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Songwriting Thoughts

SONGWRITING Thoughts         (October 2006)

Norm Habel writes words to an existing, well-known tune. When I write tunes to his lyrics I usually don’t know what tune he’s used. But it means he writes to a pattern, and it’s worked well for him. (I doubt that Bernie Taupin does, but I guess others do.) When I’ve written melodies to Norm’s words, I sometimes repeat phrases or add words, e.g. ‘Anna’s Song’: Lift this child, lift this child to the night’. Sometimes I’ve done 2 verse patterns to the same size group of words: ‘Will you be coming home this Christmas?’

You can sometimes give an old song new life by keeping the tune, & the start of the words, but then diverge: O dearest Jesus, One by One you call us home.

Writing new words to an old tune —will the new words win, or the old tune?
The tune may be too well-known, the new words not strong enough to forge a new identity. The old words people know to the tune may be too strong for what you write.

PATTERNS :  rhyming patterns, scans …. (the right terms!?)

O Sacred Head tune (TIS 339): rhyming pattern very strict – ABAB CDCD
American Tune (Paul Simon): ABAB CDED, loose rhythmic pattern in 2nd half of verse
Give us a new beginning (Mann) ABCB

For you deep stillness
It has a long continuous melody, no repeats, no rhymes.
In the original words there were rhymes/repeats in the 1st half (‘for you’).
The repeated pattern ‘for you’ & the rhythm of the words lead to the tune.
Like ‘Yesterday’, the words ‘choose’ the melody.

Teach me your way
No rhymes. It has a long melody, both in the verse & in the chorus.
Only one phrase - ‘devoted to you’ – is repeated in the chorus.

Real food, real drink
Repeated phrase in the chorus plus the balanced ‘given for you, given for me’ at the end.
The verse is ABCB

You are the prisoner
AABB. It also has the repeated phrase in lines 1 & 4, plus the balanced phrases in line 4 – ‘prisoner/free’, ‘brought down/raised up’. Verse 5 doesn’t have this pattern & has slant rhymes – it’s a verse of conclusion, a separate statement.

You are invited

When the verse words are ABCB, the 2 B musical phrases are also identical, or balanced – 2 echoes!

Lord of all hopefulness
AABB. A long melody, but a balanced one.

I use ABCB a lot. E.g You were in this place

Until you open my eyes
The verses have fair few rhymes (some of them ‘slant’): AAB Cx2 B
But the chorus has no rhymes, but repeated patterns in the music & words.

Anna’s Song
Words: ABCB. The first line is repeated at the end of the verse
Music: repeated pattern x3, then repeated pattern x2 followed by a tag that picks up the end of the first phrase.

Christ be our light has no rhyming lines, but a repeated title phrase in the chorus

We are sorry has no rhyme in lines 1 & 2 of verses, but then has the short rhymed lines 3 & 4, followed by a short repeated phrase.
The earlier tune doesn’t fit the emotion as well as the 2nd one.
The confessional verses are more tentative, less confident, than the originals. The bridge, the absolution, rises, giving a positive, confident mood. Then it returns to the first tune, a quiet but positive prayer. The ‘we are sorry’ sounds sorry.

Then I will praise you
Verse 1 is AABB, V.2 & 3 AABC. The chorus is a repeated phrase.

Listen to him
Verses: ABCB; chorus AAAA (though slant rhymes)

God. Version 1.0            AABB, some slant; 11,11,11,13
Tune: AABC, but repeated patterns

Wherever I go  Repeated short pattern in the chorus: ABCB
Verse: ABCB; Bridge ABCB.
The chorus is a prayer to God/Jesus: ‘I’m going with you … You walk at my pace … You’re still here’. V.1 is all prayer to Jesus, v.2 is, with an introductory 2 lines. The bridge is a continuation of the prayer, though not as obviously.

You don’t need an instrument to make tunes. Little kids make up tunes quite unselfconsciously. This may be changing with the constant presence of TV & other media. We can do the same. You can of course just put new words to an old tune – a joke version of this is seen each week on ABC’s ‘Spicks & Specks’.

Father Welcomes:  Chorus ABCB, though A & C are a slant rhyme, so maybe ABAB.
Verse: AABC, though again there’s some slant rhyme, especially v.3.
The chorus is a confident statement of faith in what God does for all humanity.
V.1  is God reassuring, inviting. V.2 is a faith statement of what happens in baptism. V.3 is encouraging one another to live up to our baptism.

Let your word fill my days: the chorus is a prayer; the verses move through a sequence: 1. Setting the scene 2. Jesus healed – are we involved? 3. God has spoken! 4. Listen!

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