Any good music must be an innovation. "Les Baxter"

In a sense, a hit belongs to the person who made it popular, but if a tune is good enough to attain tremendous success, then it certainly deserves more than one version, one treatment, one approach.

Reiciendis voluptatibus maiores

If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.

It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.

If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.

Hell is full of musical amateurs.

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

Hell is full of musical amateurs.

Music is moonlight in the gloomy night of life.

I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me-like food or water.

"Keys are words of the soul"

Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune.

Music is something that always lifts my spirits and makes me happy, and when I make music I always hope it will have the same effect on whoever listens to it.

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Music is well said to be the speech of angels..

The advice I am giving always to all my students is above all to study the music profoundly... music is like the ocean, and the instruments are little or bigger islands, very beautiful for the flowers and trees.

Pomnis voluptas assumenda

The wise musicians are those who play what they can master.

There's a lot of music that sounds like it's literally computer-generated, totally divorced from a guy sitting down at an instrument.

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  • Reiciendis voluptatibus maiores
  • Asumenda omnis dolor
  • Voluptates repudiandae sint
  • Necessitatibus saepe eveniet
  • Omnis dolor repellendus
  • Pomnis voluptas assumenda
  • Harum quidem rerum

вторник, 3 април 2012 г.

Feist’s “How Come You Never Go There”: Why It Works


One of the things that immediately attracted me to the song, “How Come You Never Go There“, by Canadian singer-songwriter Feist, is the sheer simplicity of its structure, including what you might call the “efficiency” of the chord progression. By taking a simple alternation of two chords (Am and Dm), Feist creates several other related progressions that to most ears sound almost the same. In fact, most online chord progression sites miss them entirely.

The song is a good demonstration of what I’ve been talking about a lot lately on this blog: simplicity winning out over complexity. It also shows various ways to expand the number of chords you use, subtly controlling the mood and avoiding harmonic boredom.

The formal design of “How Come You Never Go There” is as follows:

0’00″ Intro
0’24″ Verse 1
0’58″ Chorus
1’09″ Instrumental solo (guitar)
1’34″ Verse 2
2’08″ Instrumental Bridge
2’33″ Chorus (repeated)
Because of the vamp-like repetition of the chord progression (see below), and the sparse instrumentation, the song exudes a meditative but edgy quality that really works well.

The progression starts with Am Dm, switching to the relative major equivalent of that (C F) before returning to Am. So most of the song is built over that progression: Am Dm Am Dm/F C F C Dm. The inverted Dm chord (Dm/F) is really just an F chord, with Feist’s melody note supplying the D to change it to Dm.

And depending on the melody note of the moment, that Dm chord also appears as a modal mixture D (at 0’34″). And there are other times when, because of implied harmony (i.e., mostly bass, with little chord structure above it), the actual chord quality isn’t clear.

So while you often get Am Dm, you also get Am D, Am Dadd9, and then Am D?

The melody seems to be constructed to fit with the chord progression’s short toggling-back-and-forth effect. The song is in a slow triple meter (3/4 time), and the melody is constructed of short 3-beat phrases all strung together. The ultra-short phrase lengths enhance the hypnotic quality of the chords. Melody and chords are truly partners.

The norm of having a chorus pitched higher than the verse is barely evident here. What we do get is a sudden rising of melody right at the end of the verse melody, which builds song energy for the chorus. But the chorus melody largely mimics much of what we’ve heard in the verse. The beneficial effect of this is the enhancing of the song’s meditative, hypnotic quality.

On one level, it’s a simple love-gone-wrong kind of song, but with its use of metaphor, imagery and other poetic devices ,there’s lots of room for interpretation, debate and discussion.

The room’s full but hearts are empty
Like the letters never sent me
Words are like a lasso
You’re an instrumental tune

It’s a great demonstration that lyrics can be powerful while using simple, everyday words.

So what specific lessons can songwriters take from “How Come You Never Go There”:

Repetition works. Audiences love hearing ideas, motifs, melodies, lyrics and formal elements returning throughout a song. Repetition rarely causes boredom, especially in the popular music world where songs are rarely longer than 5 minutes.
Connect chord progressions together by finding and using related chords. Create a progression, then find its relative major or minor equivalent. Experiment with modal mixtures, implied chords, and other techniques to expand on that original progression.
Try to match melodic phrase length with chord progression phrase length. We often think of melodies when we think of phrasing, but chord progressions can also be constructed in the same way. If your basic progression is 4 chords long (e.g., C Dm F C), try constructing your melodies to be 4 bar phrases.
The complexity of your lyric’s meaning shouldn’t mean resorting to words no one uses. You can develop a more intriguing lyric by using common words, concentrating more on developing images and metaphors.
As you compose, ask yourself, “How is my melody supporting the lyric?” “How is my lyric helping the chords?” “Are my chord choices enhancing the song’s meaning?”, and so on.
Always remember, no song element acts in isolation from another. “How Come You Never Go There” brilliantly demonstrates this.


понеделник, 2 април 2012 г.

Making Sure the Songs You Write Are Memorable


One of the most important aspects of a successful song is this: how easily is it remembered by listeners? We know this by simply checking industry stats. The songs that fly to the top of the charts are usually ones with strong chorus hooks, where simplicity is a quality that’s as important as any other. But excessive simplicity creates boring music. So it’s a vital balancing act to write a song that’s simple enough to be easily remembered, while complex enough to be interesting.
Music with a high degree of complexity is the kind that musicians like to study, whether formally or informally. In 100 years, we’ll still be analyzing Yes, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, and a number of other highly regarded musicians.
Many of today’s chart-topping singer-songwriters will also be highly regarded and remembered, though it’s harder for us to identify those musicians right now. There usually is a natural “fading” that happens once a musician moves out of the charts, before they rise again in people’s esteem.
In any case, to be successful in the songwriting world means writing music that audiences like, and, even more importantly, that audiences remember.
There are things you can do as you compose your music to ensure that your songs are going to stick in people’s musical ear. They aren’t rules, so don’t go changing your music if you find that you haven’t done some of these. But it’s a list worth checking out from time to time:
With chord progressions, strong ones should follow fragile ones. Many songs use simple progressions (i.e., the I-IV-V-I kind) throughout, and that’s fine. But if you’re going to venture into using more complex chord progressions, they belong in a verse. So a verse should use fragile progressions, and a chorus should use strong ones. Bridge progressions should explore a different side to your song’s key (for example, venturing into the minor if your song is in major).Limit the number of “ideas” in your song. A song should have two main melodies (verse and chorus), with the possibility of a 3rd melody in the bridge. That’s it. Don’t clutter your song up with too many ideas.Make your melodies easily singable by anyone. The best way for someone to remember your melody is to be able to sing it themselves, even if it’s just in the shower. So think carefully if you plan to use a melody that spans an octave-and-a-half. Limiting your melodies to the range of one octave is often best.Put a hook, or something “hooky” somewhere in your song, preferably the chorus. A hook will work best when it’s accompanied by simple, strong chords. The chorus is the most likely location for a melodic hook. But background instrumental hooks hooks (like the guitar hook of “Smoke on the Water”) can occur in many spots throughout the length of a song. Hooks, by definition, are easily remembered, and will bring listeners back.Use a musical motif. A motif is a short rhythmic or melodic idea that serves as a building block for other musical ideas in a song. It’s a little bit like a hook, but it’s more subtle, doing its work mainly in the background.
As a good example of how a motif works and how it’s so important to the success of a song, listen to Lady Gaga’s “You and I”. Most of the melodic ideas that occur in that song are related to melodic and rhythmic ideas that happen in that very first line, “It’s been a long time since I came around”. You hear a similarity in each line, rhythmically and/or melodically. That’s the power of a motif, and it makes the song easier to remember.
So for writing memorable songs, remember the two most important qualities: Simplicity and repetition.


неделя, 1 април 2012 г.

7 Ways to Make Songwriting Enjoyable Again


Has songwriting become frustrating for you? Do you sometimes wonder where all the fun went? Songwriting, like any artistic pursuit, is supposed to be enjoyable; why would we do it if it wasn’t? While a bit of aggravation should be considered a normal part of the songwriting process, a sense of joy and satisfaction may be a distant memory for you. You need to get back on track. You need to somehow make songwriting enjoyable again.

Anyone who creates anything will experience intense frustration from time to time. But it can get horribly discouraging when it feels as though everything you try just sounds like garbage to your ears. You’re longing for the good ol’ days, when you could churn out a song every day or two.

First of all, relax. Frustration is often a normal part of improvement. When I was a composition student years ago, I complained to my prof about that very thing – that every time I tried to compose something, it just sounded like crap to my ears.

His reply made a lot of sense to me. He told me that as musicianship improves, it’s not unusual to find yourself making greater demands of yourself. The result is that you often view your current state of writing abilities as “not good enough”. Everything sounds lousy, and you can’t see things improving.

But things will improve, and that’s a guarantee. And you don’t have to sit around waiting hopelessly. If you’re feeling frustrated and unhappy, wondering where the joy of songwriting went, here’s a list of things you can do to make yourself a happier musician.

Stop writing – at least for a few days. Though I don’t usually think that the solution to songwriting unhappiness is to stop writing entirely, it can help you relax and refocus if you simply step back from writing for a few days, perhaps a week.Talk to other songwriters about your frustrations. Expressing your feelings is a crucial part to defeating any problem. Once you hear someone else say, “Yes, I feel that way sometimes…” it reminds you that your unhappiness with songwriting will turn around.Find another musician to partner with. Sometimes this simply means sitting down with someone else to jam with. Sometimes it means actually writing  a song with someone else. In any case, songwriters can tend to isolate themselves from others as they work. Just working out creative ideas with another person can open the floodgates and get you feeling happy and creative again.Spend more time listening. Experiencing other people’s music is a fantastic way to recharge your batteries. You hear other musician’s ideas, and it really gets you feeling inspired.Try other creative art forms. Singer Tony Bennett paints. Many singer-songwriters are actors, dancers, authors, and so on. These are fantastic ways to explore other aspects of your creativity. So why not enrol in a course at a local university or college, a course that takes your mind off of songwriting for a bit, but still allows you to be creative.Teach others how to write music. It’s amazing how teaching something organizes the mind and helps you as the teacher make sense of a topic.Give a concert, or perform at a local café. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you really are writing some good stuff. Performing several of your best songs is a good way to boost your ego a little bit, and get you back to feeling happy and successful.

And one other idea: Songwriting is something that can and should be studied. While much of songwriting comes from within, frustration often comes from not knowing what to do with your great musical ideas. A songwriting text will speed up your development as a songwriter and make you happier in the long run.



6 Ideas For Making a Song Longer

The average length of most hit songs these days is between 3’30″ and 4’00″. This week (March 21, 2012), the top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 average out to a length of 3’46″. The length of a hit pop song hasn’t really changed all that much in the past few decades. The average length of top hits from the 1970s is 3’30″. That’s not counting “American Pie”, which is 8’33″ in its full version. But back when it was a hit, radio stations would rarely play the song in its entirety, opting instead for the cut-down 4’11″ single version.

Regarding how long a song should be, there’s a kind of “sweet spot” that producers aim for. In a sense, it’s a reflection of the perceived attention span of the target audience. When songs are too short, they come across as not having enough substance. When they’re too long, there’s a fear that boredom will set in.

The perceived length of a song by listeners is also a cultural thing, and it’s an area of concern to book publishers as well. It’s interesting to note that when famous English writer James Herriot  first had his books published, they were successful in England, but they flopped in the U.S. market. It’s because his first series of animal books, “If Only They Could Talk”, were perceived by American readers as “too short.” The publishers combined the first two books of that series into one large book, the notable “All Creatures Great and Small”, and they were an instant hit.

Like books, the length of a song is important to get right. Audiences may tolerate, even love, extended versions of songs performed by their favourite groups in a live setting, but listening on the computer, or on the radio, is rather different.

So what do you do when you’ve got what feels like a great song, but it’s just not long enough? What if, in its final version, your song is coming in at 2’45″ or 3’00″? What kinds of things can you do to extend the length of a song to get closer to that preferred current ideal of 3:46″? Here are some ideas:

Add a bridge. Most of the time, a bridge will be 8 bars, and can gain you an average of an extra 20 to 30 seconds of music.Repeat the song intro before the final choruses. This can happen in many ways. Either insert the song intro between final repeats of a chorus, or stick it in directly after a bridge or solo section (like Van Halen’s “Jump“)Add an instrumental solo. An instrumental solo placed almost anywhere in a song will work. It’s typical to use one as a bridge section after the second chorus, but you can also try a solo between the first chorus and second verse, or as an extended song intro (“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses would be a good example: a solo to begin, with solos added throughout.)Insert a pause. Sometimes, all you need is a short moment that allows the audience to collect their breath before launching back into the song. Short pauses don’t really add much time to a song, but they make a song seem longer, and may be all you need. (Example: John Mayer’s “My Stupid Mouth“)Insert a key change. This works especially in the final repeats of the chorus, or for a 3rd verse. Be careful, though. Simply bumping the key up a semitone can sound trite. You may need to be more creative. For examples, try “Invisible Touch” by Genesis, or The Beatles’ “Penny Lane“. This kind of key change near the end makes one more repeat of the chorus sound fresh.Try an a cappella or quiet version of a chorus. Like a key change, it allows you to do more repeats of your final chorus without it sounding like a cheap way of extending the length of the song. A good example is Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me“, or Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know-It-All“.

петък, 30 март 2012 г.

Composing Song Melodies: Taking Advantage of Pattern Recognition

For most animals, pattern recognition is a survival tool, an ability to make sense of the surrounding environment. But we humans have an ability that most other animals lack: the ability to recognize and make sense of sound patterns – musical patterns. In a very real sense, when we compose music we’re taking advantage of our audience’s desire to recognize, and be drawn to, musical patterns. As a songwriter, you want to be sure that you’re tapping into that innate part of the human psyche.

We quite instinctively use patterns in music, doing so almost without realizing it. For example, verse-chorus forms are designed to allow people to hear repeating melodies, lyrics and chord progressions. Even the fact that most songs establish and keep a beat is playing into people’s ability to recognize aural patterns.

Pattern aren’t just things we recognize. We’re attracted to them. We want to experience them. We like when we perceive a pattern because of the predictability they offer. Too much of a repeating pattern, with nothing new happening, can quickly become boring to human. We like patterns, but we also like to hear things change. So it’s a bit of a tight-rope act to get that balance right.

So when it comes to things like chord progressions, lyrics and rhythms, we understand the value and importance of patterns. But often, with regard to song melodies, we don’t use patterns enough.

If you find that your song melodies are missing the mark, the most likely culprit is a lack of motifs and patterns within the melodic structure. Like all aspects of music, good melodies make use of repeating motifs. That repetition, like any pattern, is attractive to listeners, and keeps them returning to experience it again.

There are 2 crucial ways that repetition makes song melodies attractive:

Melodic hook. A melodic hook is a short, catchy melody that gets repeated over and over again, usually without change. Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” is a great melodic hook. We like to hear it repeat, and that short melodic fragment would be far less effective if he only used it once.Melodic motif. A motif is a short (usually 2- to 6-note) melodic fragment that gets used and repeated as a song progresses. A motif differs from a hook in the way that it’s used. While a hook repeats without change to its basic form, a motif gets repeated in different ways, serving as a building block for other musical ideas. A famous example is the “da-da-da-DUM” motif from the start of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. That motif gets repeated starting on different pitches, and eventually using different rhythms. Hooks are unchanging entities; motifs are building-blocks. Hooks are immediately noticeable and upfront; motifs do their work in the background.

Whether we’re talking about a hook or a motif, it’s essential to remember that all melodies need something that repeats. Repeating patterns are immediately recognized by listeners, even if that recognition happens in the subconscious. Without patterns to recognize, listeners get bored.

If you find that your melodies just seem a bit random or forgettable, the reason is very likely related to a lack of patterns. Most good melodies (and especially chorus melodies) use a minimum of melodic ideas, and repeat them often, taking advantage of the basic human attraction to recognizable patterns.

As an example, check out Imogen Heap’s “First Train Home” from her excellent “Ellipse” album of 2009. As you listen, make note of how much direct repetition (i.e., exact repetition) you hear, and how much approximate repetition (i.e., motif) you hear. It’s part of what makes good melodies work so well.


Getting Song Lyrics Right, And In the Right Order

Everything you do in music communicates something to the people listening to it. It goes almost without saying that it’s the words you use, and the way that you sing them, that make the greatest contribution to communication with an audience. Most songs have at least two types of lyrics: 1) lyrics that describe things, situations or people, and 2) lyrics that describe emotions. For a song to be successful, it’s important to get the lyrics right, and in the right order, or you’ll miss a vital opportunity to connect with your audience.

The most common error I see with song lyrics is the describing of emotions before properly establishing a storyline. If you start verse 1 by telling everyone how unhappy you are, you have nowhere to go with your chorus except to tell them more about how unhappy you are.

The result is that your song will sound like a 4-6 minute complain-a-thon. And no one will connect. Why? Because in order for emotional responses to work in music, they need to be first supported by a story or description of a situation that warrants the emotional response.

That’s not to say that your verse can’t be emotional. For some song topics, it’s impossible not to let a bit of emotion come through the story. But that initial setting-the-stage is vital. If you’ve written lyrics that start with, “You’ve broken my heart, you’ve left me high and dry…”, there’s just not enough of a story there to have audiences say, “Hey, I’ve been there, I know how you feel.”

A good analogy is building a fire in a fireplace. What you really want is the flame (i.e., emotion), but you can’t get flames without something underneath, something that can ignite to cause the flames (i.e., the story).

Here are some quick tips that will give you something to think about as you craft your song’s lyric.

Use simple, everyday language. Use the kind of words that you’d use in casual conversation with someone.Tell the story first. A story, by the way, may not necessarily be a fact-by-fact kind of story. Most lyrics don’t have a “first-this-happened, then-that happened” kind of approach. But your verses should definitely focus on some kind of setting a stage by describing events or people as a primary task.Describe universal topics and emotions that people, regardless of culture, would identify with. No matter what you’re singing about, you ultimately want whoever’s listening to be able to connect with your topic and its accompanying emotions.Bridge lyrics should move rapidly back and forth between describing situations to describing emotions. That’s why a song bridge is so good at building song energy.Avoid clichés, forced rhymings, and other lyrical faux pas. You’ll find that most great song lyrics don’t sound like poetry when you read them aloud. A good lyric often sounds like a simple story being read aloud, using words that have an easy, natural rhythm. Be sure to preserve the natural pulse of the words when you sing them.


Connecting Verse and Chorus Chord Progressions

Some songs use the same melody and chord progression for the verse and chorus. But those songs are in the minority; for most of the songs you write, you’ll be composing different melodies, and creating a different chord progression. In a way, it’s because of those differences that you’ll want to find ways to make those two major sections of your songs feel connected. In other words, though the chord progressions will often be different, they can’t be so different that they feel completely unrelated.

So here are some ideas for making a verse progression and chorus progression sound properly connected to each other.

Opposite-moving bass lines. Create a chord progression for your verse that requires the bass to move in one direction (upward, for example), and a progression for the chorus that moves the bass line in the opposite direction. EX: VERSE: C  Dm7  C/E  F  G  Dm  F  C.  CHORUS: C  G/B  Am  G  F  C/E  Dm7  G  CPalindromic chord progression. Try creating a chord progression that works well in both directions, frontward and backward. Then use one for the verse and another for the chorus. EX: VERSE: C  F  Dm  Bb  Am  F  G  C. CHORUS: C  G  F  Am  Bb  Dm  F  C.Move the progression to a new key. This is a great solution for a song that uses an identical (or almost identical) progression for the verse and chorus. Simply move the chorus to a new key. Because the chord progression will still be the same, but starting on a new tonic, there’s a sense of recharged energy. EX: VERSE: C  F  C  F  Dm  Am  F  A. CHORUS:  D  G  D  G  Em  Gm  G  G7..Move from minor to major. Try creating a minor key progression for your verse, and switch to the equivalent (or almost equivalent) major progression for your chorus. EX: VERSE: Cm  Fm  Cm  Bb  Cm  Eb  Bb  G. CHORUS: C  F  C  G  C  C/E  F  G.Use identical progressions, but with pedal point bass in the verse. A pedal point bass simply means that the bass stays on the same note (usually the tonic note, but try experimenting). So try a simple verse progression that uses pedal bass, and then the same progression in the chorus that has the bass finally moving. It’s a great effect. EX: VERSE: C  Dm7/C  C  F/C  Bb/C  G/C  F/C  G/C. CHORUS: C  Dm7  C  F  Bb  G  F  G.

There are lots of other possibilities. What you’re trying to do with these progressions is create a sense that even when verse and chorus progressions are different, there’s something similar that makes them feel connected – that makes them sound like they each belong to the same song.