Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/How to compose songs

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Question
Hi there,

I am an amateur song writer and I am able to successfully write either a chorus, bridge or verse but then I have trouble completing the song by composing the other parts of it. So sometimes for example I can write a really great verse but have trouble writing the chorus or/and bridge and I just wanted to know if you had any advice for me in how I can learn to compose all parts of a song?

What would be the best way to go about this? Is there a book you can recommend which would teach me how to do this? Or should I study my favorite songs to learn about how songs are put together?

After I have completed a particular section of a song for instance the verse I would like to know what options in terms of chord progressions I have for writing the bridge/and chorus.

Many thanks,
Gordon

Answer
Hello Gordon,

The three inseparable and interdependent elements of music are rhythm, melody and harmony, and all three need to be taken into consideration to produce a successful composition. Even if you're writing an unaccompanied melody line, the underlying harmonic progressions must be implicit. Emphasis on the word "progressions" - music should never be static. It's always moving somewhere, taking ideas, developing them, introducing new ideas, reverting to our original idea, drawing to a close.

So writing odd segments in isolation and cobbling them together isn't going to give a great result - you need to plan the composition as a whole from the outset.  If you haven't already, read my response to a similar question at http://en.allexperts.com/q/Musical-Composition-Theory-652/2013/1/first-verse-arr to start you off.  You need to consider your key scheme - are your verses and chorus in the same key?  Answering that will identify the shape of your bridge (again, read my response about bridges at http://en.allexperts.com/q/Musical-Composition-Theory-652/2013/3/bridge-section-).  

Chords in themselves don't matter - it's how they relate to each other that's all-important.  You must think within the key so I hope you have a basic knowledge of theory - if not that's where you need to start.  There are no "tips or tricks" to acquiring a sound knowledge of music theory - you've just got to knuckle down and learn it. You study theory to recognise the "tools" of music when you see them written down, but you should also study aural to recognise them when you hear them - both theory and aural are equally important and both, to my mind, are inseparable from the other. You need to understand *thoroughly* about intervals, triads/chords and their inversions, diatonic scale construction and the cycle of fifths, and you need to be able to hear internally every note you read and write, because if you treat composition as a mere paper exercise you won't get anywhere.

The best book I can recommend to beginners is on Amazon
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Rudiments-Music-Stewart-Macpherson/dp/0852490100/ref

Hope this helps.  

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Clare Redfarn

Expertise

All aspects of the academic/theoretical side of music, including harmony, counterpoint, elementary composition, history, harmonic analysis, aural training, sightreading - the lot! Please note I'm not primarily a composer so I can't help with composition beyond what's required for Grade 8 theory or A'level. And don't ask me about psychoacoustics or music psychology as I have no knowledge of, nor interest in, either subject.

Experience

57 years as pianist (soloist and accompanist); 42 years as harpsichordist (soloist and continuist); 10 years as violinist and 6 years as bassoonist (youth orchestras/chamber groups); 45 years as piano teacher, coach in performance/interpretation (all ages, instruments and levels) and private tutor (mainly the old O'level, Grade VI+ ABRSM theory/practical musicianship, A'level and undergraduates); 20 years as ballet pianist (Cecchetti syllabus).

Organizations
Member of Musicians' Union in Britain 1978-1989 and 1991-2009.

Publications
I've been writing professionally since I was 20 - too many programme notes to count over the years and a number of articles. Additionally, from 1996-2000 I was a Music Assessor for London Arts and as such regularly wrote critiques of concerts given by recipients of Arts Council funding.

Education/Credentials
MA in European Cultural Policy & Administration (Warwick University, 1994)
B Mus with Honours (London University, 1977)
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Administration (City University, 1982)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Piano Teaching (1976)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Harpsichord Teaching (1978)

Studied RAM Junior School (1966-74), then as full-time student (1974-78).

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