I’ll jump right in. Once we’ve got a melody, lyrics, and basic structure to the song, we then see if it needs adjusting or arranging. We like to record it on our phones or computers and then listen back. It helps give us a little more perspective and objectivity.
While we were in the process of finishing this song, Jenny had written three verses with a refrain “No one else has to know” at the end of each of the verses. The verses are introspective and quite dark. The song felt like it was crying for some offer of hope. That was when we began to craft a new section, which eventually became the bridge. We thought Foy Vance’s song “If only you could see yourself like I see you” said it perfectly, so it became our model. As Picasso (may have) once said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Foy’s song has one phrase (the title) that repeats a few times during the chorus, with a melodic vocal run on “ah” at the end. We put a vocal run at the beginning and did a similar thing, repeating “I want to see myself through your eyes.” We knew the song was getting close to completion.
We had three verses, a refrain, and a bridge! It was time to start arranging. We decided that the bridge was worthy of hinting at, so we made it a musical interlude to create some variety between the second and third verses.
Here are the list of tools we use to make the adjustments:
Harmony – most examples are in vocal parts, some instrumentals
Unison (creates texture, ex. end of each verse of The Sound of Silence, 39s, “within the” & “of silence”
2nds (makes vibey if used wisely, ex. “words” on “there are no words for this” in Skyline Hill)
3rds (our default harmony, beautiful ex. “the gap between the rich and poor” in Faint Not at 36s)
4th (strong and medieval, ex. “on” of “walked on” before the vocal slide in This Isn’t a Dream at 40s)
5ths (strong and medieval, power chords in pop/punk/rock music)
Alrighty. That’s the list off the top of my head. If you can think of any examples of things I’ve missed, please tweet us (http://twitter.com/jennyandtyler) or comment below or on Facebook with a YouTube video link and the tool being demonstrated.
I will leave you with what my composer/jazz pianist/organists/choir director dad, Wilson Somers, says is one of the most important musical concepts:
Five Principles of Music
Contrast – this applies to everything from dynamics, to meter, instrumentation, and any of the following. Contrast, possibly above everything else, allows for engaging music. Lose contrast and you’ve got monotony.
Voicing – this primarily has to do with instrumentation, that is, where you’re putting the notes within the instruments themselves (the voice is definitely included in this).
Rhythm – the backbone of music
Breath – music often needs space in order to speak the most naturally and powerfully it can. Breath is vital to us humans. It’s vital to good music too.
Variety – Mix it up. Form helps with this. AABA is a classic example.
That’s it. Let me know if you’ve got some questions by commenting below, tweeting us (@jennyandtyler) or commenting on Facebook.
Well it has indeed been a while since I last shared a bit of life with you here on the blog. I hope you all had a very lovely Christmas and new year. We spent Christmas in Delaware with Tyler’s family and it was really great. We baked cookies, ate brie, went to see Les Miserables, watched snow fall the day after Christmas, and just had a genuinely good time being together. I also met a couple of kitties.
We’d canceled our show that evening due to illness and meeting them was a nice pick me up on a sad day.
My sister’s husband’s family lives in Annapolis, MD, so she happened to be there visiting from California. I miss my sister desperately pretty much everyday. Annapolis is only about an hour and a half from Wilmington, DE, so we spent a day and half together. It was so nice. I’m always sad when she leaves, mostly because I know that sisters aren’t meant to be apart and that it’s very likely that we always will be. Her husband is an officer in the navy and they move every couple of years. Here we are together. Isn’t she beautiful?
I thought I had a picture or two of us with Tyler’s family, but apparently they are still on our camera and Tyler’s phone, neither of which are with me currently. I’ll give you a picture of Skyline Hill in the morning fog instead:
Oh how I love this place.
We returned home to Nashville a couple of days after Christmas. My parents drove up from Ft. Worth, TX for a few days and my grandparents came down from New York. We are such a scattered family. It was so nice to be with them for a bit. Tyler and I rent a basement apartment from my brother and sister-in-law. They have 8 month old twin boys, so most of our time was spent playing with and marveling at the little guys. In a world full of negativity they bring me so much hope.
Now, here we are in Nashville, recovering from a busy fall. We’re spending most of our days writing songs and answering emails. It’s so good to rest. We will be announcing new shows pretty soon. We’re looking forward to seeing many of you out on the road starting in February.
We’re happy to announce a second show this year at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, GA – Sunday, December 9th.
Just like last time, we’ve got the entire set to ourselves, which means we should have plenty of time for stories, requests, hanging out afterward, etc. And also just like last time, we’re recording the night, possibly to release as a live EP. We’re really looking forward to this!
If you don’t know about Eddie’s Attic, it’s an intimate listening room just outside of Atlanta, renown among singer/songwriters. It has a tendency to fill up pretty quickly, so you may want to get tickets in advance.
Here are the details:
Date: Sunday, December 9th
Location: Eddie’s Attic | 515-B North McDonough St. Decatur, GA 30030
Time: 5p Doors | 6p Show
Tickets: $10 at the door | $50 table of 4 | Purchase in advance: http://bit.ly/jtEddies
For free music, go to http://jennyandtyler.com/free or click the “FREE” link at the top right of the page. Enjoy!
I know, I know. I didn’t post for the entire month of October. This is unacceptable and I apologize for my lameness. Things have been kind of crazy here. We had an amazing time in France. Paris was so romantic. It rained nearly everyday but we didn’t mind. They do say that Paris is most romantic in the rain. I think that’s true.
Here is a cheesy Eiffel Tower photo for you:
We returned from France and jumped right back into touring. We spent a couple of weekends at Windy Gap Young Life camp. Fall in the mountains of North Carolina is stunning and the second weekend was particularly beautiful. The trees were electric. We made our way through Indiana when camp was over and the colors became even more saturated and intense. The golden/marigold hue that many of the trees turn is probably my favorite color of all time. You just can’t recreate it apart from nature.
Our week in Chicago was ridiculously fun and a bit of a blur. I think that my favorite show was the night we played in the city at a really sweet old church. There’s something especially magical about playing in old churches. It’s powerful to play in a place where generations before us have worshiped. The power went out just as doors opened and we found candles to line the stage with. Thankfully the power came back on in time for the show. While I’m glad that it did for sound purposes, it was almost a bit of a let down. It would’ve been pretty awesome to play in that space by candlelight.
Last night we finished our short run of shows with Sara Groves and Bebo Norman. We had a really wonderful time. These artists are so inspiring. It’s life giving to be on the road with people we admire so much. We had the great honor of singing with Sara each evening. She is such a great songwriter. Tyler and I have listened to her records many times and said to each other, “How do you write a song like that?!”
I found this video today of us playing “See The Conqueror” at last night’s show. Sara and band were kind enough to back us up. We haven’t played with a full band in probably 5 years. We were giddy with excitement.
Tonight we fly home to Nashville for a day before we head to Mississippi. We still have shows in Columbus, OH, Huntington, IL, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Greensboro, NC, Champaign, IL, Fredericksburg, MD, Washington, DC, and Newtown Square, PA before the year is out. I think there may have left out a couple of places. You can get all of the details here.
When I started writing songs, I didn’t have a clue about music theory; sometimes I still wish I didn’t. The danger of music theory is that it has the ability to constrain or limit artistry when used incorrectly. For example, you could be hearing a beautiful/powerful/sweet chord progression or melody in your head that according to the basic rules of theory (derived from J.S. Bach) shouldn’t work. The rules are there, sometimes to follow and sometimes to break. Had Kurt Cobain followed the rules, Smells Like Teen Spirit would not exist (it uses parallel fifths in the chord progression – for you theory buffs out there).
Standard Chord Progression
In conventional American pop music, the standard chord progression is (in the key of C): C, G, Am, F. If you put that in terms of chords numbers, that’s 1, 5, 6 (minor), and 4. Go here for examples of pop songs with that progression:
In conventional American pop music, the standard chord progression is (in the key of C): C, G, Am, F. If you put that in terms of chords numbers, that’s 1, 5, 6 (minor), and 4. Go here for examples of pop songs with that progression: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pidokakU4I. You can start on any of the chords in the progression and keep going around. For example, if you start on the Am, the progression would be Am, F, C, G. If you start on the G, the progression would be G, Am, F, C.
Let’s think of all the following pop songs in the key of C:
Because our ears are so used to the standard chord progression, it’s nice to vary it up sometimes. When we do, we usually only substitute one chord in the four chord progression, on occasion two. Here’s an example of chord substitution using the standard chord progression (again thinking in the key of C):
This Is Just So Beautiful goes C, Em, Am, F instead of C, G, Am, F. As you can see, Em (minor 3 chord) is substituted for G (the 5 chord). Carry Me (in the verse) goes Am, F, C, Em. The substitution in Carry Me is identical to the one in This Is Just So Beautiful; the minor 3 (Em) is replacing the 5 (G).
Below is chart I put together of possible chord substitutions; think of this as a color palette. You’ll want to use these substitutions wisely, according to what the song demands. For example, if it’s a powerful lyric with a minor melody, you probably want to substitute a minor chord for a major one, so if we are using the standard chord progression as a template, it might look like this: C, G, Am, Fm or C, G, Am, Dm. On the other hand, if it’s a happy lyric with a light, celebratory melody, you’ll probably want to substitute major for minor, so C, G, C, F.
*Please note. A capital letter by itself, like C, D, E, F, and G, almost always means a major chord. If it has a lowercase ‘m’ next to it, it means minor. The exception is if it’s a 6, then it’s almost always minor, even if there’s no ‘m’ next to it. I’ve got usual substitutes (what you commonly hear in most music) and occasional substitutes (what you really don’t hear much at all but can sometimes be really cool).
Chord Substituions: Key of C Major
Original Chord: C – - – - – Dm – - – - - Em – - – - - F - – - – - - G – - – - – - A
Usual Substitution: Am - – - – F – - – - – - – G – - – - - - Dm - – - – - Em – - – - – C
Occasional Substitution: A - – - D or Fm – - E or Gm – D or Fm – - E or Gm – - A or Cm
Adding Chords to a Melody
For us, songs usually start in one of three ways.
1) A melody comes to me or Jenny without words
2) Words come without a melody
3) Both words and melody come at the same time
In any of the cases above, we almost always have to add chords.
Certain notes fit with certain chords. Here’s a chart for that.
Notes in Pop Chord Progressions: Key of C Major
Note Solfège Number Common Chords Uncommon Chords
C – - – - – Do – - – - – 1 - – - - - – - – C, F, Am - – - - – - – Gsus4, Fm, Dm7, D7,
D - - – - – Re - - – - - 2 - – - - - – - -Dm, G - – - - – - – - – C, D, Em7, F6,
E - - – - – Mi - - – - – 3 - – - - - – - – Em, C, Am - – - - – - E, Fmaj7, D9, A
F - - – - – Fa - - – - – 4 - – - - - – - -F, Dm, G7 - – - - – - Fm, Am6
G - - – - – So - - – - – 5 - – - - - – - -G, C, Em - – - - – - – Dm, F, Fm, Am
A - - – - – La - - – - – 6 - – - - - – - -Am, F, Dm - – - - – - D, C6
B - - – - – Ti - - – - - 7 - – - - - – - -G, Em - – - - – - – - – C, Dm, D, E, F, Fm
For the most part, we try to make our lyrics, melodies, and chord progressions cohesive. For a powerful song, we use a mix of major and minor chords. For a dark song, we use mostly minor chords. For a lighter song, we use mostly major chords. Sometimes we put dark lyrics with a lighter melody, feel, and chord progression. I like to call this the Bob Marley effect. Bob sang about some heavy stuff (slavery, poverty, etc.), but the music, the feel, and the energy of the songs is always bright. Sometimes to make a more neutral lyric go deeper, or help facilitate contemplation, we combine it with a minor chord. Similarly, to make an already deep lyric more accessible, we might place it with a major chord.
Finding a Melody
When words come without a melody, we need to find one. Theory is pretty good for that. To find a melody, I usually play a chord progression and start to hum along until I find something I like.
Let’s say there are three types of lyrics: deep, dark, and light. Again, we usually want the melody, chords, and lyrics to be cohesive, so we match a deep lyric with a deep melody, carried along by a deep chord progression.
Deep – I take the standard chord progression above and maybe substitute one chord here and there. Let’s say the verse is darker and the chorus is lighter. I might start on a minor chord (remember 6 is minor) in the verses 6, 4, 1, 5 and go to a major chord in the chorus 1, 5, 6, 4 or 4, 1, 5, 6.
Dark – I use mostly minor chords, usually starting on the 6 and using the 2m and 3m when it feels right.
Light - I use mostly major chords, usually starting on the 1.
That’s it for now. In my next entry, I’m planning on listing the tools we use to make songs more interesting.