Thursday, July 06, 2006

Learning is done at home

"On stage, play what you know. At home, play what you don't know." That was the sage advice I heard tonight during my lesson.

I learned this lesson last weekend when trying to sing for friends in my new and improved way. Unfortunately I haven't internalized this skill yet and ended up sounding worse (if that's possible).

I know this lesson from teaching canoeing. I start whitewater students on a lake to learn the skills. Even if the students grasp the skills on the lake, once they get on the river (i.e. under pressure), they revert to old habits or mess up on the new stuff. Under pressure, normal folks revert to survival instincts or ingrained habits, rarely what they just learned. My advice to students is go back to the lake over and over again until the technique is second nature.

The same goes for performing, the learning should be done at home. When you get on stage or even singing for friends the pressure increases. Trying something that is new is asking for mistakes. To minimize the mistakes, do the learning at home.

Of course swimming is part of whitewater canoeing and so is making mistakes while performing. Just have fun....

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Good tips

I ran across some good songwriting tips on the site, While the main purpose of the site is to sell their book, the tips section has some good ideas. A process they have for writing their song starts with:

1) When you start a song, define what you want the listener to feel. Why are you writing the song?
2) What's your title?
3) What's the message you want to portray?
4) Who's singing? Define the character (age, mental state, picture them)
5) What are you trying to say in the verse, chorus, bridge?

My song the Foundation Stands used this formula. I started with a picture of an older wise- looking black man in a spartan apartment, with a cross in the background. With the events of New Orleans so clearly in my mind, I wanted to sing from his perspective about loss, and also faith represented by the cross. The words "foundation stands" came quickly and became the key to the song.

Some other tips that I picked up were:

The first 2 lines in a song are the most important in grabbing someone's attention. If they don't speak to you, why should you continue to listen? The song Storm Clouds starts with:
Storm clouds arising
Light dancing in the sky
This portrays the mood of an approaching storm or sense of urgency that I wanted to set in the song.

Chosing the song title is very important if you want people to remember your song. I've always struggled with getting a good title, but I at least got it right in a few examples below.
  • In a verse/bridge style song (V, V, B, V) the title should come from the first or last line of your verse. I use this in my song Here I am.
  • In a verse chorus song (V, C, V, C) the title should be the first or last line of the chorus. The Foundation Stands is a good example of that.
  • If you repeat a line a lot, the title can be that line. We did that in the fun song I did with my daughter, Going to the River.

I've also used titles to help convey my message that might be missed if I'm not around to explain the song. Not necessary a good way to have the title remembered, but I'd prefer to educate my listeners (did anyone say folk music?). Examples are Ode to the Canyon and Contridiction Blues.

Space for songwriting

I had a conversation with a friend describing that since my girlfriend moved in I haven't written many new songs. He remarked that it's a very common . He mentioned that he knows a number of people that need to go away from their home to write. Even though he lives alone, he was thinking about renting a cabin in the mountains to get away from the distractions.

I've heard the same concept from Lisa Loeb during song school last year. She was under pressure to write a single. To do this she stayed in a hotel and rented a conference room for three days. The result was the single that got her on the charts (sorry can't remember its title).