Monday, April 4, 2011

The Chorus Petal

What is your preferred mehod for writing a chorus? For that matter, what is your preferred method for writing songs in general? Do you write whenever the muse strikes you, or are you more disciplined about it?

There are probably as many ways to write songs as there are writers. There really is no “right” way, there is only “your” way. But by studying the working methods of others and copying some of their methodologies, you might be able to work yourself out of a rut.

This week, I'm going to tallk about how I write and what my process usually drifts towards. Maybe you'll find something useful, maybe you'll think that everything I do would be like putting vise grips on your creativity. If you think what I'm doing sucks, by all means post a comment and share with all three of us your process so that we all might learn from it.

First of all, let me encourage you to keep a book of titles. Whenever you think to yourself “I think that would make a good song title,” write it down in the book. Some people in Nashville like to call this book their “Hook Book.” If not an actual physical one, keep a document specifically for titles in googledocs, or if you are a person that believes that google is swaying more toward the evil side than the good these days, you can use Zoho Writer , or some similar online office application should be just as good. You could even set up an OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Word Document, PDF, textfile and  or other such page in a perpetually synced  folder with Dropbox, so it would always be accessible from any machine you set up Dropbox on. Again, I prefer to leave the thing in online storage because I just want this document to be accessible from any computer, anywhere.

I think my current list of titles has something like 30-40 in it. When I decide to write a song based on one of the titles in this document, and actually finish it, I use the strikethrough option and cross it off.

I work from the title backwards through the song. So, I take the title, and from the title, I usually have a feeling about whether the song will be a verse/refrain or verse/chorus type of a song. If it's a verse/refrain kind of a song, I start thinking about the story I want to tell and try to figure out what kind of a rhyme scheme would set that off the best.

If it's a verse/chorus song, I start to write the chorus. 

...And this is the part that is hard to teach someone, because it's all about taste. 

I remember in a songwriting class in college, the professor (I believe it was Jimmy Kachulis) asked the class why they thought the chorus is called the "chorus" when generally only one person is singing it. I liked his answer: he thought that is was like classical Greek drama.  In ancient Greek drama, the chorus is a group of "homogeneous, non-individualized performers, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action."  (wikipedia) In other words, the chorus serves to comment on what is going in the play, and often, the chorus provides us with insights about the character's mental state that we wouldn't have through the character's words.  Sometimes, and I think this is the key:  the chorus serves to give voice to the audience...asking questions the audience should be asking here was Jimmy's point: the chorus is called the "chorus" in popular song  because that's the part where the voice of the audience is heard--where the singer is accompanied by the voice of the audience,  functioning like the classical Greek chorus.

That's your job when you write a chorus: to make the audience sing along with it so they will REMEMBER it. How do you do that? There are several ways: 

Writing the chorus is about contrast--in all ways. The harmonic rhythm of the chorus should be different, the harmonic structure should be different, the range should be different. The chorus should be more intense. Generally, the way you make the melody more intense is to put it in a higher register.  Think about that as you're crafting your chorus. Make it catchy, make it memorable. Make it so people can't help but sing along with it. 

Don't be afraid to try EVERYTHING. Do not be inflexible in your conception of what your chorus should be...that way there be dragons.  Try it all. Rewrite the thing so that the hook appears in the first line. Write another version where the hook only appears in the second line. Write a third version where it appears in both the first and last line. Write a fourth version where the hook is repeated over and over again.  Then, let your taste be your guide and go with the one you think is the best...but  only after you have explored all the possibilities.  

Also, keep this in mind- the chorus should be the distillation of what the song is supposed to mean. The chorus should contain the "world view" of the song, and all of your verses (and your bridge, if it comes to that) need to point to the chorus, needs to reinforce it, sometimes casting it in a new light in different verses. Make sure all your verses work well thematically with your chorus. 

Keep a hook book, in some form or other...write some choruses, paying close attention to the above....rewrite your chorus a lot. Make it kick ass.

This week:
Finished recording "Felt Like Flying."
Reading the Silmarillion.
Working on a sound alike recording of a Guy Clark song.
Working on recording one of Jodi's songs so she can get it critiqued tomorrow.
Went to writer's night Saturday....did ok....forgot some words, forgot some chords...but did relatively well. 
Haven't sold my kidneys yet...but I think I'm about to ;-)
Guy Clark
Lyle Lovett
Townes Van Zandt
Tolkien Professor

No comments:

Post a Comment