Audiophiles #267

Getting started is often the hardest thing about writing a song. For some songwriters the title is everything, they can’t start until they have a good title. For others it might come from a bunch of chords or a riff. David Bowie was fond of cutting up words from the newspaper and reassembling them at random until something interesting arrived. I read once that Prince would have songs come to him while he brushed his teeth. This month I’d like to demonstrate another approach that Peter Martin (ex SCU lecturer) suggests: recomposing an existing song. It involves a simple step by step approach:

1. Start with an existing song
2. Keep just the rhythm of the vocal line, change the melody
3. Rewrite the lyrics (make the song about something else altogether)
4. Change the chords
5. Change the key
6. Change the tempo, rhythm and overall feel and style of the song

I liked the look of this approach, especially if you’re not feeling particularly inspired but want to get on with it, so I thought I’d give it a go myself. After much deliberation about which song to start with I was finally jolted into action when my 5 year old daughter came home from school singing Sherman and Sherman’s classic 1964 song:

Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough You’ll always sound precocious 

Step 1 done. For step 2 I needed to use the very repetitive vocal rhythm:


Step 3. I have trouble with lyrics, I like to work with some chords. So I’ll jump forward to steps 4, 5 and 6 and come back. The original uses just the I, IV and V chords in a bright and cheery major key manner. I’ll slow it down, and make it a darker with this repeating 2 bar chord progression in the key of A minor:

||: Amin C | Fmaj7 E/G# :||

The darker mood feels a world away from Julie Andrews’ jovial disposition. I feel it’s now safe to go back to step 3. As I played the chords on guitar I started singing nonsense syllables to the set rhythm. After an hour or so teasing these syllables into words with some meaning I had this:


I had to tweak the rhythm of the melody in one place to fit all the syllables of my new lyrics and I extended the chord progression to make it an 8 bar cycle. However after following the steps I felt I was now onto something. Just one verse so far but as far as getting started goes, the recomposing method seems to have got me on a roll.


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