Assignment Zero: 25 titles, names of songs you might write someday, appealing word combinations, subjects etc but compressed into one short phrase.
Song Assignment 1
1. Write a song based on a desire, about a person, place or time that you long for: someplace you would like to be, someone you would like to see, a time, or something you long to do. Compose the words as vividly as possible, so as to make a very clear picture of your subject, that appeals to the senses. Examples of this type of song are the Byrd’s Chestnut Mare, the Beatles’s Strawberry Fields Forever, etc…
[Remember, while writing:
a) Use colorful, interesting, descriptive words.
b) Sensory level : evoking taste touch sight smell hearing, plus the ” inner sense” of feelings:
figures of speech
metaphor & simile
c) Try to avoid cliche. Keep writing sense bound and original.
d) verse development.
e) also, be aware of sound: alliteration, assonance, long and short vowels, long and short tones. Use contrast.]
Assignment 2: Create a memory song of a particular moment,with particular people, in a particular place, real or imagined. Use simple chords. Paint the picture, as vividly as possible, using imagery, the language of the senses. Use a real melody, or talk, just make sure it’s convincing.
1) Write a song speaking “to someone that isn’t there.
1) Do several ‘sketches’ in song of another person, or persons, or
2) Do a full portrait.
The point here is to show how putting the focus on others can lead to some great songs. Sometimes the song can be an ode, other times you may want to create a satire. Often it’s just a simple sketch of our experience with someone. On the other hand, if so moved by another’s story we can compose a full biography or ballad. Anyway you go, observing other people and writing about them can open up a dynamic field of subject matter for songs.
Assignment 5: Write Like Mad (invention)
1) Write several more verses for ‘this land is your land.’
2) Write 10 more blues choruses for one of the Joe Turner Songs
3) Come up with a new verse for Bob Dylan’s ‘Sad Eyes Lady Of The Lowlands.’ Now also do this with any favorite song.
4) Come up with a simple idea that lends itself to long invention, and write the song.
5) Find the John Keats poem ‘Endymion’ (try John-Keats.com) and read the first 40 or so line. Look through it and read a few parts. Check out the task of invention that he set himself here. As I said, this poem, though not recognized as great in its own right, JK on the path for much of his greatest work (The Odes.)
Assignment 6: atmosphere
1) Find three or four songs that you love the atmosphere or feeling of and see if you can notice specifically how the feeling is evoked.
2) Write a song establishing an atmosphere as best you can. This can be regarding a specific memory of an event or a dream, or an atmosphere in your imagination. Use concrete language, very little abstract language, that is convey the feeling without telling about it.
3) Songwriting has quite a bit in common with painting, a subject that we can discuss in the class. It’s much to the best to see Turner’s paintings, but a visit to this site in the meantime is could be a good idea, if approached with imagination. http://www.william-turner.org/the-complete-works.html
[Examples for Assignment 2: people, place, and time]
1) create one-line sentences that frame the sense of PP and T for
the first stanza of poem/song etc.
Not unlike M. Gilmore who once wrote, tell stories like you are describing the
rooms you used to live in, like a walking tour. Immerse. Root.
2) create a song using some of the lines from part one. try to summon a picture and a feeling, then move it forward, developing over 3 verses.
Use a chorus, or refrain. Only use a few chords.
Borrow if you have to, but complete a piece.
Here is an example of step 1:
Rockford: IL, a rust belt city where the guys walked around with stumpy fingers
flicking ash into the beer cans from endless cigarettes, or gave themselves tattoos
in garages with pulled-down pretty painted doors, or road motorcycles into Yield signs,
pummeling their faces.
The Ensmingers: The kind of family that bought old 1960’s Mustang with rust-eaten holes in the floorboards,
planted peanuts and pear trees in the backyard with bird baths and and dead buried
guinea pigs, and played basketball on the warm drive-way until dusk
awakened swarms of eager mosquitoes.
1989: The sound of metal “hair band” ballads swooning across the FM airwaves in hair-spray
glitter and excess spun from Hollywood boulevard nights until Nirvana let loose flannel shirts, duct-taped drum sets,
and teenage spirit, sweeping the spandex under the rug.
Imperfect, no doubt, but at least you’re seeing a literal and figurative rootedness, a sense
of immersion, so when the writer crafts the song or story, these elements may persist and leak over
into the narrative, providing context and a field of association…
here is another example, the same type of work in rough meter and rhyme:
christian came over to try my door
someone I’d never even seen before
and marc was a good guy into sports
he had a big heart it was made of quarts
his girlfriend amy always looked so sad
when she finally broke away guess that made her glad
the gang came by sunday afternoons
playing bongos and pots beat with serving spoons
we always sang a brand new made up song
with our shirts on backwards and our hats on wrong
Victoria was a grown up mystery child
she could put the why back into wild
the cottage was a big piece of varnished wood
if it ever caught fire it’d go for good
the place had highstools and a built in bar
like livin’ inside of a big guitar
Sherman Hensley lived next door
he kept drivin’in and out but I don’t know what for
there were snakes and coyotes owls and coons
by midnight you’d see ’em by the light of the moon
i’d sit on the rug sometimes +
wish that they’d all go home
sometimes a songwriter needs
some time alone
another example, different rhyme scheme:
marianne came in from the Jesuits school
horned rim glasses and skinny as a pole
14 years old with long straight hair
that hung down to her waist she had teenage soul
marianne had a mad way of laughing
she’d surprise you with her force and size of glee
she’d confront me with the facts I wouldnt let no other
she was the perfect match for me
we lived in a small town around a small village
one edge was farmland and the other was steel
everybody knew everyone else’s business
and to the cops it was personal out on the street
Part 2: Now find a chorus for your verse.
Write a song about a fight, a love affair, or both.
” A poem or a song about any kind of a fight will catch most every eye that can read.
A song or poem that tells about a love affair, legal or illegal, will catch most every eye & ear that can hear.
The fight can be one that leads up to a love affair, or your song can tell about how a love affair led up to a fight. Love affairs & fights are all tangled up like dry leaves in a spider web.”- Woody Guthrie
“Write like mad.”
1)notice what you notice
2)catch yourself thinking
3)observe whats vivid
4)vividness is self selecting
Leonard Cohen talks of spending two years on his average song: “not that they’re so great-thats just how long it takes” -to really mine the core of what it was that got you excited in the first place -’cause the job could be to create a song you can care enough about to really sing a number of times.
COHEN:”I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly,but I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is.
I find that easy versions of the song arrive first. Although they might be able to stand as songs, they can’t stand as songs that I can sing. So to find a song that I can sing, to engage my interest, to penetrate my boredom with myself & my disinterest in my own opinions, to penetrate those barriers, the song has to speak to me with a certain urgency.
To be able to find that song that I can be interested in takes many versions & it takes a lot of uncovering.
…to penetrate the chattering & meaningless debate…(that is my ordinary state of mind)…I have to come up with something that speaks to my deepest interest. Otherwise I nod off in one way or another. So to find that song,that urgent song, takes a lot of versions & a lot of work & a lot of sweat.”
Don’t think of words when you stop but to see the picture better.”
“Take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts.”
“The world is a hellish place, & bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.”- Tom Waits
“Make it new.” -Ezra Pound
“If we don’t show anyone, we’re free to write anything.” -Allen Ginsberg
“You have to be aware of your dream before anyone else is.”-Dylan
” There is absolutely no inevitability, as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.”