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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Songwriting (part 2 of many)

There must be millions of songs written,and yet the raw material is quite limited. The Western musical scale is made up of twelve notes (semitones) which repeat over about five octaves. (any more than that and the human ear can't hear them)
Without going into too much detail, these notes are organised into scales using various combinations of the twelve notes. The standard DoReMi scale uses eight notes, while the blues can be played using a mere five notes. Play a run of single notes and you have a melody, add other notes to be played and sung at the same time and you have harmony (or discord- depending on the choice of note)
Play three notes and you make a chord.
Almost all music produced in the last fifty years uses a repeating pattern of chords. Rock and roll and blues songs use three chords repeating every twelve bars. Other song structures use 8, 16 or 24 bar structures.
(That's enough music theory I think. Any more and I'll show up my ignorance).

So you have a melody played over chords. The other variables are tempo (how fast you play or sing it) and sycopation/rhythm. These few elements are used to create almost all the music in the western tradition.
(Eastern music doesn't use the same rules).

Despite this limited array of elements, it's surprising what variety of songs can be produced. If you sometimes wonder why a tune sounds like another, now you know why.

This is a video by Axis of Awesome that shows how many songs share the same chord sequence. It's very clever, very funny, and some of the language is fruity. It's still worth a listen though.

So you have the music and melody. What are you going to sing about?
That's the beauty of music. You can sing about absolutely every aspect of the human condition. It can be factual, funny, sad, sexy....

There are so many ways to write a song. There are so many things to sing about. There are so many ways to express oneself...
And yet we still hear bad songs, cliches, naff rhymes, lines that don't scan. Songs that make absolutely no sense. And that's just some of the hits....

Going back to the video. Each of those 65 or so songs was a hit, even though they all used the same chord progression. They all managed to sound slightly different, and each one had something that made you remember it, that made it stand out from the millions of similar sounding songs, that all said the same thing albeit in a different way.

So what is it that makes you remember one song among millions?
It's called a hook.

Someone once said that you need three things to make a hit song:
A hook, a hook, and a hook.
I'll have a look around the internet and come back to this again

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