S.A.C. Songwriting and Blogging Challenge - Week 3 - "Sober Second Thought"

This was the challenge;

"It’s easy to get caught up in using the age-old forms when writing a song – Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus. Yes, it works, but sometimes you can freshen up your writing and find yourself going down new pathways if you mix it up a bit. Something as simple as starting with the chorus like so many Beatle songs did (‘Cant Buy Me Love’, ‘Please Please Me’) and like Maroon 5 do in ‘Payphone’, can pull a listener in very quickly because they don’t have to wait for the big hook.

Using odd line lengths or unexpected rhyme schemes can get you out of a rut too. Remember – you can always get back in the box and colour inside the lines another time!

1.  Identify your common songwriting ruts.  Why are these structures/forms comfortable for you?
2.  Write a song that breaks 1 or more of these “rules.”
3.  Have fun writing outside the box!"


1: Songwriting Ruts:


- writing with an "instrument in hand" - I tend to try out lyrics while playing an instrument (or with background music) to hear how they sing, and if the words have the right feel.  For me it's an iterative approach.  Melody and rhythm gives me inspiration for lyrics. I tend to write songs piecemeal, usually by starting out with a melody idea, and then finding a lyric seed to plant the song (either a phrase, word, etc.) that manages to evoke a feeling for me with the music.  From there, I'll sit down and try to hammer out some lyrics.  Then I'll go back to the instrument of choice and try how it plays.  If I like it, then it stays, otherwise I'll ditch the idea (while still keeping a copy of the original lyrics, because you never know...).  Once the song has taken some sort of real shape, then, I'll sit back and reassess what I've done, to try and ensure that there's a cohesive thought and that I'm not repeating ideas.


- going to familiar chords/shapes/melodies - when I play familiar chords, then I don't have to think too much about where my fingers are going, so I'm not distracted by clunky playing.


- familiar strumming patterns - similar to the familiar chords rut


- familiar picking patterns - ditto


- standard tuning on instruments - I'm a bit intimidated by alternate tuning. 


- writing from a "melody first" point of view - I'm very comfortable coming up with melodies


- Developing the chorus first, and then trying to develop a "story" around the chorus - once I feel I've got a good chorus, I feel like 90% of the work is done.


- writing songs in Standard format - verse, chorus, bridge.



2:  Writing the song.

I found this challenge really pushed me.  I thought to start off that I would chose a song to emulate that would be way different from the type of song that I usually write, and then I would write all the lyrics first before trying to put them to music.  I thought that using Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" as some sort of template would be interesting for lyrics. 


I'm very familiar with the song, and have done the head bash thing too many times to count, but this was the first time I'd actually tried to understand how the song was structured.  And I failed.

Luckily Google has many answers, and after a quick search on the song structure of "Bohemian Rhapsody", I came across a very interesting blog: (http://andything.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/notes-on-notes-an-in-depth-analysis-of-bohemian-rhapsody/). 


This introduced me to the concept of something called  "The Hero's Journey" and "The Monomyth".  This format has been used in countless times to tell stories, and probably one of the best examples is Star Wars.  Essentially the model is that the Hero accepts a call to adventure and travels from the "known" to the "unknown".  While in the "unknown", the Hero faces many challenges, is subject to a revelation and transformation, and then eventually returns from the "unknown" to the "known" a changed person.


After reading about these ideas, I decided to write a song using "The Hero's Journey" as a template.  I chose as a title "Sober Second Thought", from a previous week's challenge.  This phrase to me evokes thought of the Canadian Senate (which has been much in the news recently). 


In a nutshell, the song is a story about a character who is in a lofty position in society who has become corrupted.  A "mighty wind" of discontent removes this person from their position and is harshly scrutinized and picked over.  It's a song of redemption and second chances, so eventually the character actually goes through a transformation and returns a changed person.


Although there are some oblique references to the Senate (such as the title, and also "Curia" actually means "the Senate house" in Latin), it is not my intent for this song to be solely about the Senate.  I was hoping to try and capture the feeling about this being a song about any significant institution in society.


After writing the lyrics, I sat down to try and make some sense of how the music might go.  It was a real challenge to try and emulate "Bohemian Rhapsody" and move through the story without repeating musical sections.  One neat thing I started working on was to try and use my voice as the sole instrument for some of the sections.  It really gave me a chance to work on my "vocal chords"!


3.: Putting the "mental" into experimental


I'm happy that the challenge has been completed, but I can honestly say that it took a lot of hard work.  I felt like I was stumbling out of a rut and into a ditch while trying to complete the song.  That being said however, I feel I've learned a few new tricks and will be looking forward to Week 4's challenge.


A recording of the song can be found on my SoundCloud page (https://soundcloud.com/matt-gerber).



These halls,

Have seen them all,

They've watched them rise,

They'll watch them fall.


From the great plains come a mighty wind,

To shake the apples in the trees.


Should not the fruit that accepts the worm be cast down?

Its flesh be tread upon and be exposed to the sun?



The sun shines on all of us,

The best and the worst.

The sun shines on all of us,

The blessed and the cursed.

The sun stays uncorrupted.

It illuminates and casts no doubt.


Scavengers do their part,

Take every scrap 'til even worms lose heart.

A wasted core alone and bare,

Just left lying there.

Perhaps through kindness or coincidence,

A seed may find itself,

And, underground, take,




In the peaceful quiet nurturing ground,

The transformation starts.

Towards the sky it goes,

As it slowly grows

A noble monument.




These halls have seen,

These halls have seen them all.