The power of songwriting
Thoughts on songwriting and the songwriting process. More tips and my music can be found on the related site Jeff's Songwriting Site
Julie and I play music for the youth (up to 4th grade) at our church once a month. Over the Easter service, we played three services with about 150 kids at the largest service. The big challenge was keeping the kids engaged for 30 minutes. A few things that we have noticed that help keep kids engaged:
We were in a hotel in Quepos, Costa Rica and heard outside a band playing "Knocking on Heavens". It sounded great and we headed to the bar to hear more. What greeted us was a solo guitarist, playing a classical guitar, with a Boss drum machine. There were only two other folks in a very large room. Being happy hour we figured what do we have to lose and sat down to listen. What a great decision! The guitarist, Leonidas Gonzalez. was amazing. He played a few Latin tunes and realizing that we were Americans started playing Eagles, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and a host of others. We asked for Santana and he not only nailed all of Carlos's licks but added more on top, all on a classical guitar. What was especially impressive was his blending classical, rock, and Latin styles. Clean, fast, and improvising while keeping to the melody. We ending up being captivated for almost two hours. I think he was equally thrilled having an appreciative audience. As we finally said our goodbyes and left to eat dinner, I realized how lucky we were to have had the opportunity to listen to him play. I can't help wondering, how many amazing musicians there are around the world, who are happy to play no matter the size of the audience.
Some days an experience triggers a song and it just comes out. Many of these are experiences that I could do without. How many heartache, got hit by a train songs have we heard? It’s like this cosmic 2 X 4 hits you on the head providing all the content and emotion needed for writing a song. The challenge is tap into the creative process, whenever you want, even if everything is going great, possibly ducking that 2 X 4.
At songwriter's group last night, Jim treated us to two poem-rap songs. I and another member had just gotten through extolling the virtues of a 3-4 minute song, when out came this 8-10 minute long "song." My only saving grace was there's always an exception to every rule, and this was one of them.
We had been noticing that all the songs with the kids in SongCamp were sounding pretty much the same. To do something different, I brought my new Boss loop pedal. Not only can I record my guitar and add a lead, it also comes with a number of prerecorded drum tracks. The result, two totally different sounding songs.
Based on last year’s experience with SongCamp, I signed up for another 9 weeks. Over half of the kids from last year signed up again and there continues to be a waiting list. Working with these 3-5th graders is a continual learning experience. Some of the lessons have been:
The biggest lesson for me has been just to have fun. I’m looking forward to the next six weeks of creating new songs.
I have the pleasure to assist Walt Lofstrom and Mary Morrissey in Song-Camp, a program that writes songs with 9 to11 year old kids. Each week, we have two groups of around 15 kids, each writing a song in one hour.
I heard this great song with the hook, "She left me for Jesus." I haven't been able to get it out of my head, so today I tracked it down on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyxEO9dqi44. I also searched for lyrics and discovered Hayes Carll.
At Song School, I had the opportunity to work with Maggie Simpson in taking one of my songs to the next level. Maggie uses a process from acting to "color" a song.
Over the last week, I've been exploring one capo position - partial capo, down from top, second fret. At this point, I have guitar parts for four songs and melodies for two. Now all I have to do is get motivated for lyrics.
I just returned from the 2009 Song School. Again an wonderful experience that I'll try to recap over the next few weeks.
Rob Roper in his blog wrote an interesting comment in his blog about playing music in the Netherlands.
“Almost all the Dutch speak English--some very well. But I could tell when I was singing my songs that, for many of them, they missed the nuances of the lyrics-- slang words, metaphors, etc. So in choosing which songs to play, I started using the songs where I created a good melody, and/or had an interesting rhythm. The English language is not universal but music is”Rob hits the nail on the head here and I think his statement holds true at home. People connect with lyrics and rhythm. I've noticed the same thing playing out. A few of my throw away songs lyrically (songs that I put placeholder lyrics until I came up with the perfect words), are some of the best crowd pleasers.
A friend forwarded me a link to the welcome address to freshman at the Boston Conservatory by Karl Paulnack. If you ever wonder why its so important to be a songwriter read this!
The other night, we got into the discussion on songwriting dynamics. When listening to a friend's song, he started out strumming and singing loud and kept the same pace and volume throughout the song. While the song itself it was good, it was missing dynamics that would make it interesting. In 2007, I posted techniques for changing the dynamics, in songwriters, take your listener on a journey.
Stopped by and saw a friend that I had talked with a few weeks ago. At that time he was struggling with lyrics. Today he played two newly completed songs. Pretty impressive and what was even more impressive is that they are both good musically and lyrically. It's amazing what happens when you get the internal critical out of the way and just write.
I was working with a friend that has the music and melody for a number of songs, just no lyrics. He's has guitar skill that I wished I had. He made two comments that I hear a lot, "I really want the perfect lyrics for this song," and "I don't want my lyrics to sound ____ (childish, goofy, sappy, conceited ....)." These self judgments limit songwriters more than any negative feedback they will ever receive.
Needing to get reenergized about music, I went out with Rob Roper to listen to music at the Meadowlark, a place for up and coming songwriters. As usual, the first three acts were good. I was about to leave when I saw the last act walk in, the StereoFidelics. After setting up the drums, the drummer started tuning a violin and I thought this should be interesting. The guitarist had an electric and acoustic guitar. He also had way to play a base pad with this foot and an array of electronics. Sound interesting? It was!
In Denver today, sad news that one of our major newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News was shutting down. In hearing the news I remember hearing this same story and emotions expressed in a song, Two Paper Town by Steve Seskin.
I was asked by Allee Willis, a Grammy winning songwriter, to post a link to her newest video, Hey Jerry. What’s so interesting about the video is how it captures the life’s work of 91 year old, drummer, Jerry Thrill. In 3 minutes and 41 seconds you get numerous clues about Jerry’s life and the music she played and still is playing. I was tempted to fly out for their video release party just to meet this interesting character and hear more about her life story.
I’ve wanted to go to a house concert, but never did I expect hosting one as a first step. Here’s the story.