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PostPosted: Sun Mar 03, 2013 1:52 pm 
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Is anyone here taking the Coursera class from the Berklee School of Music? If so, let's have a virtual study group.

So far, I've taken all the lessons except for 1, and it has answered the question: "Why don't I have anything to say in my songs."

I believe that even if I stopped now, the structure of my songs and the content would improve, and it's only week 1!

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 03, 2013 2:23 pm 
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Hi Acoustic.

I'm here with you. Not sure if anyone else has subscribed but i started yesterday. I'm only halfway through the third video. I kinda like the boxes idea and the build up a song needs. 'Don't give away all at once and add information with each verse'. So far i just followed instincts when writing songs. It's interesting to see some theory even if this is only one way of looking at the proces.

I'm sure i will learn a thing or two. Thanks for pointing me towards the course...

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 03, 2013 2:36 pm 
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I like the boxes lesson and plan on using that, but the 6 friends lesson was incredible.

It really helped me understand how to generate ideas. My main problem with writing lyrics is trying to figure out what to say. The 3 boxes definitely helps organize the ideas so they make sense and so you don't get lost.

It's freeing to be able to explore content without getting lost.

Glad you're getting something from it!

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 03, 2013 3:52 pm 
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At the risk of sounding like I`m preaching (and I`m not honestly) I`ve been writing for a lot of years now and I find it`s best to start with a subject, then find out everything you can about it, the internet these day`s makes that a doddle, and then chose a style of music for the story to be told.
Obviously there are a number of way`s to structure it, intro/verse 1/verse 2/ chorus/solo/middle 8/verse 3/chorus/ repeat to fade/ or whatever, but the content is what is most important to me anyway.
This link might be useful to some that struggle with rhymes and phrases and so on.

http://www.rhymezone.com/

Good luck.

T.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 12:17 am 
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T.Mac : It's an interesting course, even for people who have been writing for years. There are many ways to write songs. This view just broadens your perspective. It seems to be rather thourough from what i have see so far. I took the first six lessons and started the quizes that for now mean listening to a lot of music and finding answers in the songs.

Acoustic : Are you taking the quizzes ? They rub in what has been explained and give you a chance to verify what you think you got from it.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 1:02 am 
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I'm taking the last quiz now, it's definitely the most time consuming, so I'll probably spread it across the next few days.

Have you looked at the first assignment yet?

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 11:20 am 
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I`m not knocking the course Dirk. good luck to both of you.

T.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 11:38 am 
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I've not looked at this course yet but, like Mac, I've been writing for years now and, although I'm not particularly prolific, I'm more inclined to think along the lines of quality not quantity. I only hope my two cents' worth will add to this very interesting thread. There are a few things here I'd like to add, if I may, being influenced by Joni Mitchell and David Bowie in particular.

Bowie I love for the sheer daring of his imagery and his observational skills. Very little of his work is obvious and that, to me, is a big plus. He'll sling in a line like

Pour me out another phone, we'll ring and see if your friend's at home

that will stop you dead. One critic also said that Life on Mars? was his favourite song of all time because it was vague enough to appeal to everybody - they could all find something to relate to. So, point number one is find a less obvious way of saying something, or perhaps offering an unusual chord change to draw attention to a lyric.

Joni Mitchell (the only woman I've ever loved :) ) does it a different way. She'll set the song up so that you think she's just complaining about things in general and then, right at the end, she'll offer a resolution. That's important because otherwise she comes across as just a moaner. We all seem to like resolution in terms of the lyrical aspect, as well as the musical one. The example here that springs to mind is a song called Furry Sings the Blues in which she talks about a visit to an old bluesman, sadly laid up by ill health and bad luck. She details what a miserable old cuss he is, and how he's just apparently using people to get his booze and cigarettes and then, once again, she'll offer up a reason:

Why should I expect that old guy to give it to me true
Fallen to hard luck
And time and other thieves
While our limo is shining on his shanty street
Old Furry sings the blues


Here's a link to the complete lyrics of the song:

http://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=202

So, I guess my second point would be echoing the earlier post about not giving everything away at once. Joni, of course, always seems to find this effortless. If I ever wrote a song that good I'd probably stop right there! Interestingly, Joni always says that the music comes first and then the lyrics. This tends to prevent the repetitious quality of some lyrics ("da-da, da-da, da-da, DA!") I have to say that I've always worked this way myself and over the years, I think it has borne some interesting fruit.

I guess, to sum up, I'd say that it pays to use a little thought and try to avoid cliches - musical and lyrical. As an English speaker, I always love the way that it's such a rich language that it's possible to be incredibly accurate in describing what you want to say but it can obviously take a lot time. I'd also like to suggest that people posted a list of say, their top five lyrics so that we can all get an idea of how they think. I'm working on mine right now!

Apologies for this rather long-winded (or perhaps I should say, "prolix") post!

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 12:02 pm 
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This looks like an interesting course. Unfortunately I don't have 6 friends, let alone 6 BEST friends. Can I still join? ;)


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 12:20 pm 
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Although I agree with quite a lot of what Howard is saying, it is also possible to over analyse and pick the bones out of a song, I would say that 99% of everything I`ve ever written means something to me personally, I suppose it`s a kind of therapy for me, I write what I feel at that particular time and place, that`s why content is far more important to me, Dylan great writer but as a vocalist was`nt even close to poor, Knopfler one of the greatest writers of our time but no great vocalist, I`ve said on the forum many times before that whatever it takes to get it recorded as long as it get`s recorded (look at the Level 42 pictures on Robbies previous post), and I still believe that, songs and ideas are no good stuck in the midst of your mind, so if it means doing a course or reading books or sticking your finger up your butt and whistling dixie just record it.
Of course Bowie is a great writer my favourite being the Diamond Dogs album, but even Bowie had moments when he would cut up newspaper clippings and try to construct a song from the jumbled up words, everyone has their own way of doing things, and there is`nt a right or wrong way, whatever works for you.

T.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 2:20 pm 
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Mac - I absolutely agree with all that you've said. The thing is that there are definite rules about songwriting, whether we realize them or not. I have a book about how the brain hears and understands music (which I've mentioned before on this forum). I once recorded a piano and vocal version of a song written by my friend and, when I compared it to the classic 'rules' of a good song, it adhered to nearly every one. I'm certainly not suggesting that we should analyze every bit of every song as we write it - for one thing that would slow the whole process down and destroy any of that sense of urgency that is often there when you write. Most of those comments about my own songwriting experiences are about how I feel in retrospect. I have recognized though, that if I do follow certain guidelines - for instance, once you have a good arrangement, don't mess with it - the task becomes much simpler. I dread to think how many times I've taken the bare bones of a song and then reworked it again and again, only to go back to the first one I did! Eventually, like the rat going down the tunnel, finding no cheese and trying another tunnel, I've learned to trust my instincts more and be malleable.

You sound as though you yourself are a very instinctive writer and that is the best kind to be, I reckon. Like many people, I'd say that some of the best songs I've written have come relatively easily to me. Perhaps it's more about knowing when to stop. Look at the band Yes as an example. They wrote and recorded some magnificent music in the 70s but there came a point where they just seemed to be attempting too much intellectually and the result was a mass of turgid and uninteresting music (Tales from Topographic Oceans springs to mind).

I suppose the real point I was making was that there's a certain laziness apparent in much songwriting, as though with just a little more care, the song could be outstanding instead of being just mundane. You only have to listen to some of the stuff in the charts to appreciate where that kind of attitude leads. Sometimes, all it takes is a small change here and there to transform a song. I'd put money on the fact that that must have happened to you as well: that accidental wrong note on the guitar that makes you go, "Hmm - that was interesting. I wonder if..." or that bit where the voice cracks unexpectedly and the song cranks up a gear as a result.

But ultimately of course, you're right. We all do what works. I've not tried the finger up the butt method (but guess it could help with those high notes?). It's a little fantasy of mine that I'd love you get a few of the great songwriters (Mr Bowie included) and lock them in separate rooms with an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder each and then come back a few hours later to see what they'd written. I truly believe that a good song will be a good song however it's arranged as long as the essence is there to begin with. The good writers know this stuff instinctively and probably don't need to follow any rules. I only wish I fitted into that category! The other thing I guess is that the true greats have a way of tapping into the collective unconscious of the masses - again, whether they realize it or not - and achieving success that way. I'm almost tempted to suggest that if you can achieve that as a writer, then you probably don't need anything else. Look at your own examples of Dylan and Knopfler. As you say, neither is a great singer but they don't need to be: the messages in their songs speak for themselves.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 3:42 pm 
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I could`nt have put it that eloquently, but I agree. :wink:

T.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 4:00 pm 
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I think a course like this (though I've not looked at it) would be a tool in the kit. I don't really agree to writing to a formula but, that has created many many many many hits. Can you tell it's my brother that writes most things :)

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 9:55 pm 
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Gardenque,

I'm not going to quote all that. You have been a prolific writer, if not of songs.

Most of the things you mention are actually in the course. Even Joni Mitchel is in there. They do refer to some great songwriters. So far most questions mean you have to listen to a song and answer about how it's build.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 11:39 pm 
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Acoustic : I just did the first assignement. Still working on the quizzes though.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 12:31 am 
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Any chance somebody could post a link to the course?

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 1:10 am 
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gardenque wrote:
Any chance somebody could post a link to the course?


Here's a link to the course: https://class.coursera.org/songwriting-001/class/index

There are some people who are great songwriters. My brother can create a song on the fly that tells a great story and draws you in.

There are some writers who write effortlessly.

When I teach, I use simple context clues and can go on for an hour drawing out images that are engaging to the pupils.

When it comes to songwriting, I always draw blanks... learning the rules for me is helping me generate ideas... and that's the best part to me... new ideas!

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 8:30 am 
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Thank you for the link, Acoustic - I'll be sure to check it out. Hope your writing is going well.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 8:16 pm 
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For me the Title usually pops into my head first, it's the hook. I write that at the top of the page. Then two big circles a square and another circle on the page.
They represent beginning, middle, bridge, end. I write one word in each shape, for example. MEET, BREAKUP, WHY, TOGETHERAAGAIN. Then I write all the words I can think of around the outside of the shapes that go with the main word. I try to rhyme them, or not..doesn't really matter. Gets things rolling... Stick the Title in between the shapes and your done! :)

Taking courses is great, there's so much to know...wish I had time for one. I wake up everyday wanting to know something. Do tell when you learn good stuff!
-= Beer

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 14, 2013 4:28 pm 
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I like the idea of stable or unstable and the many ways you can imply that...
* the number of lines
* the length of lines

As I was running out the door to work, I went to my whiteboard at home, drew 3 boxes and formulated the basis for a song. When I get home, I'm going to explore the 6 friends to get the story, then start putting it into song format.

I've never thought about the lyrics as it relates to stable/unstable.

The song writing on guitar course I'm taking does something similar. They talk about whether a passage feels at rest or feels like it needs to move. I can't wait to pair these 2 ideas together!

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