What was Charlie Parker hearing?

Despite the lofty title and its implications, this is not a full analysis of the thought processes of one the greatest players of Jazz. Instead, it serves as a placemarker for further discussion and thought.

Many years ago, I was reading up on the players I was studying (as any good student of music does and I still am and therefore I still do). I came across a quote from the man himself, that was then explained:

I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That’s when I was born. (c. 1939, quoted in Masters of Jazz)

and another similar quote from Bird:

I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes I could play the thing I’d been hearing. I came alive. (1955, Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya)

The explanation given was that he wasn’t dealing with the lower parts of the chord (read that as functional – 1 3 5 7) rather he was creating melodies using the upper parts of the chord (the extensions, 9 11 13). This all seemed feasible and even likely as Bebop was such a departure from the Swing music that preceded it. However, even a cursory examination of the melodies and solos by Mr. Parker showed that he didn’t seem to really discriminate. Yes, he did use these extensions and even as Steve Coleman explains, the upper structure triads that include these notes, it didn’t seem that this was the factor that set his melody writing apart.

Analyzing the head to Blues for Alice was the lightbulb moment for me. I was isolating the voiceleading of the melody (the first 4 bars in Concert Key: F E D C# A G Eb Db C) when I remembered part of the quote “high notes of the chords as a melodic line” – and in this case, the voiceleading line was, for the most part, the highest note. They also featured arpeggios and scale notes that seemed to be “backing them with appropriately related changes”. Indeed, sometimes the notes that fell on beats 1 and 3 forming the voiceleading or structure of the melody were 9ths and other extensions. But for the most part, they were root notes, 7ths, 3rds, 5ths or altered 5ths.

The view that I’m attempting to put across is that the normal interpretation of Charlies Parkers quotes don’t always fit. While he did use extensions, the one concept that does hold true is that of the main structure of the melody line is the highest note.

I do intend to take this article further and show examples from his repertoire. I do welcome contrary views or other interpretations in the comments.


Making friends with theory

While I’ve been teaching some of my students and even hanging with other musos, I’ve ended up with the impression that music theory is an unwanted visitor in an otherwise enjoyable past-time. But all of these guys want to improve and learn more about music. To me it seems like this a contradiction. So it occurred that the term ‘Music Theory’ conjures up images of long boring music lessons at school that seem detached from making music and huge books with antiquated rules and exercises. More like an Old Uncle who preaches at you about what’s wrong with your generation rather than a friend you want hang out with and help you make better music.

When you think of your friends, you probably think of your common interests, their personalities as well as what they add to the group and what activities you can do together. In short, you share a mutual respect for each other.However, when you think of music theory, it may be a combinations of seemingly pedantic distinctions and a hard slog through book after book, learning useless rules that don’t appear to have any relation to what you do. You often don’t know the ins and outs and details of your friends lives (what time they go to bed, what brand of toothpaste they use) except for a select few – your bestie, your BFF.

In reality, you use theory all the time but discount it as simple knowledge. Knowing the notes on your instrument is theory but essential to playing and all other theory. You probably want to follow the idealistic trail and be an all rounder in all areas of theory. While noble, it is probably better to be pragmatic about it and just learn what you are interested in. You are unlikely to be able to sustain the hours of reading and application to your instrument required to become proficient in all aspects of theory this year.Instead, find an area you’d like to know about, for example, notes on your instrument. This is something most instrumentalists need more of. if you can’t name any note instantly you need to improve. Start with one you know and move chromatically, the practical is playing the notes and theory is accidentals, the naming of them including the enharmonic equivalent. Even just the distinction between ascending naming of notes and sharps and descending naming and flats is theory you will explore.

If that paragraph bored you and you skimmed it then feel free to stop there. This topic is not going to be your best friend. If this is something that made you grab your instrument then it is worth meeting and having a coffee with this theory. You may find getting deeper into it with lead you to scales Circle of Fourths (and Fifths) and a whole bunch of related theory.

I believe that the only theory you need to know is one you can use in your playing. There’s not much point exploring just intonation and the harmonic series if you play accordian. As it’s a fixed pitch instrument incapable of playing the ancient system of pitches and more suited to the modern system of equal temperament that allows us to play in any key and modulate to produce music that wasn’t possible a thousand years ago.

You may prefer to know more about song forms, that is the order of verses, choruses, prechoruses, bridge, intro, outro, links/turnarounds, and the six common forms see https://earwormusic.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/song-forms/ https://earwormusic.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/song-forms-2/ and https://earwormusic.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/song-forms-3/ for more. Or how the fibonacci series and the golden mean relate to writing and sing forms. more on this one in a future post.

A good teacher can introduce you to theories you’ll need to better play your instrument and recognize which might make for a lasting friendship, but the exploration and getting to know more about the subject can be done with just you a book or the internet and a respect for an interesting topic.

Introduce me to some of your friends in the comments below.

Should I Self-Produce my Album?

A couple of months ago I wrote about what impact a producer can have on your recording, from selecting and arranging songs, overseeing sessions and sometimes engineering and mixing the recordings and even helping write the material. Whether you’re indy or on a major label, the producer takes on the stress of time and budget constraints and navigates all aspects of the business, from marketing, budgeting to technical etc.

On the question of whether you should Self-Produce your album (or EP, whatever), there are a few key questions you should ask yourself:

Do you know anything about marketing?

Do you have experience in recording?

Have you worked with session musos before?

Can you speak the speak with engineers?

Is saving money the only reason you’re thinking about self-producing?

Even if you answered yes to all of these, it doesn’t mean you’re ready to make the plunge. You also need to consider that you are doing this for an artist with their money and their reputation – and that artist is you and you may not be the best judge of your own work.

Some general tips:

Be brutal – you may have to make some tough decisions that compromise your artistic vision – don’t be precious, do what is best for your budget/sound/sanity. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – in fact, where the budget allows it, hire the best. Their guidance will make you better at what you do. Compare your work with the best – whether it’s mixing, mastering or artwork, you will benefit from having high standards and direct comparison and being brutal with your critique should make up for what you lack in experience.

Figure out your market
This is the first thing you need to do. For marketing purposes, you need to know who your fans are. For creating a sound you need to know, not only who to sell to, but how to position your sound and what the expectations of that style are. You can’t do too much research on this.

Some Common Pitfalls
Thinking that marketing is some kind of yelling from the mountain-top to make people buy your product/go to your show:

“Hey Guys – We wanted to thank you all for coming out to our last show. We appreciated you guys being there and hope you can make it out to our next show at…”

See your fans as one person that you do it all for – it will help you understand their story and how it intersects with yours.

Over/under-estimating the value of your art

Not knowing the strategies that other artists use – whether they are similar to you or not, you should be able to pull apart Beyonces marketing campaign and why it works if you’re to understand how to market your folk band.

Record the music
This is the aspect that you’ll automatically concentrate on but each aspect relies on the good execution of the others to function. You need to be objective when listening to your own songs, accept any criticism from others and improve your songs without being precious. Some engineering and mixing knowledge is essential whether you are doing it yourself or just working with a professional.

Some Common Pitfalls
Making everything BIG!!! If you listen to hits from any era, you may find that there’ll be three or so instruments or elements that are fat, bright, loud while other instruments are supporting these ‘stars’.

Leaving decisions until later – partly to blame is the modern recording studio with computers that can save it all whereas tape limited you and forced you to have a plan. Vocals – Vocal production is probably the most important aspect – that’s the bit that people relate to the most, and understanding the various techniques and sounds that aren’t necessarily apparent when listening to other peoples music.

You’re not the best judge of your work!

Cover Design
This isn’t just a pretty picture, in fact the picture probably shouldn’t be pretty – what’s more important – people seeing your mug on the cover (although it is good for your ego) or to instantly understand what your music will do for them and to want to listen to it. The artwork lets potential customers know what to expect from your music – so start with broad strokes – metal albums don’t generally have flowers and a pony on the cover. Check out what big brands think when trying to sell you cereal you don’t need, colour/font/message are factors in these decisions.

Some Common Pitfalls
Typos – yep, something that shouldn’t ever happen but does, a lot. Not print ready art – between bled edge, CMYK and DPI this is a minefield for the uninitiated.

Getting a friend who hasn’t dealt with a printer before – see above – you’re better off getting a rush job from a pro than laborious work from someone inexperienced.

Do you know the difference between replication and duplication? Replication is a professional process that creates a CD by molding the disk to be an exact copy of the original master. Data cannot be added or changed in this case. Duplication, on the other hand, refers to burning data to a disk, as is done in home computing. Replication is cheaper and more reliable for larger runs as burned CDs can still have errors that older players have trouble playing. As for Digital Downloads as an alternative to physical copies, sure you potentially reach a larger audience but now we’re into the streaming vs download debate – streaming generates (next to) no income, but people may not already be aware of your music enough to want to buy it. Before you say YouTube, they are heading in the same direction as Spotify…

Some Common Pitfalls
“I can just burn this at home, right?”

If, after all of this scare-mongering, you’re still keen to produce your own music, go for it.

What does a producer actually do?

Play this list of songs while you read the article:

Ok, it’s time for that question that even some seasoned pros will sometimes ask…

What does a producer actually do?

Phil Ek describing his role as “the person who creatively guides or directs the process of making a record, like a director would a movie. The engineer would be more the cameraman of the movie.”

In fact, the role has changed over time, so it will also vary from producer to producer and even project to project. Once upon a time (1950’s and earlier), the various jobs of the recording and marketing process had been carried out by different professionals within the industry: · A&R (artist and repertoire) managers found potential new artists and signed them to their labels; · professional songwriters created new material; · publishing agents sold these songs to the A&R people; · staff engineers carried out the task of making the recordings in company-owned studios.

Producers now typically carry out most or all of the various production tasks themselves, including selecting and arranging songs, overseeing sessions (and sometimes also engineering the recordings) and even writing the material, although it became a common practice for producers to claim a writing credit even if they did not actually contribute to the song.

Working with a producer

One of the most overlooked aspects of the producers job is focusing the artistic vision. Whether it’s a fledgling artist who needs guidance in developing a mature sound or finding a core audience; a ‘personality artist’ who has none of their own songs; an artist who writes songs, plays on them and has an idea of their market and direction; or even an RnB artist who needs a fully formed track to add their lyrics and/or melody on top of; they are all guided by the producer to allow the audience to connect with the song.

Often they will act as an intermediary between the artistic and technical worlds – straddle the artsy side (I need a more ‘orange’ sound [remind me to tell you that story one day] ) with, for example, the sound engineer (which microphones to use, ‘try the Neumann U87 on this piccolo’).

Logistics – a session doesn’t just happen – someone needs to book the engineer (and choose the right one), book studio time (at one with all the necessary tools for the session and the right budget), book and pay session players (musicians that are appropriate for the style, how long to spend on the project.. etc. And you guessed it – the producer does that too.

So, how does this help me?

Well, now you’re more in the know about what they do, you also need to hear the effect the right producer can have on the music.


You’ve undoubtedly heard of Sir George Martin – he pioneered new rock arrangement and recording techniques with The Beatles. Phil Spector is famous for his unique ‘wall of sound’ found on countlesss records from Ike and Tina Turner to The Beatles (Listen to Let It Be and the ‘Let It Be – naked sessions’ to hear his influence and the bare recordings without his input for a perfect comparison).


Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), Max Martin (Karl Martin Sandberg), Benny Blanco (Benjamin Levin), Shellback (Karl Johan Schuster) and RedOne (Nadir Khayat) can all be lumped together as the guys (singly and collaboratively) who regularly create the modern pop sound that hits number one on the charts regularly. Love it or hate it, these guys have serious craft that keep their work rolling in.


Some producers have an instantly identifiable sound that cuts through regardless of the artist or genre. Listen to the work of Mutt Lange (Robert John Lange) (particularly compare the Lady Gaga song ‘You and I’ with any of the releases by his then wife, Shania Twain). You could also look at another sound palette he works with by comparing Def Leppard albums such as High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania, Hysteria and Adrenalize with Acca Daccas Back in Black. John Shanks produced both ‘The Climb’ by Miley Cyrus and ‘All I Want To Do’ by Sheryl Crow – see if you can spot his signature sounds. One producer was put on the map by working with Taylor Swift in the early days – he originally was doing her demos before the ‘real’ producers would come in and re-record the songs. In a commendable act of artistic integrity, Swifty insisted that he be the one to record her album and then the 3 subsequent albums – Nathan Chapman. Also listen to the ‘Two Worlds Collide’ album by The McClymonts for more of the same.

‘No’ Sound

Joe Chiccarelli and Rick Rubin are actually each well known for their transparent sound, that is, they don’t bring any pre-conceived ideas or techniques in the each production but rather work out what they need for each artist. Check out Boy and Bear/ and Johnny Cash’s last album, American Recordings/Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, respectively.


The Glam Rock movement wouldn’t be the same with out the Chinnichap (Nicky Chinn, Mike Chapman) formula. The Smeezingtons (Ari Levine, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars [Peter Gene Hernandez]) aren’t well known, but you’ve definitely heard their work…

Multiple Producers

Sometimes an artist may need to straddle two camps to reach their target audience. For example, Michael Buble released his 2009 album, Crazy Love with individual contributions from David Foster, Bob Rock and Humberto Gatica – each of them bringing their own sound and arrangements.

I hope this has given you an idea of what the role is, as well as some interesting listening homework. Until next time…

How to improve your songs BEFORE you record.

Welcome back to another installment of Sonic Boom – exploring all things musical (not like Cats the musical, that was terrible). Some of the topics I approach in this months dribble will use some of the ideas explored in previous articles about songs forms and catchiness, so feel free to read through previous issues.

Let’s set the scene – you’ve written a song, you love it, your mother loves it and you want to immortalize it. I know it sounds silly but how well do you actually know the song? Have you made conscious decisions about the song, to the point that you know why you’ve chosen this chord instead of that chord, why the title is memorable or all other phrasing options for the melody?

Now when I say that you should have your song polished before you record, I’m talking about the final recording. Demo recordings are the easiest way of workshopping ideas, reflecting on them and comparing them to the style of song you want it to sound like. Whether it’s Jazz songs in a similar feel, Country songs by an artist you admire or Pop songs that lasted the test of time this is a tried and true method of working out how it fits in the genre.

Some of the work you can do that is normally done by a producer, includes looking at the chord progression and it’s relationship to the melody to determine whether is supports the emotion and lyrics. For example, using minor chords will give your song a melancholy sound whereas major chords may sound happy. Similarly, if you’re aiming for a more aggressive sound you might use chords that put the melody in the fifth (like, say a D melody note over a G chord). A love song might sound better if you use third relationships (for example, a D melody note over a Bb chord). Some songs capture the wonderment of endless possibilities by actually using chords that don’t contain the melody note – a D melody note over an F chord would achieve this. For more of this, listen to A Whole New World from Aladin (I know, I know, but the writers used seriously good craft in this song). Harmonic Rhythm is another factor in how the song comes across to the listener. This is simply how fast the chords change, so sometimes you can experiment with new chords in the second half of the bar with the original chords. (And keep in my mind that sometimes you’ve picked the right chords the first time around, but there’s no harm in experimenting).

One of the most elusive factors in writing a song is the phrasing of the melody – where the main meaningful words of the lyrics line up with key notes in the melody and how long they are held for. Of course, speaking the words as you would normally say them in a conversation will give you the most natural phrasing. That doesn’t always mean that it’s the sound you are after. Experiment! Another thing you can try in most popular styles is the interplay between vowel and consonant sounds. Classical training and conventional wisdom dictates that you sing the vowel sound (A E I O U) long and start and end it with a short consonant – Looooooong. Contrast that with a Jazz approach that has crept into Rock and Pop occasionally, whereby you swap that idea, so that now you have a long consonant (the ones that work best are F, L, M, N, S, SH, and V) and a short vowel – Ssssssssshort.

Practice incessantly… Try different options with the above ideas and other concepts that change the mood and feeling of a song to find the perfect combination that says what you are trying to say. Especially in the lead up to recording the final version. If you have at least tried all the ideas you can think of, you will find it easier working with a Producer and you will definitely move quicker.

What makes a song catchy?

What makes a song catchy?

This article is both a continuation and departure from the last series of articles where we studied the different popular song forms. Now, I want to focus on common themes and practices in songs. Let us first define ‘catchiness’: how easy it is for someone to remember a song, tune or phrase. This is most easily measured by its commercial viability and particularly by looking at songs that are extremely popular.

Let’s look at some of the common features of a song that sells well (presumably because it is indeed catchy and not because the evil music industry has used subliminal messages to trigger us like hypnotized zombie slaves). Typically it has some common characteristics, like when things happen: the length of a song (between 3:30 and 4 minutes) lets us focus on the main hook or ‘catchy bit’ and not lose interest and forget it before the end of a song; the title of a song will occur before a minute has passed and then repeat anywhere from 3 to 30 times throughout; the vocals often start after a 13 second intro (interestingly enough, this is regardless of the tempo or speed of the song). The tempo is usually mid-tempo to fast, and the correllation between how long a song is in the charts and the tempo is shown by how fast a ballad can shoot up the charts, but then not stay up there as long as a medium speed hit.

The lyrical content is a huge factor, in fact 74% of all earworms (the psychoacoustic phenomenon whereby a song is stuck in your head, also known as ‘smurfing’. See? I got you, right…) are songs with lyrics, with jingles (15 percent) and instrumental songs only accounting for 11%. Pop songs take advantage of this and often use well known sayings as their title. Ooh la la, Va Va Voom, Kiss and Tell, the list goes on, just listen to the radio for more. The prominent position of the title is the difference between you trying to hum a song to a Dj at 2am and being able to find it in the record store first time. Essentially the tried and true method is to start or finish the chorus with this word or phrase and not bury it in the middle of a line.

Perhaps the most important aspect is the part that gets stuck in your head and you find yourself singing in the shower – the melody. Sure the chord progression sets the mood for the lyrics to say what you’ve always wanted to say, well timed changes in a song can capture your interest but the melody will embed itself in your brain. Singability is a common rule for songwriters, including having a range that’s practical for the entire audience to join in with to fill the stadium, however this rule can be broken if it’s memorable enough, just think of the Mariah Carey songs that are butchered at karaoke bars because it requires a special talent (and 3 octave range) to pull it off. There is also a trend to add a lyricless hook to a pop song, such as in Katy Perrys ‘Roar’ or ‘Moves Like Jagger’ by Maroon 5 (coincidentally, both produced and co-written by the same pool of producers).

I’ll leave you with a question. Does an artist (or producer) make the fans like a song or do they produce something that contains enough familiar elements? And instead of giving you more to ponder, here are earworms, some of which should get stuck in your head regardless of your vintage or taste in music: Achy Breaky Heart, Macarena, Who let the dogs out, Barbra Streisand, Tequila, Popcorn, Telstar and Axel F/Crazy Frog.

7 Mockumentaries you must watch

One of the cool things about music is that you can learn about it in so many different ways – formal education, experience or even film. Here are my picks and the things I learned about music from mockumentaries:

Waynes World

Everybody knows the scene where Wayne and Garth sing along to Queens’ Bohemian Rhapsody in the back of the car. But what can you take away from this one? A lot of references to pop culture and puerile humour, but specifically, the impact that music has on its fans. Never underestimate the part your music plays in your fans lives.

Walk Hard

This is a clever parody of almost every music doco ever made. From the same actors portraying the characters from age 14 to 70, to the trials they face and the demons that haunt the main character, Dewey Cox. Much like the real artists they are poking fun at, reinvention and adaptation are essential to longevity in the music industry.

My fave quote:

Sam: “And you never once paid for drugs. Not once!”

School Of Rock

While you probably don’t want a hungover washed-up muso living vicariously through your kids, you gotta love Jack Blacks enthusiasm for sharing music with these kids, inspiring a new generation of musicians.


Ok, it’s a stupid movie but I watched this one when I was a teenager, so it probably cemented a few stereotypes about Guitarists, Bassplayers and Drummers. They hijack a radio station to get the DJ to play their demo.

Moral of the story:

Think outside the box to promote your music (but don’t break the law).

Get Him To The Greek

The hero of this film isn’t the rocker, but Aaron Green the guy in charge of getting Aldous Snow to the Greek Theatre in LA.

What I took away from this one:

Any relationship can result in a gig.

Boytown This Aussie film explores the ‘where are they now’ angle on a fictional 80’s boy band that try reform their group but find their fans have gotten older.

Know your target audience.

And, of course:

Spinal Tap

The mother of all mockumentaries about David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls and Nigel Tufnel – Spinal Tap. If you haven’t seen this one, don’t play another chord – go and watch it now. Just the fact that musicians like Eddie Van Halen failed to see the humour in the film as “…everything in that movie had happened to me!” makes it a must see.

The moment that stands out:

Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: …these go to eleven.

Spinal Tap

Here are some serious music documentaries that I recommend to round out your viewing experience:

Sound City

Buena Vista Social Club

Standing In The Shadows of Motown

The Last Waltz

Walk The Line


Song Forms 3

Welcome to the third and final article on song forms. So far, we’ve looked at the first four of the six common forms found in popular music. Click here to go back to the beginning.

To recap; second, third and fourth forms use the familiar verse/chorus idea with either the simplest version of this, alternating the verse with the chorus, or with an added lift (pre-chorus), bridge or both. First form is the only other one we have covered that doesn’t use this concept with the simplest repetition of the same section throughout the whole song.

Now to look at Fifth form, First form was the same refrain (or A section) this one is a particular pattern of two section, AABA. This is a common form in musicals of the 20th Century and therefore a good chunk of the Jazz standard repertoire. Essentially, the majority of the song is made up of the A section with some relief in the form of the B section or Bridge. Usually each section is eight measures in length, making thirty two measures in total. The thing to keep in mind is that neither of these is a verse or a chorus, rather one or both usually contain the title. A common way of extending this form is to repeat the B and last A section, giving you AABABA, found a lot in Jazz ballads. In faster tempi, Jazz songs will usually repeat the AABA chord progression after the melody for solos before returning to the melody at the end.

Some instances where AABA is used to great effect – Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison and All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern.

Sixth form is a variation on the old verse/Chorus concept, yet is different because it hits you with the Chorus right from the start. It is interesting to note that this form can shoot up the charts very quickly but don’t sit up there as long as Third and Fourth forms. This is probably due to the catchy hook and title is right up front, but it can get worn out fairly quickly. There seems to be a lot more flexibility in this form, with some songs like Blake Shelton’s record of “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking” (chorus, verse, chorus, verse, verse, chorus) and Jason Aldean’s record of “Dirt Road Anthem” (chorus, four short verses, chorus, three short verses, chorus repeating) taking a few liberties. What ever works!

Steve Holy’s recording of “Good Morning Beautiful” and “Marry You” by Bruno Mars (Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine) are some popular songs that use Sixth form.

That’s it. I’ve given you an outline of the six commonly used forms: · First Form (AAA (repeat as you need)) · Second Form (Verse (Verse Optional), Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Instrumental, Chorus) · Third Form (Verse (Verse Optional), Chorus, Verse, Chorus, (Bridge) Chorus (with an instrumental before or after the chorus) · Fourth Form (Verse, Lift, Chorus, Verse, Lift, Chorus, (Bridge Optional) Lift, Chorus, Outro) · Fifth Form (AABA) · Sixth Form (Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Instrumental, Bridge, Chorus, Outro).

I hope this has shed some light on what is on the radio and given you some ideas for your own songs.

Song Forms 2

Last months issue saw us looking at First and Second forms, also referred to as AAA and VCVCVCC respectively. Two of the most popular forms, Third and Fourth forms both add sections to expand the story. Click here to go back to the beginning.

Third form, like second form, contains Verse and Chorus sections but what makes it different is the added part known as the Bridge also known as the Middle 8 (which refers to the position in the song and the typical length of the section – eight measures [bars]). The function of the bridge is to add a new perspective to the story and to add a new musical flavour. Lyrically, this might be asking ‘what if…?’, or giving new info that doesn’t fit into a verse structure. A bridge typically doesn’t repeat, but usually leads back into the repeated chorus to take us to the end. When writing a Bridge it needs to be seen as a musically new section, so you typically wouldn’t recycle chord progressions or melodies from verses or chorus but create a new sound. It may dynamically comedown to a quiet reflection of the rest of the song or build with even a key change (like in “Leave The Pieces” by The Wreckers, written by Billy Austin and Jennifer Hanson). Its strength isn’t in a soaring melody and catchiness like a chorus, but in the fact that it is different. In terms of the rhyming scheme, it should also change from what was used previously in the verses and choruses.

Some great examples of this form are; “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson (written by Max Martin, Lukasz Gottwald and Claude Kelly) or “Then” by Brad Paisley (written by Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley and Brad Paisley).

Fourth form is also similar to second form but the new section is known as a Pre-Chorus or Lift. Yep, it’s the short section between the verse and the chorus that provides a ramped up section to prepare you for the gloriously soaring chorus. Usually the pre-chorus is repeated exactly the same each time and similar to the bridge, it should have a unique rhyming scheme. Pre-Choruses often use some literary tricks, like rapid fire internal rhymes (“I stole a whole fruit bowl”) or alliteration (“Lucky lizards lounged while leering at Lucy”). Also, musically it should build and lead into the chorus. It is these types of ideas that make the Chorus seem catchier.

Trends in songwriting in the last 10 or so years have lead to the expansion of this form to also contain a Bridge. Obviously writers only use this when they have a lot to say and it won’t just fit into a couple of verses, a lift (repeated) and a chorus (repeated). For example, “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams, written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.

Some Fourth form examples are; “Roar” by Katy Perry (written by Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee and Henry Walter) and Taylor Swift’s “Sparks Fly”.

Next month we will finish up this 3-part series on song forms with a look at the final two forms – Fifth and Sixth forms.

Song Forms

Edited by Peter Muldoon – Original article appeared in Mouthzoff Magazine

Hey, let’s chat about something you don’t often hear about in depth – musical structure.

Everybody is familiar with the terms verse and chorus, some of you will also know bridge and pre-chorus and some will even be familiar with assigning letters to each different section, such as A, B, C and so on, but their purpose and how best to string them together often seems to be a bit ‘hit and miss’. I suppose we had better start by saying that there are six commonly used forms in music. I’m not dismissing all others, but simply giving a framework to base them on.

When we write a song we’re trying to communicate an idea – not just a lyric and a story, but also a feeling provided by the combination of music and words. If you were attempting to tell a story about a man who was frantically searching for his keys, you might try to reinforce the frustration (we’ve all experienced it) by singing fast and rapid-fire lines while musically switching to a new section at an odd time in the song, just as he would be changing direction after looking in the same places over and over again.

So, to try and understand how the sections of a song can impact the way the story is told let’s look at First Form. At first glance this is the simplest from of all because it’s just the same section over and over. Same chord progression and melody (maybe some subtle changes for each time around); however this can make it difficult to pull off. Not only does the story need to be interesting and develop throughout the song, but the title still needs to be in the prime location so that it is remembered. Typically this is in the first or last line of a section and in this form has a name for the more common-place end line – refrain.

Another thing to keep in mind is the rhyming scheme. For example, if you rhyme the first two lines “I love my fat orange cat, sometimes he wears a purple hat”, then the first two lines of the next ‘A’ section need to follow the same type of rhyme, but not necessarily the same sound, “Breakfast was just toast and jam, for lunch I think I’ll have clam”. This form originates from the 1930s when songwriters were like factory workers and would sit in a small room, working nine to five, cranking out song idea after another and when they came up with a good one they would run next door to the publisher who would then tell them to finish it. The first part they came up with is the bit that would be repeated and played on radio. This became known as the chorus, whereas the ‘rest of the song’ was the verse or the set up to the story. This part usually wasn’t as catchy, memorable or even the same tempo, so was often dropped before it reached the general public.

Examples from that era are Cole Porter’s “I get a kick out of you” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”.

Second Formuses the verse and chorus to drive the song. This is used a lot in rock (with catchy guitar riffs), urban and folk. The chorus is the section that repeats throughout the song and is the memorable ‘singalong’ part, typically with the title in the first or last line. It contains the main idea of the lyrics and the main hook or riff of the song. The chorus chords and melody would normally remain the same on each repetition as would the verse. The verse fleshes out the idea and explains a lot more detail and although the lyrics change for each verse, the rhyming scheme remains the same, again not the same rhymes but the same format. A typical layout for a song in second form is Verse (V), Chorus (C), V, C, Instrumental, C with the chorus repeated until the end. If the songwriter has more to say they usually wouldn’t add a verse after the instrumental, but rather add a second verse before the first chorus – V, V, C, V, C, Instrumental, C, C, C.

Examples of rock songs that use second form are Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and “Maybelline” by Chuck Berry.

When writing any form of song it is important to pace your lyrical ideas so that there is a sense of story with a number of stages. This doesn’t necessarily need to line up with different sections like the verse or chorus. A story that really pulls you in has detail and explains everything before the end of the song so that you’re not left wondering about what happened or why.

Next month we will look at two of the most popular forms, Thirdand Fourthand how they add sections to expand the story.

Edited by Peter Muldoon – Original article appeared in Mouthzoff Magazine