A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Posts tagged ‘song structure’

Temporary Home Song Analysis

I’m in the process of fine tuning my new song God If You’re Listening, which is a Country Christian Christmas Song. As part of that I am analyzing Temporary Home as an example of both a hugely successful song and one that I love, written by Carrie Underwood, Zac Maloy and Luke Laird.  I want to emphasize that I have utmost respect for all of these amazing writers and that this analysis is to help me improve my craft, rather than to comment on theirs, given that they are all hit song writers and I am still working on becoming one.

At the end of this blog I have included a YouTube clip which displays the lyrics, rather than the official video, so you can see what I am referring to in my comments. You can see the official music video on my previous blog here.

So here we go. The first think I looked at was the hook, which is also the song title. It fits perfectly and is repeated twice in each chorus, so you are left in no doubt as to the point of the song. People who like the song will know the title even if they have never been told it. This is of course important for marketing if people hear it and want to buy a copy.

The theme of the song is consistent. It’s all about people who are in diffifult transitions in their lives, but accepting that better is to come, one way or another. I have read some critiques which said that the song is too simplistic, but I disagree.

I understand that Carrie knew exactly what she wanted to write about when she sat down with Zac and Luke during a 2 day writing session. They each drew from their own experiences, and songwriting teachers always say write about what you know.

There is a balance between writing a song that tells you an exact story, complete with detailed imagery, vs telling a story allowing you to insert your own imagery and imagination, being able to make it yours, based around your own experiences. Someone who listens to a song that matches their emotions and experience and has that special moment, wondering, how did the artist know that about me, is going to be a much bigger fan.

The lyric moves between the 1st and 2nd person, building a word picture then making it personal. I really like the imagery of “windows and rooms”, which is sufficient for you to fill in the gaps from your own memory or imagination, getting you involved in the story. The same with the old man. We know he’s in a hospital bed, we know he’s dying, but it is more powerful to not say it.

The only part I would change would be the beginning, with the 6 year old. The words do not belong to a 6 year old, rather to a commentator. What I’m trying to say is that a 6 year old foster child probably wouldn’t have that positive attitude unless it came from the advice of their caregiver. Like Luke Laird, I also had a time when our family hosted several foster children and they tended to arrive insecure and socially inept and certainly not thinking positively about the long term future. But then most people would not notice this and you quickly move on to the next vignettes and the old man situation which so many more of us can relate to.

The structure of the song is excellent whilst again simple. Whatever the critics say, I believe that commercially simple is best. People can learn the song quickly and sing along with it. The melodic repetition also supports this. Most won’t have Carrie’s chops but they will enjoy singing this song. The build from a boy, to his mother to the old man is linear. Carrie’s performance builds to long sustained notes with the song climaxing with the old man dying and the tension is then released in a more subdued chorus. The cadence from the 1 note to the 4 note at the end of each verse builds expectation and identifies the arrival of the chorus.

The arrangement is excellent for the song. There is a lot more in it than you will hear first time around, but ultimately this is a showcase for the power and clarity of Carrie’s awesome voice. Her phrasing makes so much impact on the song, for example “Looking for a way…………….out”. Great sustained notes and some sweet harmonies.

The backing band is tight as you would expect from Nashville, with the vocal taking centre stage, again I understand a Nashville recording prerequisite. There is some nice pedal and as I mentioned, each time you listen you will here something more, which makes it nice to come back to.

I found it interesting that the song runs for 4.29, which is long for a pop song, but probably less noticeable for a country track and one that tells a story. I would have expected a bridge chorus at the end or for the final chorus to go up a note for a final climax, but the writers kept it simple.

So what was the point of all of this?

  1. Just like an art student studies the great artists, a songwriter wanting to write hit songs, has to study hit songs.
  2. I want to write not only hit songs, but songs that tell a story, engage the listening and evoke emotions. The best way to do this is to understand the crafting of songs that I like, that do this.
  3. I am often too impulsive in writing songs, as I mentioned in my last blog. This exercise is forcing me to slow down and rethink the specific song I am currently writing, “God if You’re Listening “.

So my conclusions? I am now going to rewrite my new song again. I’m going to remove the bridge and do a 3rd verse which will be about the husband and father, thereby telling a 3rd part of the story. In my bridge I have moved from the story to a commentary and I’m thinking that this commentary should be coming from the listener, not the singer.

I have also decided, as per my previous blog, to make the performance simple, just lead vocal, guitar and bass. If I do a version with more, it will just be for fun, but I am not writing as a singer songwriter, I am writing for someone else to perform. I believe that the more elements I add, the narrower the appeal will be for someone to pick the song up.

This has been a personal exercise for me, but I hope it also gives you some ideas for your own writing. I would welcome any feedback.

Harmony Assignment

If you follow this infrequent blog, you will be aware that I am studying at Berklee Music. I thought I would share my final Harmony Assignment here. Welcome feedback or questions. This was an awesome paper, led by Shane Adams. If you are serious about your music development I strongly recommend this paper and Shane as an awesome tutor.

I looked at Verse – Chorus, Verse – Chorus, Bridge – Chorus formula, but felt I didn’t have enough verses to tell the full story, so ended up with ABABABCB. It finishes in 3 minutes which I think is a good song length.

It uses verse/refrain with a full cadence which builds and emphasizes the title, which is also the hook. The verse makes use of repetition between 1st and 3rd lines and follows the same chord progression model in the 2nd line starting from the IV chord. The verses in effect make use of the Major-Key I IV Power Progressions.

In the melody lines I am making use of contrasting sections from one progression. I used harmonic variations of a melodic pedal in both the intro and the bridge which you can hear in the backing guitar. I also used a tonic pedal for the bass line on the 1st and 3rd lines of the verses.

The verses and chorus use full cadences from the IV chord to the I chord except at the end of the 3rd chorus, where I make use of surprising parallel key modulation with a D minor, instead of the D Major used in all other choruses. This allows me to lead to the bridge, which is in a different key and correctly placed between the choruses.

I used chord rhythm slightly speeding up the 4th line of each verse to help build power and progression to the chorus.

For coloring, the song is mostly in natural keys representing the happy times of the 5 year old. However the Major 7th’s allow me to introduce tension into the verse lines, the refrain going back to the natural chords, with the exception of the B minor (VI chord) I use to help resolve to the full cadence. The verse chord progressions allow me to emphasize that I’m telling a story. The D minor in the 3rd chorus introduces irony into the song, the minor chord leading into the bridge, which expresses sadness that life can’t stay that way.

In the bridge I started with a standard EMaj7, but replaced the G# minor with a G#5 and the A Major with A7Sus4 and A7.

I finished the final chorus with a half line repetition as a fade.

Life is Simple When You’re Five

Copyright Luigi Cappel 2010

Life Is Simple When You’re Five

Verse 1

D……………………….DMaj7……………..D7…….D6…
Summer seems to last forever for a boy of five

G…………………….GMaj7………………Em7………….A7…
Burning sand between his toes he runs into the tide

D……………………..DMaj7…………………..D7………………..D6..
He jumps and he splashes, wipes the water from his eyes

G……………………A7…………D…..Bm…G…………….A7………………D….
Joy is something you can’t buy……… life is simple when you’re five.

Chorus:

G………………..A7…………….D….G…………………A7….D…
Life is simple when you’re five, it’s so good to be alive

G……………..A7…………D………..Bm…..G………………..A7…………….D…
No cares or worries, never in a hurry, Life is simple when you’re five

Verse 2

D……………………….DMaj7……………..D7…….D6…
Autumn passes in a blur for a boy of nine

G…………………….GMaj7………………Em7………….A7…
Moving house from State to State, losing track of time

D……………………..DMaj7…………………..D7………………..D6..
As soon as he has made new friends he’s leaving them behind

G……………………A7…………D…..Bm…G…………….A7………………D….
His mind goes back to summer skies……… life is simple when you’re five.

Chorus:

G………………..A7…………….D….G…………………A7….D…
Life is simple when you’re five, it’s so good to be alive

G……………..A7…………D………..Bm…..G………………..A7…………….D…
No cares or worries, never in a hurry, Life is simple when you’re five

Verse 3:

D……………………….DMaj7……………..D7…….D6…
Winter seems to last forever for a boy of ten

G…………………….GMaj7………………Em7………….A7…
Father’s left, spends nights alone, mothers out dancing again

D……………………..DMaj7…………………..D7………………..D6..
When she’s back home with a new uncle its dark and 2 AM

G……………………A7…………D…..Bm…G…………….A7………………D….
Joy is something you can’t buy……… life is simple when you’re five.

Chorus:

G………………..A7…………….D….G…………………A7….D…
Life is simple when you’re five, it’s so good to be alive

G……………..A7…………D………..Bm…..G………………..A7…………….Dm..
No cares or worries, never in a hurry, Life is simple when you’re five

Bridge:

EMaj7#5…………G#5…………….A7Sus4……….A7……
A loving home where a boy can thrive, with fun and friends good times

EMaj7#5…………G#5…………….A7Sus4……….A7……
If only life could stay that way, let innocence survive

Chorus:

G………………..A7…………….D….G…………………A7….D…
Life is simple when you’re five, it’s so good to be alive

G……………..A7…………D………..Bm…..G………………..A7…………….D…
No cares or worries, never in a hurry, Life is simple when you’re five

G………………..A7…………….D…
Life is simple when you’re five

Pack and Run

I have just finished the first draft of my latest song, which is called Pack and Run and I think it is one of my best so far. I need to still do some work fine tuning the lyrics. Often I am too impatient with a new song and want to record a demo as soon as I have finished writing it. I will try to be patient and work through it some more. It would be a shame to rush a good song when it could be a great song.

This is probably something that most writers should think about. It is easy to write a song and then consider it finished, but there is so much to consider at this point, especially if you want great songs.

Is the structure consistent? One of the first things I do is take my scribbles out of my songwriting spiral wound notepad and key it into word, complete with copyright details and the chord structure. I have 2 of these, one which is in my bag all the time in case I come up with great ideas when I am away from home and the other sits at my music desk.

I also record it while I’m writing on my Belkin Tunetalk so that I can’t forget the melody or the sound I achieved. This is important because I often use unusual inversions and positions that I will forget unless I can record them, as I am not great when it comes to notation outside of the common chords.

I also look to see if I have things in the correct order. As Pat Pattison taught me, often songwriters write the last verse first, but don’t realise it.

Does the rhyme work? Is it consistent? Is the tense consistent? Am I consistent in the person I am talking to? Does the hook work? Is the hook in the chorus? Is it repeated enough so that the hook works? Is the hook consistent with the song?

While I was writing, I was also hearing the accompaniment. I don’t think this is a pop song, but it could have legs on the Country charts.  I do hear harmonies in the background, maybe Eagles style and I already have in my mind the way the song starts with just a single guitar, then vocals, then bass, then the rest of the band which is probably just another guitar and drums.

Does it need a middle eight? I don’t know, but it could, now that I think about it, I could put in a bridge. The song is about a guy who finds out his partner cheated on him and how his love was blind and he wouldn’t listen when his friends tried to tell him.

A bridge would give me the opportunity to add an extra element, perhaps after he has left her and looks in the rearview mirror of his car while he is driving, hoping that isn’t her in the car behind, wondering if he will ever be able to trust someone again.

Another question is who the target market for the song is. I think this song would fit someone who likes Don Henly (who has a new album out by the way, called Inside Job), the Eagles and probably and older audience, not teenagers but probbaly anyone from mid 20’s on who has perhaps had a few knocks, not in short term relationships but longer standing ones. Someone that is a more discerning listener, not into bubblegum music, but music with good melodies, good chords and a rich sound. I’m not sure exactly what the genre is, it’s country in the way that Eagles is country, but it’s contempory as the Eagles are. Can someone help me out and tell me what genre they think of the Eagles as?

Anyway, those are things I’m now thinking about. I’m also thinking about imagery. These days so much of music is about imagery and not just the word pictures a songwriter creates, but imagery I can put into a music video or slide show.

If there are any fellow songwriters reading this, I’d welcome your thoughts on this, when you have written a song, do you call it finished, or is that when the real craftmanship begins?

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