Thursday, March 5, 2009

Songwriting Cliches

I finished off February Album Writing Month with fourteen songs written: mission accomplished. And oddly, I've gone back down to write twice at 5 am this month as well. I didn't expect to want to continue, but I did.

A question came up on the songwriting forum for FAWM: "what are your musical cliches?" In other words, what words, musical themes, etc keep showing up again and again. Kind of like the word "Sunshine" in James Taylor's old stuff.

Here was my answer:

Mine are simple:
1) Lots of E6. I get extra excited if I can end a song on E6. At least three of my songs started in E6 this year (wait... 4... 5... shit, all of them did) (If you don't know what E6 sounds like, the Beatles use it to end "Help!")
2) 7th chords. I just wrote one with E6 into A7 and I thought I saw Jeebus (This morning in "Deer in Headlights").
3) Most of my songs have the word "darkness" in them somewhere. I think this has less to do with any emotional darkness and more to do with the fact that my family life requires me to get up at 5 am to write.
4) I almost always have a section of two or three voice parts going "Dah... Dah dah dah duh". My seven year old son pointed this out to me.
5) I won't write a song in which the primary phrase is three chords. I'll mess up a perfectly good song just so it will have a more complex chord progression.
6) Three part harmony!
7) Oh, and finishing the song by singing the first line of the song again, slowly for dramatic effect (pause to barf on self). I did this on like 16 of the 14 songs I wrote this time.


  1. Don't be so hard on yourself, Tim. I've been in Narcissy for almost 5 years now, and every single song we've ever played is in Dminor. I saw Honeyboy Edwards last year ... he's 93 years old and has been playing the blues most of them ... knew Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson. Everything he plays is in D or G.

  2. Thanks, Bill. I'm actually okay with it. I have some characteristic patterns in my songs... one way of saying this is that I use cliches, but the other way is saying that I'm finding my voice. I'll be really happy when I start losing my most obvious influences and start just sounding like myself.


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