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  1. #1

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    I'm listening to a Dave Liebman tutor and he's get into song writing. He was talking to Stevie Wonder once and asked Stevie how to you write so many great songs? Stevie said... when I'm in songwriting mode I write 30-35 songs a week, maybe one will be good.

    Good lesson in there, if you want to be good at something you have to a lot of it, so a little is good.
    No, I'm not going to give you the answer to your question. I don't want to deny you the pleasure you'll receive when you figure it out yourself. -- Bill Evans talking to his brother.

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by docbop View Post
    I'm listening to a Dave Liebman tutor and he's get into song writing. He was talking to Stevie Wonder once and asked Stevie how to you write so many great songs? Stevie said... when I'm in songwriting mode I write 30-35 songs a week, maybe one will be good.

    Good lesson in there, if you want to be good at something you have to a lot of it, so a little is good.

    I remember reading an article along these lines----not about songwriting but about creative pursuits in general---and the idea was that if 10% of what you came up with was good, you were golden. I immediately thought, "Hhmm, if I write 1000 songs, 10 should be good." In those days, 10 songs would make an album. So I wrote a lot of songs. Hundreds. Most were crap-ola. (But even crap-ola songs can be fun to write, or at least while you're first messing around with them.) But some I really like. Most days that go by, I play a song I wrote and feel good about having done it and still liking it all these years later. And as Ira Gershwin put it, "They can't take that away from me."
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  4. #3

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    Like the many shots a photographer takes to get the good ones...

  5. #4

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    I've heard it said about writing songs, "The first 100 don't count..."
    Last edited by jasaco; 12-07-2015 at 11:35 PM.

  6. #5

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    So I've been jotting down notes/ideas that I intend to turn into songs but I break down in the process and never really finish it through and through. I really need to learn basic song forms for jazz.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by docbop View Post
    ... He was talking to Stevie Wonder once...
    In all seriousness, I like the fact that Stevie Wonder can't read music but can understand it.

  8. #7

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    Creating music has nothing to do with reading it. Think about it. When the first caveman, or woman, started creating wonderful and fantastic music, they weren't writing it down. The people who had to write it down were, nine times out of ten, those people who were trying to figure out what the truly gifted were doing. That's my guess. And I'm not putting reading down! Reading is very important!

    I'm a writer. What I discovered for myself is to trust. Don't hesitate and don't put what I do down. I need a bridge? Don't fuss over it. Write a bridge. It might not be the greatest, or it might be. Just like playing jazz. Play a chorus. If I get bogged down into whether it's good or not I've stymied myself. The first order of business is to finish it quick. I've spent my whole life cultivating my taste. Finish it. I can ALWAYS go back and change it. Chances are I really did finish it. Most of the time I end up with the version I started out with.

    I think that relates to what Stevie was saying. I just don't write that much. I keep most of what I write. They're not Stevie Wonder songs though! LOL.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
    Creating music has nothing to do with reading it...
    I understand what you are saying and I agree for the most part. However, composers like Beethoven might disagree with the above. Seeing is one thing as far creating music goes - not being able to hear is a whole different realm.

    I dig Stevie. FWIW, I sight read very poorly but still enjoy composition. I also enjoy technique. I am always striving to do better at both, but there is no end game. I find that refreshing.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by jasaco View Post
    I've heard it said about writing songs, "The first 100 don't count..."

    Having said that, I'm friends with Julie Gold, who wrote "From a Distance". I don't think she wrote hundreds before that one popped out, almost fully formed... Sometimes ya gets lucky.
    I've read Gregg Allman played his first songs for brother Duane and Duane dismissed song after song after song after by saying what other song they were too derivative of. The first song Gregg wrote that got thumbs up from Duane was "Midnight Rider." Worth all the false-starts he went through.

    As for "sometimes you get lucky", I think that's true too. There are "one-hit wonders".
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  11. #10

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    Don't know if it's true or not, but I heard that John Lennon used to write a full song with the catchiest hook he could come up with for the chorus. Then he'd throw away the verse, turn the catchy hook into the verse, and force himself to write an even catchier hook to replace the chorus.

    Also yeah... you just have to write a lot. As often as possible. For a long time.

    Thanks for the Stevie anecdote Doc. So true. I've heard similar things said by MANY of the greatest pop and jazz composers. Cool to be able to add Mr. Wonder to that list.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by lammie200 View Post
    I understand what you are saying and I agree for the most part. However, composers like Beethoven might disagree with the above. Seeing is one thing as far creating music goes - not being able to hear is a whole different realm.

    I dig Stevie. FWIW, I sight read very poorly but still enjoy composition. I also enjoy technique. I am always striving to do better at both, but there is no end game. I find that refreshing.
    I don't think Beethoven would disagree in the least. I can only guess. The PROCESS of CREATING music has little to do with writing it down. Writing it down has to do with putting it in a form others can play. Two entirely different things.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes View Post
    I've read Gregg Allman played his first songs for brother Duane and Duane dismissed song after song after song after by saying what other song they were too derivative of. The first song Gregg wrote that got thumbs up from Duane was "Midnight Rider." Worth all the false-starts he went through.

    As for "sometimes you get lucky", I think that's true too. There are "one-hit wonders".
    I just checked with Julie and I was mistaken. She had been writing for over 15 years by the time she wrote From a Distance; it was not one of her earlier compositions. So she didn't just "get lucky"; she worked hard for it. (I have deleted the story from my earlier post but since you cited it here, I thought I'd better set the record straight here.)

  14. #13

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    I don't think we should look to the hits as an indication of successful or even good songs. There are plenty of GREAT songs that were never hits and never will be.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by lammie200 View Post
    In all seriousness, I like the fact that Stevie Wonder can't read music but can understand it.

    It's called big ears combined with lots of serious listening and playing.
    No, I'm not going to give you the answer to your question. I don't want to deny you the pleasure you'll receive when you figure it out yourself. -- Bill Evans talking to his brother.

  16. #15

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    Petros Klampanis said to me he always carries a dictaphone. He is constantly singing and recording melodies.
    “When you’re creating your own ...., man, even the sky ain’t the limit.”
    Miles Davis

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez View Post
    Petros Klampanis said to me he always carries a dictaphone. He is constantly singing and recording melodies.
    Phone's make it so easy to do this. I audio and video tape ideas all the time.

  18. #17

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    I've written hundreds of songs. Most are crap, some are good. I learned a great lesson about writing some years back when had the good fortune to spend a little time with Ernest Gaines, the novelist. He gets up every morning (early), gets coffee and a donut and writes for at least a few hours. Often he has nothing of import to say, but he writes every day just to keep the juices flowing.

    I know a few exceptionally good songwriters IMO (I'm not one) and they all practice their writing skills on some kind of regular schedule... just like any good instrumentalist.

    I just came back from a (prose) writer's weekend and the lesson was there again. Write every day without editing... you'll do that later anyway.
    Some days it's not even worth chewing through the restraints...

  19. #18

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  20. #19

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    Good lesson in there, if you want to be good at something you have to a lot of it, so a little is good.
    I'd rather say you just have to do.

    I learned a great lesson about writing some years back when had the good fortune to spend a little time with Ernest Gaines, the novelist. He gets up every morning (early), gets coffee and a donut and writes for at least a few hours. Often he has nothing of import to say, but he writes every day just to keep the juices flowing.


    I just came back from a (prose) writer's weekend and the lesson was there again. Write every day without editing... you'll do that later anyway.
    I don't know... I believe these things belong to one's nature.

    Maybe 'you'll do anyway' in the end kind of elaborated crime or love story or something like that.
    But speaking of real literature there is a great chance you will not do anything worthy.

    I already gave an example of my close friend whom I consider to be one the greratest composers ever (and maracioulously - my friend)... and he composes a small quartet piece every morning since 1994 (or so...)
    Each of these pieces is a unique glance to an enormous universe for me...

    But I cannot imagine he would ever do it for keeping juice flowing. He just does it... probably just because - well however serious it could be - just because it' fun...

  21. #20

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    Petros Klampanis said to me he always carries a dictaphone. He is constantly singing and recording melodies.
    And I got used to forget... I feel it's ok when these things come and go...

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
    I don't think we should look to the hits as an indication of successful or even good songs. There are plenty of GREAT songs that were never hits and never will be.
    That is true. My point was that while some people have written dozens, if not hundreds, of good songs, others just hit on one or two that really worked (-by whatever standard one chooses to apply.) Not everyone who wrote a standard (such as, say, "Willow Weep for Me" by Ann Ronell) wrote 20-30 of 'em.

    I like this line by Randall Jarrell:>>>> A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.<<<<
    Last edited by MarkRhodes; 12-09-2015 at 11:04 AM. Reason: spelling
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by jordanklemons View Post
    Don't know if it's true or not, but I heard that John Lennon used to write a full song with the catchiest hook he could come up with for the chorus. Then he'd throw away the verse, turn the catchy hook into the verse, and force himself to write an even catchier hook to replace the chorus.

    Also yeah... you just have to write a lot. As often as possible. For a long time.

    Thanks for the Stevie anecdote Doc. So true. I've heard similar things said by MANY of the greatest pop and jazz composers. Cool to be able to add Mr. Wonder to that list.
    i don't know if it's true, but if you listen to some of those old Beatles records and dig just how good those little 2 minute pop tunes were, it's believable!
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  24. #23

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    Sxhuber once came to visit his friend Vogel (who was a singer) - and he had to wait for him to come out... while waiting he composed a song on piece of paper quickly and in while he said to Vogel's wife that he would probably come by later and left (leaving the manusript on teh table).

    Vogel found the song and performed next evening where Schubert also was - and Schubert forgot it and could not recognize and began to ask who composer was...


    Schubert kept a piece of notepapet next to bed because he could wake up in teh middle of the night - put down the song (the whole one not the idea!) and go back to sleep

  25. #24

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    I would start off by reading Tunesmith by Jimmy Webb. It's a good entertaining read and covers a lot of ground. Without giving the whole book away, writing a song a day is part of the puzzle.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by DanielleOM View Post
    I would start off by reading Tunesmith by Jimmy Webb. It's a good entertaining read and covers a lot of ground. Without giving the whole book away, writing a song a day is part of the puzzle.
    An excellent book that should be read by every musician.

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by jasaco View Post
    I've heard it said about writing songs, "The first 100 don't count..."
    I've heard that, too - often enough to make me slightly crazy.
    The assertion is simply too facile - when it is not that simple at all.

    The relationship between volume of output and quality of product is certainly no automatic natural thing. Does the volume of e-mail chatter and texting guarantee that a person will become a great writer? Of course not - all that is guaranteed is they will become slicker and quicker at dashing off crap texts and e-mails. Few people become good writers however much they write - they just become increasingly fluent with bad writing - it doesn't mean that a person will automatically develop expertise.

    From looking at the work of a few people who have been studying expertise*, what becomes clear to me is that the crucial developmental thing about really getting better is not just doing more, and doing it more often, but working creatively at the growing edges of our competence. That's the thing that makes the difference.

    When working at the edge of their competence, more expert people go about things in ways that result in their learning still more. They seem to revel in maximising the challenges in their task.

    Poorer writers, on the other hand, approach their task in ways that minimize opportunities for growth. Their end goal is to reduce all problems to the point that they can be handled easily within their existing competences. And once a problem is sorted, they consider it eliminated - only they haven't actually learned anything new or improved an inch. They make poor progress however much they repeat the rituals... and however many songs they write.

    But novices who go about their work in the same way as experts do - i.e. in ways that result in their learning still more - make significantly much swifter progress than those who don't.

    So it is less about how much we do, how many songs we write, that makes us better at it, but how we go about it.

    Our process is what counts the most. Do we settle for the problem-reducing approach of working within what we already know? Or do we adopt the progressive problem-solving approach that fosters improvements?

    More significantly and consequentially than simply doing it a lot, those who are really good at whatever they do appear to share these following traits in their process:
    1. They structure their practice around generating problems and trying to find solutions.
    2. They view each work as a novel problem which demands novel solutions.
    3. Their novel problems entail the partial negation of similar-looking prior solutions and/or knowledge.
    4. They are very consciously aware of their own knowledge-building learning processes.
    5. Their self-critique and self-evaluation and knowledge-revision is an ongoing constant.


    It amuses me also that the romantic way we are brought up to think about creativity generally makes expertise itself, in the popular imagination, seem almost like an impediment. Throwing base statistics into the mix ("The first 100 don't count") is a pointless piece of smoke: if none of the first 100 were any good, you can bet the second 100 will be about the same - unless you've severely shifted your process.

    Numbers mean nothing.

    How many hundreds of songs did Lennon and McCartney write?
    What were their first one hundred like?
    Were they any good?

    I rest my case.



    * researchers whose work I took a look at - if anyone is interested - were Rita di Ghent of York University, and Carl Bereiter & Marlene Scardamalia of the University of Toronto and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
    Last edited by Lazz; 12-09-2015 at 03:49 PM. Reason: syntax polish

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lazz View Post
    The relationship between volume of output and quality of product is certainly no automatic natural thing.
    This is true. But so is the following: if you write no songs at all, you will write no good songs. Anyone who actually writes 100 songs---even if none are great, or much above pedestrian---will know a good deal about songwriting.
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  29. #28

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    I've heard " I write a song every day" and " I've written thousands of songs" forever and Just can't relate to those statements. I think writing a bunch of inferior songs is nothing to brag about.

    I view songwriting as a craft as well as an art. Once you have the craft down, you simply don't finish writing songs that aren't going to be good.

    I'm not saying that inspiration doesn't have anything to do with it but you have to know how to develop a good idea, and that takes discipline, experience and a lot of hard work and self criticism.

    ( I've been a BMI songwriter since '78 and have 7 original albums, a bunch of songs on other people's CDs, and some airplay over the years..)

  30. #29

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    Yes, I have to agree. Except creativity sometimes is a muscle you have to keep well oiled. Too many metaphors that don't mix well. Sorry.

    I've written a lot of songs that have done pretty well. I'm not prolific. Almost everything I write gets used, or on a CD. I just haven't had the reason to write. But when I do I just write and it seems to come out pretty well. I can not write for a few years and then write two songs out of the blue and I really like them. I also went through a couple of periods where I just wrote and wrote and wrote. I couldn't avoid it. But that's also when I had my own working original jazz band that was depending upon my music and a record contract that was depending upon my music. I had a purpose. And although I have a new CD just coming out, I'm not sure how in demand my writing will be. So I don't really have a purpose to write. But I have no doubt I can when I decide to. I don't think you HAVE to e well oiled and write every day to write good songs.

  31. #30

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    I think what can be (and should be) developed is the ability to switch yourself to necessary condition...

    you cannot control the source of this spring but you can rake the leaves away daily...

  32. #31
    destinytot Guest
    The lines below are part of a much longer - and (significantly) much darker - piece.

    It's only taken a moment to write them, but it's taken a lot of raking - chapeau, Jonah! - and cultivating (of my own garden) to feel comfortable about framing my message in a way that is unashamedly (if not unfashionably) positive.

    These lines might not change anyone else's world - but they're already changing mine:

    Let your song
    Ring on
    Let it rise
    Anew
    Lift the world
    Beyond sorrow
    Shine tomorrow
    A brighter shade of blue
    ©Mike McKoy
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  33. #32

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    I thuogh tfor a moment it was George Benson )))

  34. #33
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Jonah View Post
    I thuogh tfor a moment it was George Benson )))
    I wish

  35. #34

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gilpy View Post
    I view songwriting as a craft as well as an art. Once you have the craft down, you simply don't finish writing songs that aren't going to be good.
    Yes, once you have the craft down, but getting it down takes the making of many mistakes. (I love the line attributed to physicist Niels Bohr: An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.)

    That said, I think some people who are experts at songwriting write tunes that are not up to snuff. I don't think anyone knew more about writing popular songs than Irving Berlin but not all of his songs were really good ones. Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Willie Nelson and even Ellington have their share of not-so-good stuff.)
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  36. #35

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    I think there is a certain modern dynamic at play when we think of songwriting, because since Dylan and the Beatles, the industry has been very much about artists writing much of their material and being strongly identified with it.

    The flip side is that there has always been songwriters whose main purpose has been producing songs for whatever market the publishing/music industry has needs for. I find that involves another level of craft, because we enter the realm of professional songwriting.

    The catalog of the great American songbook was produced by such songwriters, guys who went to work, sat at a piano with a stack of paper and hacked away at it everyday, writing Broadway shows, etc.....

  37. #36

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    One thing to think about are the influences that spur creativity. Reading fiction and poetry, or anything else if lyrics are your thing may help. Listening to different types of music such as violin concertos, or anything else outside of what you are intending to play may help. Interesting visual experiences, or designing in general may help. These types of influences may spur something much deeper than what ends up being derivative if you are already locked into a processing mode. I make my living as an architect. Days when I am designing are usually good days for composing something later on when I get home. I may still play on days when I feel like punching walls at work but I probably end up just practicing technique.

  38. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo View Post
    I think there is a certain modern dynamic at play when we think of songwriting, because since Dylan and the Beatles, the industry has been very much about artists writing much of their material and being strongly identified with it.

    The flip side is that there has always been songwriters whose main purpose has been producing songs for whatever market the publishing/music industry has needs for. I find that involves another level of craft, because we enter the realm of professional songwriting.

    The catalog of the great American songbook was produced by such songwriters, guys who went to work, sat at a piano with a stack of paper and hacked away at it everyday, writing Broadway shows, etc.....
    There's some carryover there, as Carole King (and Gerry Goffin) and Neil Sedaka and Burt Bacharach, Leiber & Stoller, and many others worked for a time at the Brill building. Some of them had hits with their own songs....
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  39. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes View Post
    An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.
    I like that.
    Last edited by Dana; 12-11-2015 at 07:43 PM.
    Check out my new book, Essential Skills for the Guitarist on Amazon.

  40. #39

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    I think if you have a talent to create verse (a poet)...and play an instrument, combining the two should be a doddle....L...