Sunday, September 24, 2006

The meat song

I've just posted my second song in response to the song per week challenge. This one is titled "The Meat Song." In looking back over my song list, I realized that I have only been posting serious songs. This is definitely not one of those.

I've also added a note on my site asking for feedback. So if you visit my site, please let me know what you think.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Zoe Lewis - A must see

Last night we saw Zoe Lewis in concert at Swallow Hill. What a pleasant surprise. I knew nothing of her music, but her bio stated "a worldbeat vaudeville extravaganza of clever songwriting." I couldn't pass that up.

This had to be one of the most entertaining shows that I've seen in a long time. Not only was the music great, Zoey is an extremely animated performer, who's stories are as entertaining as the music. She was also accompanied by Arthur Lee who is an amazing accompanist and good drummer (unfortunately I don't know her name).

A few things that stood out. Her songs were extremely creative. One song about spreading someone's ashes in the bay has the hook (no pun intended) "help me catch a fish, help me catch a fish, Geraldine." Another about people who play characters in Disneyland, "the day Show White used the F word." She also does one called Tadpole Puddle, that you'll need to hear to appreciate. Her lyrical density was very high (a lot of words in line, close together), yet she delivered each word clearly. Behind her lyrics she had and excellent groove going on, such that we'd probably be dancing even if we couldn't understand the lyrics. She also played a variety of instruments (guitar, piano, harmonica, ukulele, spoons...) along with vocal trumpet. Adding Arthur Lee and the drummer, there was no way you could get bored. On top of all that a witty and somewhat eccentric personality, you get great evening.

From a songwriting perspective, I was very inspired in how she turned events in her life into such interesting songs. You could tell that she really thought about each experience and there was nothing phony in her songs. I've been struggling over one song for the last few days and realized that I drifted away from the personal meaning in order to make "a better song." Last night I saw the value in sticking to the personal connection. I also got inspired in how upbeat her songs were. I've started a number of humorous songs, but always put them aside for my deeper, more serious ones. In her music, I was reminded of the value that music has just makes you smile.

Songwriters should definitely check her out!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tapping into the creative spirit

In my weekly lesson with Ben Senterfit we discussed where does good songwriting come from?

We discussed that the greatest creativity comes during periods when you're outside your comfort zone (i.e. during an emotional time). How often do you hear about intense creativity following a break-up, death, or in my case losing a job? These times can open the way for great creativity.

In teaching canoeing we try to challenge students beyond their comfort level so they are open to learning. You need to be careful, however, not to push too far or they stop learning and only worry about survival. In music, when I learn new chords or riffs, I typically get a new song. If the chords are too difficult, I spend all the time trying to do the chord right (i.e. survival). For lyrics, tapping into the emotions inside you (pain, insecurity, and happiness) is typically outside my comfortable level, however, this is where the creative energy lies.

Yesterday I learned a new base run on SongU. Today, I had lunch with old colleagues who stirred up some emotions. On the drive home, I came up with the idea for a song and in 45 minutes I had a song. It still needs a little work, but I hope to post it next week on my website.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

When the talking stops

I just posted the song "When the Talking Stops" on my website. I'm pretty excited by the process I used in writing the song because I was able to employ many of the new tricks that I just learned. For example:
  • Harmonic contrast by having the verses starting and ending on minor chords (giving it a dissident sound). The chorus used major chords (lighter sound).
  • Each line of the verse was a different length, adding lyrical contrast.

My songwriting experience is getting richer now that I have the tools to better express myself.

A song a week

Songwriters: A Song A Week. Could You Do It? This is the title of an interesting article today on the BloggingMuses site. One thing of note was that not only did the author write a song a week, he posted that song on the web, and one of his songs hit paydirt. Pretty cool!

This is a great way to get the muse flowing. I wrote my ideas on getting the muse to flow a few weeks ago. The cool twist is putting a song on the web each week. For me, getting a good recording can take awhile, so I'm impressed.

I'm taking this article as a challenge and will do my best to post a new song each week. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Meditation challenge

I'm challenging myself to develop a musical accompaniment for a meditation. I will speak over the music, however, the music will also need to stand alone.

To get started, I started listening to music that folks use for meditation. The first thing I noticed was a good melody and very smooth transitions. What became immediately apparent was that lack of dissidence and minimal change of pace. Since the goal is soothing, the music needs to flow like the meditation.

I've been experimenting with a variety of different approaches and am still working on smoothing out my transitions. I'm fingerpicking, because that gives me better control and avoiding hitting one note too hard. In a mediation song, any of mistake is magnified.

The last approach I'm trying is chording with the guitar and a Native American flute for the melody. I'm still not great with the flute so this is going to take some work.

I've got three weeks to get this accomplished. I better meditate on it!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Working on melodies

Over the last few weeks, I begun to focus in on my strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter. An area that needs improvement is my use of melodies. I typically find a chord progression and then sing over that progression. What typically happens is the melody follows the chords.

Below is the process I'm using to start working on melodies.

- Chose a simple three chord progression and played this progression four times (i.e. four lines of a verse).
- Chose a matching scale and played lead over the chord progression
- Selected some lead phrases from that scale. For the melody, I repeat a phrase for the first and second lines, moved higher in the scale for the third line, and then transitioned back to line one in the fourth line.
- Match my voice to the notes in the phrases
- Next step will be to write the lyrics (easier said than done)

The outcome of this process is a melody that I never would have come up with by just singing.

New songwriting column

My column, "Still Learning After All These Years" was just launched on the Muse's Muse website. This is one of the best songwriting sites, so I'm really excited to get the exposure.

I've also had some of my songwriting articles reprinted on the BloggingMuses site. Pretty cool.

It's great to get all this exposure. Now I have to get back to work on my music.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Using lists in songwriting

At Song School, Annie Wenz, talked about using lists for funny songs. The idea was to list funny items or to use in leading up to a punch line. In Lyrical Devises I class at SongU, the ideas was discussed of using lists lead to the hook. Hook placements were suggested as the last line of the verse (earlier verses were listed items) or the chorus (with the verses being listed items).

In thinking about this, I often write lists for brainstorming and idea development (for example: how would I feel, what I would see, ...). However, I didn't think of just using the listed items as lyrics. I'm working on one song that this is basically the case. With this thinking in mind it will be easier to finish.

Music by the river

Julie and I have always been looking for opportunities to hear acoustic music in Golden. We have some, but for such a cool town, there should be much more.

So I had this idea, start informal music in an outdoor amphitheatre along the river in Golden. This amphitheatre was built by the Rotary club last year, and so far hasn't been used much. So yesterday Julie, myself and James (a local songwriter) spent a few hours playing along the river.

It was interesting, people would stop and listen, a few would sit, but most were trying to be unobtrusive. It was like they wanted to listen, but weren't sure they were invited. Kids were much better, they would walk right up. One little girl was obviously fascinated by the violin and stared at Julie for a long time.

This was our first try and something we'll do again.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Lyrical contrast

I've decided to register at SongU and am taking a class each day. So far, the classes are on material I already know to some degree, so I'm going through them quickly. However, they're helping me gain a deeper understanding which I can immediately apply to my songwriting. I'm already working on my third song this week.

Shameless plug - If you register for SongU, please use me (Jeff Oxenford) as a referral.

Today I took the class on lyrical contrast. The course described 4 types of contrast:

1) Rhyme scheme (A,A, B,B) vs. (A,B,A,B)
2) Rhythm (long phrases vs. short phrases)
3) Pronoun contrast (I/me vs you/she)
4) Details (descriptive in verses, general in chorus)

The class describes how to use these and the discussion forums provide a multitude of example from students.

Now its time for my homework, write a song applying these ideas of contrast.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Commercial songs

I just took my first course from, titled Song 100 Commercial Song Forms. I was a little hesitant in signing up, however, this was well worth it.

The first thing I learned in making a commercial song was the need to find the balance between making a song easy to remember and keeping a song interesting. I've always been more focused on what I was trying to say, rather the listener remembering my song.

Another point was on using repetition lyrically and musically. For different song structures there are tricks on where to repeat the hook or song title. As a writer, I've looked at repetition as boring, so this is a different perspective.

"Don't bore use, get to the chorus." I've heard this many times and this class adds that "you need to get to the chorus in less than 1 minute. " To get there quicker, some songs only use one verse before the chorus or even start the song with the chorus.

The main message I got from this lesson, was to write more from the perspective of the listener. By doing this you have a greater chance of having them remember your message and, of course, having a commercial song.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

When the muse flows

I've completed three songs this week and have the concepts laid out for two more. There's a few sections I'm not happy with, but on the whole am quite pleased. As soon as I can make a good recording, I get them up on my website.

At Song School, Pat Pattison, recommended writing a song every day, even if they are crap. He stressed that good things will happen if you just get into the habit of writing. Based on this weeks results, I agree (except that course none of my songs are crap).

I've done a a lot of things to open the flood gates. These are:

1) Devoting more time to songwriting
2) Inspiration from Song School
3) Writing every morning
4) Learning new chords and music composition in private lessons
5) Listening to closely to other artists
6) Quieting my mind through yoga and long walks
7) Reading about songwriting

I'm going to ride this flow for as long as I can. When it drys up, I'll go back and do the rewriting.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hiking my way into a song

I have been getting in the habit of writing lyrics or an idea for lyrics each morning. On Wednesday morning, I started to write but realized my heart wasn't into it. So instead, I put the dog in the back of my truck and headed to the high country.

About an hour into what turned out to be a three hour hike, I remembered one line from the morning. For the remainder of the hike, I fleshed out the idea in my head, came up with a few verses, and even a few different approaches to the same song. When I returned to my truck, I picked up a notepad and in 15 minutes outlined the lyrics for the song. I couldn't remember all the ideas, but had a good start.

One part of me wishes I had the notepad or tape recorder with me on the mountain. Another part of me thinks that the absence of these items allowed my full creativity to act. Either way I had a great hike!