The Sound Connector #7in7Challenge Presented by Songsalive! - Day 7: Using a Recurring Chord Progression
Radiohead’s iconic song “Creep” repeats the same chord pattern (G Bmaj Cmaj Cmin) throughout the whole song. Yet the song doesn’t sound boring. How exactly did they make the song that exciting without from its progression?
First off let’s look at the verses: they have longest lines. Structurally this means more information and notes can fit in each line. However it also means there’s less room in each breath for pauses or held notes at the end of each verse.
“When you were here before
couldn’t look you in the eyes
your just like an angel
your skin makes me cry”
Then in the chorus Thom shortens the line lengths. This gives him the opportunity him to hold out some of the lines. However it also lessons the information that can be delivered. Here it’s the emphasis on “I’m a creep” that is essential to the song.
“I’m a creep (notice the vocal space)
I’m a weirdo [hold note]
what the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.” (notice the space)
And finally: during the bridge the lines are very short. However, this allows Thom Yorke showoff his range and let his vocals ring.
running out again
she’s running out
she runs, runs, runs” (high note into the guitar solo section)
Even though the chord sequence is static, the way the song is dressed causes each section to be easily identifiable. So the range and metrical lines define each section of the song he utilizes. The verse has the lowest range, the chorus is his middle range, and the bridge pushes his iconic falsetto.
Today write a song that uses the same chords throughout. Play around with your range and your line length to create easily identifiable sections. Look for ways you can use your knowledge and songwriting to create
Thank you for participating in The Sound Connector #7in7Challenge Presented by Songsalive!
The Sound Connector #7in7Challenge Presented by Songsalive! - Day 6: Ryan Adams and the Stacks Method
It’s an understatement to call Ryan Adams a prolific songwriter. With over 15 albums of material, in addition to serving as a producer and founder his record label Pax-Am, it’s hard to imagine how he keeps the songwriting fresh. Luckily in a recent interview Ryan Adams shared one of his tricks—he called it “Stacks”—that he uses to jumpstart his inspiration.
1) Place one book on the left and the other book on the right of your preferred writing area (pad of paper, screen, typewriter).
2) Without looking, flip to a random page in the reference book. You can either write down the line verbatim or play with it until it makes sense
3) Repeat step 2 with the fiction book.
4) write a unique line relating to your lines from steps 2 and 3
4) Alternate between steps 2, 3, 4
5) Once you have your lyrics written out, pick up a musical instrument and turn your words into a song.
One common worry is that this work isn’t really written by you because of how this is all by chance it is. Ryan Adams explains The reason that “Stacks” works, I believe, if you can teach yourself to write this way—is like Mad Libs—the ego will always come out to play if you can get the id to tell it to. [. . .] it will force me to fill in the blanks. Meaning that even though these might not seem about you, your brain wants to put you at the center of its experiences. Even though his song starts out as nonsense he concedes “[this song] instantly reminds me of somebody I know”. “Stacks” is a great way to start a song and test the limits of your imagination.
Hank Williams III is eponymous with the honky-tonk shuffle of “Whiskey, Weed, & Women”. It’s heralded as one of Hank’s cornerstone songs. Part of this reason this song is strong is because these are telling images. They open up the song to the listener’s imagination. And they allow Hank Williams III to expand his narrative. “Whiskey, Weed, & Women / had the upper hand”. This presents the opportunity to expand the song and discuss why exactly the narrator feels this way.
And it’s a surprisingly efficient way to drive a story. Susto’s song “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wine” uses the chorus to expand on the narrative where the speaker is searching “for their baby”. It helps the song get to the point and provides additional characterization. No wonder artists like Bob Dylan (“Lily, Rosemary, and The Jack of Hearts”,) mewithoutYou (“The Fox, The Crow, and The Cookie”,) and Brandy Clark’s “Drinkin’, Smokin’, Cheatin,” all rely on this repetition.
Write a song that uses a list of three concrete images as its title. Make sure that your concrete images relate to your song. Here’s an example:
It’s wood, steel, and strings
and the song you’ve brought to sing.
But the crowd can’t hear
the mix isn’t clear
It’s all wood, and steel, and strings
Prince’s song “Sometimes it Snows in April” is a poignant piano ballad about the loss of a friend. The song hinges on the use of “sometimes” in the chorus:
Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending
And all good things, they say, never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past
The use of sometimes deepens the resonance of the song. Prince’s speaker isn’t “always wishing life was never ending”, which would make his character harder to relate to—what kind of person is always wishing to die? Instead the “sometimes” humanizes the speaker—they are easier to relate to. After all, who hasn’t felt that way some days? Likewise to how it sometimes snows in April, the speaker sometimes feels so bad. There’s a depth and nuance that comes up from the song. It’s the difference between someone who is always thinking about getting drunk, and someone who sometimes is drunk.
Think of the things you sometimes do. Do you sometimes get a cup of coffee? Do you sometimes talk to strangers? Do you sometimes have trouble getting to sleep? How can you use “sometimes” create meaningful characters in your songs?
Songwriting does not exist in a vacuum. As songwriters we’re constantly looking to the world for inspiration. We feel things and respond to the world with our music. If we’re having a bad day, we might write a song about spilling coffee on our shirts. Or if your have a good day, your might write a song about the life advice your neighbor gave you while he was watering his lawn. But sometimes songs come to us based off other songs.
An answer song (sometimes called a response song) is a song made responding to a previous artist’s song. Usually as a defense or indictment of the song it is responding to. A famous example is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” which was in direct response to the Neil Young’s searing portrait of the south in his song “Alabama”. Or Woody Guthrie’s “This Land of Your Land” as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”.
Although your answer song does not need to respond to a song. Feel free to write a song in response to a newspaper headline, a bumper sticker, or a piece of junk mail. Get creative.
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