Tag Archives: songs

Ken Lehnig’s Audio Tutorial On Song Structure.

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  Ken Lehnig’s tutorial on Song Structure

There have been many workshops on songwriting. On this tutorial I talk about songwriting in general and then in my usual style get eventually to a real study on songwriting specifically on song structure. I use recordings of my own songs to illustrate the points I’m sharing. I trust this will be informative or at least entertaining. I would be pleased if it’s both.

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On being Creative

 

kens eyespaintOne of the things I am privileged to do is interview up and coming singer/songwriters. I started doing this when my partner David Dodds and I created songwritersmarketplace.com. an international site and San Diego Acoustic.com a local site.  Our original intention was somewhat different from what now exists, but there is no complaint from us.  Originally we wanted to post articles about songwriting and reviews on equipment. We still have the articles,from very talented folks who generously contribute to the site, on all things of interest to singer/songwriters (hopefully) the interviews was something I did because I knew so many talented people and it was just a natural outcome to chat and give promotional help to these people I cared so much about.

What came of it, as a true blessing, was the gift I got within each and every conversation with such creative people. As my site so ‘modestly’ asserts I am a poet, artist, author and a singer/songwriter. Most of my life I have plied those crafts on the side, while I labored as a contractor in the construction biz. That decision was made early in my life because it would give me the opportunities to gig, do art shows and write, particularly when the building market was slow. It certainly was difficult at times for my family, but all my creative endeavors have on those occasions contributed financially in difficult times.

My point being that when I look back through all those years it wasn’t my 6:00 to 6:00 job that kept me sane it was the fruit of my creative self. Every creative person I chat with says the same thing, “I write songs (paint, sculpt, write, dance, act etc.) because I have to.” The story is always a bit different as to what happen to start the process and every story is unique and remarkable.

The hardest thing any artist faces is whether to make their efforts into a full time endeavor, whether that effort will provide enough income to live at least modestly well.. Today’s economy is not at all helpful. And discourse among artists as to whether their work is devalued is  a conversation artists have had since there have been artists. The word ‘Selah’ in Kind David’s Psalms is said to be a note to accompanying musicians to present a musical interlude – one wonders if they complained about the low wages King David offered for their services.

The gift of creativity is apparent and needed by a society that seems, more and more, to devalue the work of, heart, mind and soul –synthisized into one dull grey phrase ‘intellectual property’.  I don’t think that any artist will deny that technology  has been a help, but can also point to where it has been a hinderence. In a recent interview with a remarkable singer/songwriter the current condition of the music bussiness is a result of the Internet – the ‘Gate’ is open.  The simple truth that everything both good and awful is put up on the web, the screening process of the old business has been removed. What the music business, the publishing business, the business of art will turn into when the cultural and technological dust settles no one knows.

What I know for myself and all those fantastic creative people I chat with is that there is no dampening of creative output in the world or the appreciation by society for the exceptional. Whatever the world becomes, the manifestations of creativity; art, music, and literature, will be a part of it, because it is what it is to be human, a spirit or a muse built in and permanent.  If you are a person that expresses their creative side continue and work hard to develop your craft  joyfully, even if the world now seems indifferent. Do it because you must.

A Conversation On Writing Lyrics

Ken LehnigYou have decided that you want to write your own songs. Your mood is positive, you have set up a quiet place to write, guitar or piano is at the ready, a chord progression  program is loaded on your computer, a dictionary, a rhyming dictionary, and thesaurus is at the ready. You are done fixin’ to get ready – you are ready. You pick a chord progression you like, and get comfortable playing it – now it’s time for lyrics. You have read all the books that have been recommended to you and you write:

“You hurt me so much
I am so confused and pissed
You are going to get yours
Don’t come looking for the CDs you missed.

When you moved out
While I was at work
Which was really crappy…”

You may have felt you started out pretty good. You got in touch with your emotions and where you intended to write a moneymaking evergreen,  it changed into a singer/songwriter, indie song. Well sort of…if you tell the truth it isn’t very good. And if you are functionally, self-realized person, with no tendency toward self-delusion, you would stop right there.

The problem with we human types is that we don’t – and that is a good thing. We immediately take what we have written and try to make it better. So we go to the book on ‘Hooks’ written by some guy who says he wrote a hit record once thirty years ago. Don’t take this as snarky, he probably is a pretty good songwriter, a better writer, and a fabulous teacher, and a dynamite salesman. You read the book again and come to the chapter where it reads that good hooks can come from ad slogans, idioms, regional slang, poets, and metaphors. Now here’s some news – every good songwriter already knows that, and every good book on songwriting will have a chapter on the subject of hooks. You want to be a songwriter so you start thinking of ‘Hooks’. You start to write down the first one that comes to mind.

‘You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”

Okay. I’ll start being helpful and positive. This is not the only way to start, but it is a way. Here is what works – it is an idiom that everyone knows. It has a natural cadence and can lend to any melody.

Let’s look at a good songwriting process.

It is an idiom that everybody knows. It’s not pronoun specific, it could easily relate to your lost girlfriend/boyfriend’s stubborn streak. The horse reference could make it an Americana, or a Country tune. You Google it and find a couple of not so good songs that use the phrase – so it’s not a bad start. Here is where you need to trust yourself.

All of a sudden you have a mind flash, apparently so different from the ‘horse and water’ thing,  a phrase that seems to ‘be’ your fading relationship. Most would be writers would get distracted and quit, rather than looking at the opportunity. What popped into your mind maybe a gold nugget, even if isn't where you started.

“It was a long road to where we were going…”

Then more

It wasn’t written in the stars
We did our best without our knowing
That book was written on Mars.

Mars clearly doesn’t work. Now I could look up all that rhymes with ‘stars’. Hopefully words with meanings relevant to my story/relationship; scars, disbars, are, bizarre, cars. Your first instinct is to use one.

“Our love was so bizarre
“You drove away in your car
“I know it’s just who we are

Here is the first songwriting secret:

1. You don’t always have to rhyme.

Keep true to the song’s story. You can use words that have a similar sound.

“It was a long road to where we we’re going…
It wasn’t written in the stars
We did our best without our knowing
That we were better off apart

Here is another secret:

2. Writing lyric must never be far from music.

This is the difference between Poetry and Lyric writing. Poetry is about cadence and word sounds. Lyric is about cadence and word sounds as sung. Sing your words in any melody you like, and listen to the way your word choices sound when sung. You will discover a lot of words you have never used, and you will begin to compile words that will never work. (Although, I did find a use for 'pirouette' in a song.)

What we’ve written so far isn’t bad and it's not  a bad chorus. The first line is memorable, and the second is also a recognized idiom. But you still like the horse and water idiom. How does it fit with what you have written?

3. There are a thousand ways to say/write a thing. Trust yourself that you can always make it better.

What does that ‘horse to water’ idiom bring to mind? You realize that you think you had a perfect love and she apparently didn’t think so and ran off with a masseuse who you both met at a Club Med Vacation.  That is why that idiom came to mind.

So instead this comes to mind:

My heart was like the blazing (or morning/evening/ noonday) sun
(The masseuse was tanned)
Every day seemed a perfect day
(It was a good vacation)
But your pain was a shadow from your past
(Her last boy friend was a personal trainer)
And your fear pushed you away
(Monogamy scares her

(or/and – as a tag)

And my love chased you away

Now I am using a bit of humor here, but I am making a point. Even though I added in parentheses what created the words – the words themselves work.

My heart was like the blazing sun
Every day seemed a perfect day
But your pain was a shadow from your past
And your fear pushed you away
And my love chased you away

No one knows what tickled the muse but you.  A songwriter's ‘life’ is the resource  for songs. Here's what we have so far.

“It was a long road to where we we’re going…
It wasn’t written in the stars
We did our best without our knowing
That we were better off apart

My heart was like the blazing sun
Every day seemed a perfect day
But your pain was a shadow from your past
And your fear pushed you away
And my love chased you away

Not a bad start.

Here is the fourth and last secret for this article.

4. Write what you know.

What works about this song we are writing here is that it is created from a personal, yet universal event. How you describe the event, the words you use, the sounds of those words, the way they are sung, is what will make a good lyric/song or a bad lyric/song.
(Looking at chord progressions, melody, instrument arrangement, tempo, and sound production is for another article.)

You’ll find a story and lyrics here:
1. Something you have learned.
2. Something you have heard.
3. Something you are interested in.
4. Something you have read.
5. Something in your personal experience.
6. Something you dreamed
7. Something that moved you emotionally.

Let’s wrap it up.
1. You don’t always have to rhyme.
2. Writing lyric must never be far from music.
3. There are a thousand ways to say/write a thing. Trust yourself that you can always make it better.
and
4. Write what you know.

Keep Writing.

Ken Lehnig(c)2011
Songwrtersmarketplace.com (c)2011 All Rights Reserved