Song Sketches

The Birth Of Songs

I have no idea how others do it.  All I know is that there is an uncountable number of ways to make words and music into songs.

Some KLB songs are the marriage of a poem and an idea for a piece of music.  Some start with the words and the chords reveal themselves from the feel of the subject.  Finally others happen all at once; The instrument, the words and the way the song should go, arrive at the moment in time, flowing from some unknown source.  The spontaneous ones are the most demanding.  Almost all of the tunes work on me for several days before they settle into an arrangement.  I can’t say I work on them, but I do have respect for the needs of the song, by making time to return to them, again and again, to meet their demands.

Paper & Pen

When I write music for mandolin, I often throw away the idea of chords, instead searching for the sounds that the song asks for.  On the four doubled strings of the mando, it’s not uncommon to use chords that that can be interpreted in several ways on other instruments.  This approach makes it possible to write in an unhindered way.  Chords can often be prescriptive, but I don’t think they don’t have to be.  In my note papers  I have lots of notations that suggest a simple tablature instead of named chords.

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The Sketch Tracks

I don’t always do this, but I find it important to record a quick audio copy of a song, once the basic shape of it is known to me.  I have a super-basic recording arrangement at home, where I’m able to sing and play, capturing the essence and outline of a new track.  These sketches generally sound terrible, but they really help me to communicate songs to the band, especially new members and guests.  It’s nice too, to have a record of the origins of a song when I need to bring myself back to the reason I wrote it in the first place.  The first time a tune gets recorded, particularly if it’s really early in the process, it often has a special, indescribable quality, that can never be recreated.  For this reason, sketch tracks can be very touching.

Song, Meet The Band

Over the years, I’ve discovered that musicians all have favourite ways to have their charts done.  Some people, just want the chords, some want words, and some just want CDs so they can make their own, and learn the tunes independently.  I remember giving my first charts to seasoned professionals who were sweet enough to say nothing about them being so awful!  On other occasions, I’ve given very good charts to musicians who were very discouraging, so I’ve had to take the time to learn and redo all my tunes in very clear notation.

The first time my band sees a chart, it is a test for me to see if I’ve done them properly.  They always catch my mistakes, and I love them for it!  We often spend time figuring out what a chord might be depending on how it fits in the song, and how I’ve introduced it on the mandolin.  It’s important for the chords to be very clear, so on the charts, they appear a point or two larger than the rest of the type, often in a very dark red, almost black, bold type.  By adding colour, the charts communicate more.  I use blue to title the choruses (Chorus1, Chorus2 etc.) because I always feel like a chorus has a “blue sky” feeling to it, relative to the rest of the song.  The verses, I title in bright green, because I like the way they are the part of the song that grows and changes as they go by.  Any other sections, I title in super-bright red, because I’m aware that they’re the exceptions to the rest of the tune.  These are things like, intros, outros, bridges, or any other major extras in a song.

Everyone does charts differently, and short of scoring the tunes into sheet music, there is an art to making a really great all-purpose chart.  I’m still learning, and I have no doubt that I’ll meet musicians with notation needs I’ve never encountered before.

Dear Musicians

Your Turn!

Please tell us your experiences with charts!  How do you like to make them, or get them?  Do you prefer to read music, or learn just from recordings?  What are your experiences learning songs directly from song writers?  In the Leave-A-Reply section below, please leave a note.

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