About a year ago I browsing around the internet and saw a Dungeons and Dragons starter kit. Though I have never played the game officially I remembered one summer at Camp Kanata in 1995 there was a group of campers who were playing Dungeons and Dragons. It seemed interesting, and I looked at some of their books, and observed how they were playing. One person, the dungeon master, would run the game while the others would explore a fantasy world the dungeon master laid out in front of them. Specifically, I remember the campers had print outs of character sheets that they could enter their characters’ information. They were rolling dice and adding numbers to their sheets. Each campers’ sheet had a space for; character name, class, level, strength, dexterity, constitution, and so on. I think this is a good analogy for teaching songwriting because building your character as a songwriter is a lot like building your character in one of these Dungeons and Dragons games.
One key idea that I discovered was, that by displacing yourself as a songwriter from yourself as a person you can become a separate observer of the strengths and weaknesses of any idea, as well of take note on things we can work on. In songwriting, we can replace the strength, dexterity, constitution and so forth with; lyrics, melody, harmony, and form to observe what aspects of idea is working, and what else could use improvement. If I am working on an idea I can use any of the four elements like gears to shift in and out of to focus on what the song or idea needs. Like the dungeon master, your writer controls everything in the picture. They are responsible for the characters of your story see, and do, and what their personal fates shall be. And also like game, the practice of building characters, creating your own stories, and experiences greatly increase your abilities to come up with original content. This is an important aspect to understand, as with the all of the other elements of music that come into place when we sit down to write original music.
The four elements spin around us from one end to the other until that something sticks out in our minds and catches our attention. Some people may call it an idea, a signal, or as Keith Richards said in one of his interviews, “That little antenna that sticks up”. Whatever the idea may be it, is generated from one or more of the four major elements of songwriting. Every one of us, musician or not, has our own musical strengths and weakness which fall under any of the four major elements of songwriting and composition. These elements are; melody, harmony, form/rhythm, and lyrics. It is helpful for us to examine these elements when we are looking at our own songwriters strength and weaknesses. Some writers may have a combination of a few of these elements, or maybe just a very high level of one.
Just like the campers rolling dice and filling in their character sheets, we can observe our own strengths and weaknesses as composers and songwriters. My songwriter could be a +5 in Lyrics and story telling, but pretty low when it comes to understanding rhythm, and form. Or, my songwriter could be a +5 in melody, harmony, but only a +2 in lyric writing. Ideally we want to evaluate our songwriter, and utilize our strengths, and improve our weaknesses.
Some people have incredible story telling skills, and can find a lyric faster than you can locate your keys. I call these writers “top liners,” because they can nail the title of a song, and with complete ease. They have a super power of bringing you into the story, and can clearly express the main message of the song. Other writers may be more attracted to only one of the elements like rhythmic and form, these could very well be drummers, or rappers. Each individual has their own way of understanding songwriting, and composition but we can create an overall map of our songwriting process to keep a further understanding of how songs are written, and where they come from
Beginning August 19, 2019, I will be teaching the songwriting class at South Brunswick Community College in Southport. The intention of this class is to give you the tools and examples you may use when writing your own songs and music. We will discuss each the elements including melody, harmony, rhythm/form, and lyric writing. The class will examine our songwriters map, and observe techniques for finding ideas to enhance your stories and music. The class will focus mainly on where lyrics meet melody, and use examples of successful songwriters, literature, music and film to broaden and expand your creative potential. This class is going to be lots of fun, and I can’t wait to work with other songwriters in the area. For more information contact Barbara Mcfall