I started to take Songwriting course on Coursera (yeah, life is unpredictable). Here are my notes for weeks 1&2.
I always had interest in writing and music and even somewhat intuitive feel for it. Thus, I would like to actually learn formal stuff and tools to be able to grow instead of blindly wandering around.
I usually write notes for stuff I learn or read, because this helps me to structure the information much better and generally improves recall.
Point of view
You have to decide who’s talking to whom and why. There are following relationships between the singer and audience (perspectives):
storyteller (third person narrative), “he & she” - the most objective God-like mode.
first person, “I & she” - the singer tells something about them.
second person, “you & she”
direct address, “I & you” - the most intimate.
There are no rules in songwriting, only tools. Try different approaches for your song, e.g. rewrite it from different perspectives and see which sounds better.
Progression & boxes
Keep your listeners interested. Don’t put everything into the first verse, create a journey instead. Producer usually creates a music journey with energy increases & decreases. You use words instead.
You can use method of boxes to create the journey. Basically each next verse incorporates an idea of the previous ones (gains from them), but also adds something (extends them). The last box is the largest and brings the most important ideas.
Each box can represent different time, e.g. past-present-future and create a progression in this way. Or perspective can vary, e.g. you-I-we. Or times of the year - summer-fall-winter.
Six best friends
Who, what, when, where, why & how.
You can use them to explore inside each box (i.e. you already have a high level idea and want to develop it further). Each helps to elaborate on ideas and gives some direction. E.g. when -> spring, summer, morning, where -> cafe, sidewalk.
Boxes are used to develop ideas, the song itself is done via sections:
verse - overall story or feel of the song (basic information)
chorus - central idea (repeated) - the word literally means many people singing together
bridge - connects sections
pre-chorus - little bridge from verse to chorus
There is actually one rule - prosody - all elements of the song have to work together to support the central message. Prosody - an appropriate relationship between elements. This is actually common sense - why would you put something in your song that does not belong there?
Stable vs unstable
There are different vehicles to express prosody. E.g. the given unit of a song (line, section) can be stable or unstable. Stable is like a fact (“I’m so grateful that you are in my life”), unstable - something is missing (“I wish you were here”). Just a tone of voice can change this, e.g. “I finished my song”.
Often a song combines the two in different sections.
Number of lines
Matched or unmatched line lengths
Rhythm of lines
Number of lines
Can be used to:
spotlight an important idea (e.g. adding a line when one does not expect it, this surprises and brings attention to it - see “The great pretender” - “Pretending that you’re still around” is unexpected)
stop motion (even number of lines -> “I’m done”) or move one section into other (odd number of lines -> “let’s keep going”)
create contrast between sections
Same length = stability (balanced, stable, resolved) = “stop”.
Different length = instability = “let’s keep going, something is missing”.
If you have the second line longer than the first one, this create spotlight for the extended part. If it is shorter, this create longing.
I.e. line lengths create expectations and one can use this.
Line length can be used to create contrast between sections. At least this is much easier than with the number of lines, because that you notice only when the section is over. E.g. Paul Simon - 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover - the verse has long lines, the chorus - very short with quick rhyme, which suggests that you have to leave your lover fast.