Here we are at week 2 post election. Time to get involved. Time to get motivated. Time to start to make it better.

It seems there are lots of folks who want to do something. Something symbolic. Something meaningful. Something constructive. Something.

If you’re new to activism, please remember that there are lots of people who have been working on all the issues we’re confronting for quite some time. And, in spite of the current prognosis, there’s been a lot of progress made on all fronts. Same sex marriage is legal (at least for now). The adoption of alternative energy sources has increased. There’s even progress on the nuclear weapons front. But there was still was going to be a lot to do, even if the results of the election were different. Now, we’ve got a steeper hill to climb. Much steeper. But we’ll keep climbing.

Which brings me to what I’ll refer to as the 4 Fs of success.

  1. Figure out what you want to work on. You can’t fix it all. No one can. Think about what interest and concerns you the most. Is it climate change? LGBT rights? Economic inequality? Nuclear weapons? Civil rights? Women’s health? Pick one. There are lots to choose from.
  2. Find others to work with. There are probably national and local organizations working on the issue you’re interested in. Contact them. Maybe you want to support them financially. Great! Have some time to volunteer? Terrific!
  3. Focus on doing what you can do on your issue. That doesn’t mean you have to have tunnel vision. But being scattered doesn’t help. Organizations need people who are dedicated, whether it’s through reliable donations or a commitment to volunteer.
  4. Follow through on your commitment. Maybe that means something as simple as donating a small amount monthly to an organization, like Planned Parenthood. Having a continuous stream of revenue that they can count on is actually easier to deal with than one large donation. They have to plan and have budgets just like any organization. Did you say you’d volunteer at an information table? Sure, you might be a bit squeamish, but show up when you said you would. You’ll feel great afterwards and will meet other like-minded people.

The one F that doesn’t really fit into this picture is complaining on Facebook. Sure, we all do it. But it’s an echo chamber. FB is a great tool for getting the word out about events. And, sure, it’s nice to get reassurance from friends and maybe spread the word about what you’re actually doing with the other 4 Fs. You might inspire someone else to contribute in their way too.

Feel free to provide any of your insights and experiences as we start this long, arduous journey of reclaiming our country from the bigots and haters.

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This week, we’ve all been wondering “What can I do?”

In response to that question, this is the first in what I intend to be a series of weekly practical ideas that you can implement to improve our world. I’m calling the series “Make It Better.”

I’ll label these ideas: small, medium, large based on the amount of effort required.

These may seem like small steps. But if enough of us take these steps, we will make a difference.

Week 1: Switch to renewables by clicking – small effort

Did you know that in Massachusetts you can specify the source of your electric power? Now, maybe you already have solar panels installed. But if you don’t, you can switch 10 renewable energy.

You can probably do the same in other states. If so, I’d welcome the info in the comments section.

Here’s how you can make the switch:

  1. Go to http://www.energyswitchma.gov/#/
  2. Select Home and select your electricity provider from the list.
  3. Click Start Shopping.
  4. Select one of the providers that is 100% renewable.
  5. You’ll be taken to the provider’s site where you’ll have to have to fill in info.

If you want to understand how this all works, there’s a pretty good and simple explanation here (a commercial site that I’m not necessarily endorsing):

How to Switch to Wind Power

And then, voila! you’re done with this week’s “Make It Better” task.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this. Together, we can Make It Better.

 

 

 

 

 


According to a poll conducted by humorist Dave Barry in 1992, this was the worst song with the worst lyrics ever. And I’ve always felt the lyrics made the musical grandeur of the song seem almost silly. What song? MacArthur Park.

And, frankly, I’ve always thought that the song was strangely out of character for Jimmy Webb, the songwriter. He authored a very interesting book on songwriting, titled “Tunesmith” The Art of Songwriting.” He does propose some rather rigid rules, including his opposition to near rhymes. Still, it’s a good read.

So, back to MacArthur Park. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to identify what I consider to be the grotesque (for lack of a better term) lines. There aren’t as many as I thought. And they’re all in the first section. So here are the original lyrics, on the left, with the offending lines in red and my rewrite on the right, with the new lines in blue:

Spring was never waiting for us, girl

It ran one step ahead

As we followed in the dance

Between the parted pages and were pressed

In love’s hot, fevered iron

Like a striped pair of pants

Spring was never waiting for us, girl

It ran one step ahead

As we followed in the dance

Novice and so naturally  naïve

We dared then to  believe

The forever of romance

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark

All the sweet, green icing flowing down

Someone left the cake out in the rain

I don’t think that I can take it

‘Cause it took so long to bake it

And I’ll never have that recipe again

Oh, no!

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark

Like sweet, green icing flowing down

You’re still just as beautiful as then

I don’t think that I can take it

What did I do to break it

I’ll never have a love like that again

Oh, no!

So, is it better? I don’t know. But I do know that tweaking someone else’s lyrics (as an educational exercise only) is a fun way to sharpen your writing skills.

So what songs have lyrics that bug you? Can you ‘fix ‘them? Let me know!


I thought it might be useful (or at least fun) to go through the editing process. After all, how many of us write precisely the best lyrics the first time through?

So the rest of this blog entry will be a sort of stream of consciousness editing process. I’m recalling how I wrote and honed two lines in particular. The lyrics appear in blue. My thoughts are in italicized black text.

I need two lines. He wants her to love him as much as he loves her. It’s not happening. He’s walking her home. They get to where they each go their separate ways.

They walk

no, not walking – everybody walks – boring

saunter, stroll, yeah stroll

They stroll in silence in the dark

ok, good, they’re not talking and it’s at the end of a date

now, whatever you do, DON’T rhyme dark with park… just don’t EVER! (apologies to those who do – but it’s one of my personal rules)

going to rhymezone.com – no, that’s not cheating

bark? no, I don’t think so

no good exact rhymes

ok, near rhymes, something that rhymes with art, like,’part’

To the corner, where they’ll part

well, that’s ok, it works

[comes back later]

that’s settling – I can do better

not loving “to the corner”

where are they? why is this where they part?

not at her house, that sounds lame – and I want her to have a sense of independence – she doesn’t NEED him to walk her all the way home

what about her street?

To her street, where they’ll part

needs something

They reach her street, where they’ll part

better

the suggested rhyme of ‘reach’ and ‘street’ will sing nicely.

hmmm… not loving the future tense here though

and I’d like to convery the fact that he’s not happy about this moment

They reach her street, he hates this part

he loves her – probably not a good choice to say “hate”

he ‘what’ this part

doesn’t look forward to – dreads!

They stroll in silence in the dark

They reach her street, he dreads this part

Yeah, I think that’s good, it sings nicely over the melody

So there you have it, a snippet of editing. This process can take minutes, hours, even years!

The moral of the story is not to settle for something that fills the space. Do the lyrics convey exactly what you want? Do they fit the melody? Are they singable? (Is that a word?)


One of the key ingredients to writing music is listening. To music you like. To music you don’t like. To conversation. To noises. To silence.

OK, let’s start at the beginning. Music you like. When you listen to music you like you can simply enjoy it. Or you can decide to study it. What do you like about it? The lyrics? The melody? The arrangement? The performance? All of the above? And why?

Here are a few questions you might contemplate:

  • Does the song tell a story or is it more impressionistic? Gordon Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a classic example of a story song. Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues is more impressionistic. These are two clearcut examples. You might find that many songs are a combination of the two.
  • Is the melody well defined, or does the song rely more on rythmn?
  • Can you identify what instruments are used in the arrangement? This is simple if it’s simply guitar and vocal, but chances are there are other instruments too.
  • Is it the song you like, or the performance? Sometimes a great performance can elevate a mediocre song. On the other hand, a poor performance can ruin a terrific song.

What about music you don’t like? Yes, it’s important to listen to that too. Not all the time, of course. But just like brussel sprouts, you just have to taste something new every so often. (I still don’t like brussel sprouts, by the way, but at least I can tell you why.) So, flip around the radio dial. Listen to some pop, some rap, some classical. And really listen. Can you discern the words (if it’s not an instrumental)? What do you think of the melody? Is there one? Can you imagine this song done in the style of music you like?

Stripping a song down to its bare essentials is a very useful exercise for a songwriter. If you’re not sure about how to do it, try listening to a full blown pop version of a song, then listen to a good acoustic cover of the same song. The group Boyce Avenue is particularly good at doing acoustic covers of pop songs. You can find them on youtube.

So, just as artists study the techniques of other artists, and learn to see in a particular way, you can sharpen your listening skills. You can start by considering some of the questions I’ve posted here. Then, you’ll be able to be inspired by other songwriters and other genres in ways you might never have thought possible.


In the last post, I talked about flattening melodies.

Remember what the mystery melody sounded like, flattened?

I’ll change just a couple of notes back to the original melody. It looks like this:

ER_musicnotation02

The changed notes are in red. Let’s see if that helps you identify the original song:

If that’s not enough, I’ll change the entire first line back to the original. Once you get to the last note in the first measure (see red arrow), the melody is unmistakable.

ER_musicnotation03a

 

Yes, if you’d guessed “Eleanor Rigby” you’re right!

In the actual song, the second line just repeats the first. But with the second line still flattened, you can hear the difference a real melody makes!

Of course, you can’t just plunk notes down anywhere to write a melody that’s, well, melodic. Can you see the shape of this melody? It’s kind of like this:

ER_melodyshape

You can use the graph paper table from the last post to sing any melody and see its shape. Are there melody shapes you’re drawn to? Pick a couple of favorite songs and find out.


A common trend I notice among beginner (and sometimes not so beginner) songwriters is writing ‘flat’ melodies. No, not that the notes are off pitch. It’s that a note is repeated over and over, especially in the verse. Sometimes the chorus of these songs is where the melody finally kicks in. Are you guilty of this? (Yes, I have been too, until I realized what I was doing, or more precisely, not doing.)

Let’s listen to a ‘flat’ melody line. I’ve taken a well know song and flattened it.

Not too interesting is it?

Here’s what it looks like in musical notation. Notice how many of the notes are the same.

ER_flattened

But what if you write by ear? (And if you’re writing flat melodies, you probably are.)

Try singing your melody and playing it by ear on a piano or stringed instrument. Do you play the same note a lot? Or do your fingers move around? You might be surprised. If you really want to know what notes you’re playing (and don’t want to think too much), use your tuner. (This won’t work for piano.) Just attach your tuner to your guitar (or other stringed instrument) and play and sing your melody. Go slow. Maybe even write down what note the tuner says you’re playing. What does it look like?

Here’s another graph of the flat melody:

ER_grid

Here’s a handy chart you can use if you’re playing on a guitar in standard tuning. Just put a mark in the first empty column for where you played the first note. Then play the next note and mark where you played it in the second column, and so on. You’ll get an idea of the shape of your melody.

guitar_grid

Even if your melody is relatively flat, that’s not always undesirable. But it is something to be aware of.

Oh, and finally, bonus points to the first readers who can identify what well known song I flattened!

Happy writing.