get High” after watching episodes of Weeds. John Lennon wrote “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” after hearing a TV evangelist say “let me tell you guys. It doesn’t matter. It’s whatever gets you through the night, ” Lennon also wrote “Good Morning, Good Morning” after hearing a TV commercial with those phrases in them.
Today I want to challenge you to write a song that is inspired by a TV show or movie. Maybe you want to talk about the show, or repurpose an idea for the show.
Aretha Franklin “Respect,” Todd Snider, “Beer Run,” and The Kinks’ “Lola”. What do each of these songs have in common with each other? Each song relies on spelling a key word or phrase in the chorus. Here’s a famous example from Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”:
"Our D-I-V-O-R-C-E becomes final today
Me and little J-O-E will be goin' away
I love you both and this will be pure H-E double L for me
Oh, I wish that we could stop this D-I-V-O-R-C-E."
Tammy uses spelling throughout her song “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” to drive her narrative. In the song, the parents spell out everything they don’t want their kid to hear “ he thinks C-U-S-T-O-D-Y spells fun or play.” It’s an excellent way to provide characterization for the scene, but it also helps the lyricists, Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, create rhymes. “Divorce” is a hard word to rhyme but the “E” sound in “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” lends itself to a wider universe of potential rhymes.
Today I want to challenge you to write a song that uses spelling in its chorus.
Tom Petty once said that the Traveling Wilburys felt like old friends hanging out and showing each other different chords. And music is all about pushing our boundaries and learning new ways to use our instruments to communicate. How can we continue to challenge ourselves and grow as musicians?
Admittedly, most of the prompts for the Seven Day Challenge have been about lyrical content. However, great lyrics alone won’t make a great song—songwriting requires fusing lyricism with a rhythm and melody to create something that is meaningful to you.
Jazz Guitar Online offers some content that highlights ten of the most popular progressions in Jazz. Additionally, they have created small audio snippets that show you how to properly use each progression.
In general, Jazz songs are structured differently from the verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus structure of most contemporary songs. Instead they use a verse verse chorus verse (or AABA) progression. The textbook example is to look at the structure of the Christmas Carol “Deck The Halls”.
A) Deck the halls with boughs of holly
A) Tis the season to be jolly
B) Don we now our gay apparel
A) Troll the ancient Yuletide carol,
This form requires two melodic repetitions, followed by a new variation that returns back to the original melodic repetition.
Today I want to challenge you to use the chords on Jazz Guitar Online to create your own song. These chord progressions are all in the same key and fit together like Lego pieces. So, in theory you could write an original song using these patterns because they are all in the same key. For example you could write a song that:
A) Progression 4 - “Dim7 Passing Chords”
A) Repeat progression 4 - “Dim7 Passing Chords”
B) Progression 8 - “Rhythm Changes Bridge”
A) Progression 4 - “Dim7 Passing Chords”
Of course, Jazz music has a deeper history than “learn some chords and put them in a random order,” but there’s a lot of validity in learning how to use something through play.
Try it out and share your songs with us!
Day 4: Writing Voice-First
In our recent interview with singer songwriter Faline, she told us she wrote her song “Illinois” by writing the vocal melody before she wrote the music to the song.
Hall and Oates also wrote some of their greatest hits like “Rich Girl” and “She’s Gone” with this approach. When they were writing songs, they would start by picking a tempo, adding rhythmic elements and building the song before they added chordal instruments like guitar or piano. Indeed, Paul Simon recently talked about using this approach on his record Stranger to Stranger.
Writing this way creates more natural space in a song because is based around how the rhythm or melody drive the song and not how the chords drive the rhythm.
Today I’d like to challenge you to write a song by either A) writing vocal melody first, or B) writing tempo-first. If you’re writing tempo-first, I suggest using a drum machine, keep in mind, too that most popular songs are written between 90 and 130 BPM.
Repetition is an inherently catchy and important tool for a songwriter to understand how to use. Music is, at its core, about understanding patterns and being able to manipulate them appropriately. A chorus is a repetition of a familiar phrase. Some even argue that repetition is what makes music unique and causes songs to get stuck in our heads.
Tom Waits’ song “Clap Hands” uses repetition in the beginning of his verses (and in the chorus) to create a more catchy song. Each verse begins with a repetition on the first word. For example:
"Steam, steam a hundred bad dreams
goin' up to Harlem with a pistol in his jeans,
a fifty dollar bill inside of Palladin's hat
and nobody's sure where Mr. Knickerbocker's at."
Consider how Waits’ repetition at the beginning of each verse creates a more catchy lyric.
This trick is not a new trick, heck, Shakespeare used repetition of the first word to create dialogue that was easier for his actors to remember, for example, “Song of the Witches in MacBeth uses, “double, double, toil and trouble”.
The fancy word for this repetition trick is “ Epizeuxis,” or “the repetition of words with no others between, for added emotion or emphasis”.. And you can hear epizeuxis used in songs by songwriters as different as Jennifer Nettles and Queens of The Stone Age.
Today I want to challenge you to write a song that uses epizeuxis during the beginning of each verse. Bonus points if you use it during the chorus. Good luck!
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