Sunday, August 30, 2009

Songwriting - Coloring your song

At Song School, I had the opportunity to work with Maggie Simpson in taking one of my songs to the next level. Maggie uses a process from acting to "color" a song.

There were a few steps, but one that I remember most is singing a song three ways, with sadness, anger, and then joy. I was singing to Maggie and she mirrored back each emotion . What I wrote as a happy, fun song took on a new dimension as I explored the dimensions of sadness and anger. I realized that the joy rose from these other dimensions and they now had a part in the song. I understood more of what the song was about and added it to my performance.

Another student sang a very sorrowful song. When she sang it with anger and joy the song expanded to a whole new level. The transformation in the song and performance was plain for everyone to see.

This is an amazing process for exploring behind the original emotion that we have when songwriting. It adds new depth and helped me as a songwriter better understand my own muse.

One tip, don't do this right before getting on stage. I was so wrapped up in the joy of the song that I forgot the ending. Luckily the band pulled me out...

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Capos for songwriting - Part 2

Over the last week, I've been exploring one capo position - partial capo, down from top, second fret. At this point, I have guitar parts for four songs and melodies for two. Now all I have to do is get motivated for lyrics.

To create these parts, I use a number of different processes -

1) Try familiar chord shapes until I hear something that I like
2) Explore the key of E scale and let different notes ring through
3) Find the 1,4, 5 chords in different places, add the 6th and 3rd or flat third.

Each one of these processes, has yielded the verse, chorus, and bridge for a song. I'm going to spend another week or two (or until I get bored) with this capo position before moving on. If I get really crazy, I may try DADGAD and a partial capo...

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Capos for songwriting

I just returned from the 2009 Song School. Again an wonderful experience that I'll try to recap over the next few weeks.

I took classes with Justin Roth and Bill Nash on using capos and partial capo. Want to open up your playing, take a class from either one of them. Below is a place to start.

1) Changing the voicing - Using a normal six string capo, you can easily change the voicing of your song without changing the key. For example start playing a E A B pattern with no capos. Move the capo up 2 frets and play D G A. Move it up another 2 frets and play C F G. Same key of E, just different voicing and more flexibility in the fingering.

2) Drop D without re-tuning - You can use a drop D capo, standard capo covering only 5 stings (leaving the low E open), or a 5 string banjo capo to get the drop D sound. If you place it on the second fret, you are really playing a drop E tuning.

3) Short cut or partial capos - If you place a three string partial capo down from the top (A,D,G strings) on the second fret, you can stil play around in E with some open strings open to play with. Hint: With partial capo on two, you need to cover the base on 2 to use the Em shape. Using a Shubb capo (that is not in the way), you can also put it on the bottom (D,G, B strings).

Things get really interesting when you try alternative tunings and partial capos. Bill demonstrated a full sound and some amazing complex songs using Travis picking and just one finger. I won't try to explain, just experiment!

I immediately took our song Saturday Morning and applied this. I had been playing A, Bm, C#m without a capo. With a partial capo on 2, played G, Am, Bm. I then experimented leaving some strings open for a fuller sound. Originally the sound was OK, but using partial capos things really opened up. It was also easier to play. Thanks, Justin - I'm sold!

I see capos as a way to change the landscape of the guitar. New landscape, new possibilities for songwriting.

PS - You can see Julie and I (my best side, with purple shirt) in the front left corner of the picture on Planet Bluegrass' site I really was there!

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