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Songwriting - It's a Piece of Cake!
By Paula Carpenter - 05/25/2009 - 12:45 PM EDT

Copyright 2009, Paula Carpenter, StarBright Music & Creative Group

Hey again to everyone!

As you probably know by now, the theme of my column is WHY NOT ME? which is generally intended as a positive motivating idea. Still, every now and then it occurs to me that I need to address that catch-phrase from the flip side – is there something standing in your way that might PREVENT you from reaching the songwriting excellence you’re after? Don’t we need to sometimes think of Why Not Me? with a big emphasis on the NOT? and then take a hard look at the negative and try to resolve it? Yes we do. We need to address the NOT, so that you get by that roadblock and onto a faster track toward your goals -- to look at the problems, so we can figure out how to solve them.

So to that end…let me just ask you…how’s your form? The songwriting form, I mean. Could the overall form your songs are in, or lacking, be the big KNOT in your otherwise smooth line approach to successful songwriting? Because it could be that you have EVERYTHING imaginable going for you – great ideas, work ethic, a viable plan, personality, commitment. Everything, that is, except an extremely excellent handle on cannot-do-without SONG FORM.

Because see…this is true across the board: even though songwriting ideas are as numerous as there are fish in the sea, birds in the sky, people on the planet…songwriting FORM is made up of several absolutely tried-and-true formulas. These formulas each have variations on their themes…but essentially, there is a formula to write songs that almost always works.

‘Formula’ is a word that doesn’t sound very creative…but it’s a fact that commercially viable songs in our culture must have a logical, meaningful pathway into our brains and hearts…and song FORM is the vehicle for logic. Let me put it another way:

It sounds simplistic, but we all love a beautiful, tasty CAKE!

What if your ultimate SONG is a CAKE you’re wanting to bake. Go with me here. What’s the goal? If we’re talking CAKE, isn’t the goal that the people who’re going to eat (enjoy, experience) your CAKE are going to taste it, relish it, love it, digest it, and then remember it? (and an obvious aside…that you will profit from their enjoyment…but we’re talking about the basics here, long before you get to the profit part).

What if the song idea, title, phrases, hook, rhymes, syllables, etc… are each an ingredient in your CAKE BATTER? What if you mix up all the ingredients of your batter…and are so VERY excited about the idea of your intended cake-eaters enjoying it! Wow! You’re brimming with thoughts on how the cake-eaters are going to savor your hard work! (And if you are a PROFESSIONAL cake-baker…you’re excited about making money!) So…you get out the ingredients, measure each one out carefully, combine them in the batter…and then…you…



Now WHY on earth would you do that???

You’ve got all the good stuff: the desire to bake a cake, the time and the work involved in baking it, the ingredients that goes into the batter…then you spend the time, go to the effort, you put them together… and pour it onto the FLOOR?

No way! You wouldn’t ever do that!

Well…that is EXACTLY what you do to a song when you combine an idea, a title, some rhymes and phrases…but you don’t have a viable FORM to carry your idea off.

You may as well write your song and throw it in the trash!

TO AVOID THIS WASTEFUL SCENARIO --- In baking, what would you need? You would need a CAKE PAN, a FORM, like…is it going to be a BUNDT cake? An oblong sheet cake? A TWO-TIERED round layered cake? With icing in between?

Ok…you see where I’m going here.

Songwriters, the CAKE PAN in our BAKING analogy…is SONGWRITING FORM.

You can no more do without a formula for songwriting form – the form that makes SENSE of your ideas, title, hook, rhymes – than you can do without a cake PAN when you’re baking.

So…if you’re full of song ideas, inspiration, good intentions, business plans, ministry motives…whatever it is that gets YOU going – be aware that in order to REACH YOUR GOALS…you gotta have great SONG FORM.

Don’t waste your time and energy writing songs that have no viable form – no matter how GREAT your basic seed idea may be. There are proven ways to etch a memory on people’s hearts and minds with your songs…and to do that, you need to study forms.

The basic song forms are well-known to experienced, successful songwriters:

Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus (and all it’s variations, sometimes w/bridge, etc)

And another of my favorites:

AABA, aka: Verse Verse Bridge Verse (and it’s variations)

I’ll address each of those in detail in coming columns. Even though you may have read/heard about these before…it’s worth repeating. Get your form down! A must.

Don’t ever take the time and trouble to collect the ingredients and mix up the cake batter without knowing the shape of the pan you’re going to pour it all in! ‘Cause when you don’t have the shape in mind, the batter is almost useless.

Here are some basic ‘cookbooks’ from some great songwriting ‘bakers’:

The Craft of Songwriting: Sheila Davis

The Craft and Business of Songwriting: John Braheny

Songwriting for Dummies: Jim Peterik, Dave Austin, Mary Ellen Bickford and Kenny Loggins

Songwriting: Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure: Tools and Techniques for Writing Better Lyrics: Pat Pattison

And there are so many more…Google a search and buy the ones you deem the closest to answering YOUR particular needs.

(note: I don’t know the authors personally & do not benefit from recommending)

Let me encourage you on the path to songwriting success: Learn your basic songwriting forms…and you’ll find that…


Please…join me on the songwriting journey – read my past articles here at MusesMuse “WHY NOT ME?” and stay tuned for the future ones!

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