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The Songwriter’s Almanac


An Interactive Compendium of Songwriter’s Resources


We welcome comments and hope to maintain the Almanac as a continual dialog toward a better understanding of the craft and code of songwriting. My hope is that it will be more than just a list of terms, but will include examples and insights from the collective experience, yours and mine.


The first issue of the Songwriter's Almanac was something I mailed to a few friends in the summer of 1985. Coming home from my second time as an instructor in the songwriting school at the Kerrville Folk Festival, I was fired up to talk about songwriting. I had a two-inch high pile of pages, exercises, quotes, basic music theory, and memorabilia which I condensed into a five page salmon-colored Xeroxed newsletter that I offered as a monthly publication for five dollars a year. No one subscribed, I guess the concept was a little ahead of its time.


I continued to accrete more and more interesting stuff which I was starting to think of as a self-published book which I would call The Kerrville Songwriter's Handbook. But then, Mark Moss at Sing Out! Magazine asked me if I would work with the Courting the Muse articles, a regular feature of the magazine. The words of more than a dozen successful songwriters including Peter Berryman, Judy Collins, Butch Hancock, Anne Hills, Graham Nash, Michael Smith and Tom Paxton are there. It was my job to compile them into a book along with enough of my materials to stitch them together into a cohesive work. I was thrilled. I suggested the title Songwriting and the Creative Process and the book has become a respected text and is used by many songwriting teachers.


I signed my first publishing contract in 1964, and ever since then I've had one foot in the music industry. At times this foot has been very active, but my first love is songwriting, and the thing I most cherish is the creative process. I believe this activity is a sacred ritual necessary to the health and well-being of a person. Everybody has their sacred ritual, but not all have the mechanism by which the ritual can produce an object of reverence. Now this gets into some tricky areas. The process is what's sacred, not so much the object, but many do worship the idol of the gold or platinum record. I guess I've got my share of those, not to say what a fair share is. As much as I am grateful for the money in the mail, I still preach about the evils of spiritual materialism, what we used to call, 'selling out.'


You might say that songwriting is my religion, but that wouldn't be quite right. It's my work, and maybe the way I make my peace with the world. I like to think that it keeps me growing in important ways, coping and communicating, and I try to honor the process with the diligence it deserves. It struck me a long time ago that if you are that earnest young fellow showing up at the door of the muse and her father asks you about your intentions, it's good to be straight about your desire. Are you just looking for a cheap thrill, or are you open to the possibility of a soul-connection, a partnership with the highest-best. All the muse asks of you is an honest dialog.

                                                              Steve Gillette




The Songwriter’s Almanac




       Artist and repertoire, the department of a record company that works with artists, producers and songs to guide the company’s activities. The A&R person might be the one who signs new artists to the company, although independent producers may have that right as well.




       Radio classification for adult-contemporary music.



A Cappella:

One or more vocalists performing without an accompaniment. Literally, ‘as was done in the chapel.’



A Piacere:

       At the pleasure of the performer, not bound by the exact rhythm.




An emphasis or punch at the beginning of a musical sound.




A note or passage is accented or emphasized.




A symbol used in musical notation indicating to gradually quicken tempo.




Music that is easy to listen to and understand.




Symbols such as sharps or flats and naturals that raise or lower a pitch in an exception to the designated key signature.




An accompaniment is an additional part of any kind that is less important than another, which it serves to support and enhance. The piano is often used to provide an accompaniment to a solo singer. In works for, say, violin and piano the role may be swapped between the instruments.


Ad Libitum:

       Ad lib, at the performer’s choice, played freely.



When a song is added to a radio station’s play list.



A tempo having slow movement; restful at ease. Sometimes it is the name of a work like Mozart's Adagio for Violin and Orchestra.



Administration Agreement:

       A form of publishing arrangement where the administrator takes no share of the ownership of the copyright. Admin deals are usually reserved for the very successful songwriters only. The administrator issues licenses, and collects royalties on behalf of the writer in exchange for a percent of total revenue – usually ten percent.




       A person who performs the duties called for in an administrative deal. An administrator may handle a small catalog of songs from one writer for a fee, without taking any ownership in the songs. Ordinarily, this fee is ten percent of earnings. Usually administrators do not actively seek placements (cuts) for songs, and when they do, they usually take a higher percentage of earnings – thirty percent.




Many publishing companies will offer money advanced from future royalties to a promising writer. The idea of getting paid for work you haven't done yet seems too good to be true to some and causes dread in others. If your songs are not earning money yet, it is a wonderful help to have someone support you as a songwriter while you grow in your craft.




A direction to play lively and fast.




The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of a word, like the H sound in Hark the herald angels sing or the L in Stephen Foster’s Open thy lattice, love, listen to me.



Altered Chords:

       A chord with one or more diatonic notes replaced by, or altered to, a neighboring pitch in the chromatic scale. The 5 might be flattened, or the seventh raised to enhance the harmony. The simplest use of altered chords is to borrow a chord from another key. Often these are taken from the tonic minor of a major key, or from the tonic major of a minor key.




Ambiguity means literally that something can be taken more than one way. We've all had a good laugh at someone else's expense when they said what they thought they meant and what they said also meant something that they would not have said had they known that what they said also meant that.

I remember one woman who was so exasperated at her young son who kept putting her off with, just a sec, mom, that she shouted out for all the neighbors to hear, “I am sick and tired of secs!”

Although it’s good to watch out for ambiguity that may lend unwelcome meanings to the work, there is such a thing has helpful, or intended ambiguity. That’s when the additional meaning or meaning is intentional and desired.

Rex Benson and I wrote a song called, The Restless Wind, which is about embracing one’s mortality which has the lines: “I’ll make my peace with the darkness, and watch the candle flicker into doubt, and go out on the restless wind.” The words, ‘go out’ of course can mean that the candle flame goes out, but also that one might ‘go out’ on the wind, as in passing away.



The Amygdala:

Are two almond-shaped organs located within the temporal lobes of the brain. In research they have been shown to perform a role in the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions. Operating at the boundary of perception and interpretation, the amygdala can act to protect the mind from harmful and fearsome stimuli. Through meditation and similar habits the amygdala can be engaged in the creative process by promoting an atmosphere of serenity in opposition to that of fear and anxiety.




Repeating the last word or phrase of one line at the beginning of the next one:

“Poor man wanna be rich

Rich man wanna be king

And a king ain’t satisfied

Till he rules everything.”

              Badlands, Bruce Springsteen




An Anagram is a word or phrase which can become another word or phrase if the letters are used in a different way. Usually all the letters must be used and the second phrase must make as much sense as the first. Sometimes this may be a bit of a stretch.

Two plus eleven = One plus twelve

Western Union = no wire unsent

A stitch in time saves nine = this is meant as incentive

William Shakespeare = I am a weakish speller

Intoxicate = excitation

The Morse code = here come dots

Circumstantial evidence = can ruin a selected victim

Victoria, England's Queen = governs a nice quiet land




Repetition of the same words at the beginning of successive lines. Martin Luther King, Jr. used anaphora repeatedly in his I Have a Dream speech.




Meaning a walking tempo or walking pace; a moderate speed.



Answer Song:

       A song written as a response to another song. Often a parody, or a refutation of the premise of the earlier song.




       A figure of speech in which the same phrase or idea is repeated in transposed order, giving the second phrase a different or deeper meaning:

       “You can take the girl out of the city,

But you can’t take the city out of the girl.”




       Similar to antimetabole, but more limited in scope. Antistrophe occurs when words are repeated in reverse order, meaning essentially the same thing each time:


        “One in Three, and Three in One”

        “All for one, and one for all.”




       The use of opposites in successive phrases, to highlight the distinction or difference:

 “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

                                  Bob Dylan, My Back Pages

      “Vile and full of sin I am/ Thou art full of truth and grace.”

                                         Charles Wesley, Jesus, Lover of my Soul




       The designation for album-oriented rock music.




Aphasia is a communication disorder that results from damage to the parts of the brain that contain language (typically in the left half of the brain). Oliver Sachs has written about group were laughing as they watched a presidential speech. He claimed their laughter to be at the president's facial expressions and tone, which they found "not genuine."




Addressing inanimate objects or persons not in the vicinity (frequently persons who are deceased). Hymn writers often address the cross upon which Jesus died.

“Arise, my soul, my joyful powers,

 And triumph in my God;

 Awake, my voice, and loud proclaim

 His glorious grace abroad.”

                     Isaac Watts, Arise, My Soul! My Joyful Powers




     Using language that purposely seems old fashioned or evokes another time. To thine own self be true from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.




       A person who decides what form the song should take and what instruments will play which parts in the composition. Arranger takes money that would otherwise go to songwriters on Public Domain works.



Art Music:

       The forms known as classical music, chamber music, or canonic music, characterized by advanced structural and theoretical considerations and a written musical tradition. This is in contrast to the music we think of as popular music or folk music. After the 20th century, art music was divided into two extensions: ‘serious music’ and ‘light music.’



ASCAP: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. A performance rights society, charged with collecting royalties for use of music in concerts, radio and television.

1900 Broadway
New York, NY 10023 (212) 621-6000



Assignment of Copyright:

       A legal document giving over ownership of a copyright. Most song-publishing contracts give the publisher the right to assign the copyright to a third party.




Writing on assignment is a challenge often encountered by the professional songwriter. You may be given an assignment under a variety of different circumstances. Your publisher may just have heard that a top selling recording artist is going back into the studio to record one last song to finish off his new album and is looking for a song about the recent disastrous train wreck. Or, you may be asked by the gang at the office to write a song for the secretary who is being promoted.



The Association of Independent Music Publishers: (AIMP)

A trade organization whose members include independent music publishers and other members of the entertainment community. The AIMP's mandate is to educate music publishers and other entities about current industry trends and platforms.




The repetition of vowel sounds within non-rhyming words.

 ”The grass divides as with a comb,

        A spotted shaft is seen;

        And then it closes at your feet

        And opens further on.”

Emily Dickenson, A Narrow Fellow in the Grass




Music that is written and performed without regard to any specific key.



Audio Home Recording Act: (AHRA)

       An act passed by Congress that made it legal for consumers to copy records at home for private, non-commercial use without fear of committing copyright infringement. This act also imposed a tax on digital-audio recorders and digital audiotapes, a portion of which would be paid as royalties to the record industry.



Audio Visual Index: (AVI)

       A computer-based listing which contains title and production information for cue sheets.




       Lengthens the value of a note or notes.




       The composer, lyricist, record producer, artist or other creator.



Automatic Renewal:

       Copyrights that were registered between 1964 and 1977 are granted an automatic renewal term, without the writer having to file a renewal registration form.



Automatic writing:

A feature of occult practice in earlier times. Seen to be evidence of psychic ability. It was thought that a spirit was guiding the hand of the writer. Similar to what happens with an Ouija board.

In timed writing exercises and at some other times when we have this flow going it seems to be more a matter of believing in the idea that is at hand and letting it have its say than in evaluating it and criticizing it as a final draft. It is important to allow this flow to continue even if we have to lighten up as we would if we found our table saw binding up as it cut through a thick piece of wood.




Evolved from passages of dance music, usually in an operatic context, into the popular, full-scale Romantic classics of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.



Bar or Measure:

A specific number of musical sounds that are organized within a measure, and that are contained within two solid lines called bar lines. Bars help to define how long chords or notes are played.




Time in music history ranging from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 18th centuries. Characterized by emotional, flowery music; written in strict form.




A straight line connecting two or more notes such as eighth and sixteenth notes.




The unit of musical rhythm. Regular pattern within a bar or measure.



Black Box Royalties:

Unclaimed royalties for which a publisher or writer is named but cannot be traced by a collection agency. Writers who are owed royalties but cannot be found are often referred to as lost writers. Many US songwriters who sell their music internationally, but are not signed to a publishing company with representation abroad, often become lost writers and lose their mechanical royalties.



Blanket License:

A type of license issued by a performing rights society allowing a music user to play or perform all compositions controlled by all publishers represented by that society. The user will generally pay a yearly fee that allows them to use all licensed songs without limit. Blanket licenses are typically issued to nightclubs, TV networks and radio stations. Music publishers sometimes enter into blanket licenses with specific outlets with respect to their catalogs. For example, a publisher might give a television production company a blanket license to utilize any song in their catalog (or a limited list of songs) for a previously agreed upon rate. This would be in lieu of securing an individual sync license for each use.



Blue Note:

In jazz and blues, a blue note (also worried note) is a note that—for expressive purposes—is sung or played at a slightly different pitch than standard. Typically the alteration is between a quartertone and a semitone, but this varies among performers and genres.

“Like the blues in general, the blue notes can mean many things. One quality that they all have in common, however, is that they are lower than one would expect, classically speaking. But this flatness may take several forms. On the one hand, it may be a microtonal affair of a quarter-tone or so. Here one may speak of neutral intervals, neither major nor minor. On the other hand, the lowering may be by a full semitone--as it must be, of course, on keyboard instruments. It may involve a glide, either upward or downward. Again, this may be a microtonal, almost imperceptible affair, or it may be a slur between notes a semitone apart, so that there is actually not one blue note but two. A blue note may even be marked by a microtonal shake of a kind common in Oriental music. The degrees of the mode treated in this way are, in order of frequency, the third, seventh, fifth, and sixth.”-  Peter van der Merwe




A genre and musical form originated by African Americans in the Deep South of the United States around the end of the 19th century. The genre developed from roots in African-American work songs and European-American folk music. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common.

Blues as a genre is also characterized by its lyrics, bass lines, and instrumentation. Early traditional blues verses consisted of a single line repeated four times. It was only in the first decades of the 20th century that the most common current structure became standard: the AAB pattern, consisting of a line sung over the four first bars, its repetition over the next four, and then a longer concluding line over the last bars. Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative, often relating the troubles experienced in African-American society.



BMI: Broadcast Music, Inc.

A performance rights society, charged with collecting royalties for use of music in concerts, radio and television.

10 Music Square East
Nashville, TN 37203-4399 (615) 401-2000



Bon mot:

       A clever remark, witty comment, witticism. From the French meaning “good word.”



Booking Agent:

The person responsible for setting up and scheduling an entertainer's performances. The agent is paid a percentage of the performance fee.




Unauthorized recording offered for sale.




A section in a song that goes away from the normal chord structure and melodic line that adds variety to a song. It works as a linking passage at all between one section and another. It's a separate and intervening section of song which is neither 'verse' nor 'chorus'. Bridges often end on the dominant chord or the key, which make it seem natural to go back to the start of a verse. Or the bridge can lead to a new key if a modulation is desired.

       Most of the bridges I’ve written are eight bars of music and words. I’ve experimented with giving the appearance of a key change if not actually changing keys. I’ve found ways to seem to make an excursion out of the key and then come back to verse or the beginning of the chorus through a fresh progression of chords. One example of this is my song, When the First Leaves Fall.


       One good example of a four-bar bridge is to be found in the Sons of the Pioneers’ classic song, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, written by Bob Nolan. The lyrics for that section are: I know when night is gone, that a new world is born at dawn.” (audio only)



Burma Shave:

An American company that made shaving cream. Burma Shave signs were posted all over the country alongside roadways. Five small red signs with white letters were placed about one-hundred feet apart. Each was printed with one line of a four-line couplet, except for the last which advertised the name, Burma Shave. Always humorous, travelers would look forward to reading them. Here are a few:



ALL OVER THE MAP                          LOOK EACH WAY



Burma Shave                                    Burma Shave


A MAN, A MISS                                   HE SAW THE TRAIN

A CAR. A CURVE,                                        AND TRIED TO DUCK IT

HE KISSED THE MISS,                               HE KICKED THE GAS


Burma Shave                                    Burma Shave



Business Manager:

A representative who helps the musician with financial planning, investment decisions, tax matters, monitoring of income from contracts, estate planning and other financial matters.




Playing on the street for money.




A designation for radio play of country and western music. Now called simply country music.




A sequence of chords that brings an end to a phrase, either in the middle or the end of a composition. The V to I or dominant chord resolving to the tonic chord is the most common. This is a harmonic cadence. A melodic cadence occurs when the notes of the melody come to rest in resolution usually on the tonic note of the key. A rhythmic cadence occurs when the rhythmic patterns of the song ‘play out’ or come to a sense of resolution. A simple example is ‘shave and a haircut, two bits.’ 




Initially an improvised cadence by a soloist; later becoming an elaborate and written out passage in an aria or concerto, featuring the skills of an instrumentalist or vocalist.



Canadian Mechanical Rights Reproduction Agency: (CMRRA)

The foremost mechanical licensing, collections, and distribution agency for Canadian music publishers. The CMRRA is Harry Fox's Canadian counterpart.




A musical form where the melody or tune is imitated by individual parts at regular intervals. The individual parts may enter at different measures and pitches. The tune may also be played at different speeds, backwards, or inverted.




A style of singing which is characterized by the easy and flowing tone of the composition.




Music written for chorus and orchestra. Most often religious in nature.




A quick, improvisational, spirited piece of music.



Card Stacking:

       The careful order of ideas in a song to create the desired effect. The verse tends to be the place where the setting and stage directions are found so that the chorus will have its say.

The usefulness of card stacking is more obvious in comedy songs. You've got to get all the elements of the joke in and in the proper order or you don't have a punch in the punch line.

The old vaudeville writers had a formula which I have been trying to track down for years. It went something like ‘whipper, snapper, topper, capper’ and it decreed that a good comedy bit had to set up the joke and then snap the laugh or punch line and then if it is a good bit, top the laugh with another level and if it's to be a truly great bit, cap it off with a really big laugh. It brings to mind some of the old routines like, Slowly I Turned, and Who’s On First.




A song or hymn celebrating Christmas.




Giving thought to which recording artist would be the best one to record a song.




Male singers who were castrated to preserve their alto and soprano vocal range.




  The collection of songs owned by a songwriter or a publisher.




A short and simple melody performed by a soloist that is part of a larger piece.




       In the past, songs needed to respect a certain standard of acceptable language. This was mostly due to the need to fit into the format of radio broadcasts. Swear words and sexual themes were suppressed. In the ‘Tin Pan Alley’ days, writers like Cole Porter were very artful about how they played along the edge of propriety with songs like, Let’s Fall In Love. Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let’s do it, let’s fall in love.

       In 1922, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPAA) was formed partly out of concern that certain scandals involving Hollywood personalities would bring government censorship to the movies. They hired Will H. Hayes to initiate a black list, insert moral clauses into actors’ contracts, and in 1930 created the Production Code that prescribed what was morally acceptable in film. This was replaced in 1966 by the voluntary rating system, G, M, R, and X. Since 1990 these have been replaced by P, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17.

       Today with the proliferation of media, there is no restraint at all on the kind of language and references to behavior; sex, drugs, misogyny, violence, etc. It still makes sense for a songwriter to be sensitive to the consciousness of the listener and not contribute to a degradation of enlightened communication.



Central Concept:

Usually the title, or bottom line. The essential element or concept that brought the song about. Is it valid? Is the idea worthy of a song and is it handled well?



Chamber Music:

Written for 2 to 10 solo parts featuring one instrument to a part. Each part bears the same importance.




       The chords that make up a song. Jazz players in the ‘20s and ‘30s used to jam on what they called, ‘the changes.’ This was understood to be the set of chord changes that went with many of the popular tunes of the day, especially several songs by George Gershwin. I’ve Got Rhythm was a model for many jams and songs that came out of them.



Changing Tones:

Two note ornaments using the upper neighbor and lower neighboring tones of a note.




Singing in unison, texts in a free rhythm. Similar to the rhythm of speech.




Music for musicians playing the pieces that the songwriters wrote. Usually a series of chords with certain rhythms and note lengths depicted. There are also the charts published by Billboard and other entertainment magazines that show sales activity. This is what is meant by ‘top of the charts.’



The Character Song.

   Who are the characters in the song? Are the characters balanced, consistent and interesting? Can the listener empathize? Is the language ‘in’ character?



Child Ballad:

       Francis James Child was a Harvard professor in the 1880s who traveled the British Isles collecting ballads. Without collecting the tunes, he published several volumes of ballads. Each one is numbered and referred to as Child: 37 etc.




Group of singers in a chorus.




A hymn sung by the choir and congregation often in unison. Originally refers to a German Protestant hymn tune. In composition, it typically means a choral composition for voices or instruments, such as a Bach chorale.




When two or more notes or pitches are sounded simultaneously a chord is created. Most of the time we think of three or more notes making up a chord. These can be major or minor, diminished or augmented, or with added notes such as a flatted fifth, or a ninth for interest. A C Major chord consists of the notes C, E, and G, the root, third and fifth. They may be played in a different order which is called an ‘inversion’ of the chord. See the section on triads.



Chord Progression:

A string of chords played in succession.




A group singing in unison. Or that part of a song that is repeated in singing, a refrain. See song structure.



Chromatic Scale:

Includes all twelve notes of an octave.



Circle-Back Ending:

     Using elements presented in the course of the song again at the end in a way that gives a sense of resolution. This juxtaposition can lend another level of meaning to the thought, give it emphasis, and leave the listener with a clearer sense of the message of the song.



The Circle of Fifths:

The circle of fifths (or circle of fourths) is the relationship among the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, their corresponding key signatures, and the associated major and minor keys. Represented by the clock face, each number is replaced with the name of a key. Moving around the circle from C at the top, the next number would be G, five scale degrees above C, then D, then A, E, and so on.

Each succeeding key also adds a sharp # to its key signature, G has one, D has two, etc. Each scale is altered to correct notes that may need a sharp (or flat in flat keys, but not both in the same key.) Likewise, moving in a counter clockwise direction from C at the top, the next key is F with one flat (), and then B with two, and E with three etc.

Minor keys are represented in a similar fashion, starting at the top of the circle, the key of C, A minor (or Am) is the ‘relative minor’ of the key of C so it would take its place in the ‘high noon’ position. Moving around the circle clockwise, Em would be associated with G, Bm with D, etc.

Going across the circle will show the relationship of the I, IV, and V chords (the tonic, sub-dominant and dominant, the three chords most often employed in musical compositions, and their relative minors. In the key of C these would be C, F, and G, and Am, Dm and Em. This relationship would hold true for all keys, and can be a helpful clue to finding interesting harmonizations by seeking out interesting tone qualities in related, even distantly related keys.  



The period of music history which dates from the mid 1700’s to the mid-1800’s. The music was spare and emotionally reserved, especially when compared to Romantic and Baroque music:




The period of music history which dates from the mid 1800’s and lasted about sixty years. There was a strong regard for order and balance.




The keyboard of a stringed instrument.




In sheet music, a symbol at the beginning of the staff defining the pitch of the notes found in that particular staff.




You can get a lot of new energy out of an old cliché by using it in a way that shows that you know full well what you're saying, and what you are saying by saying it. There are many good examples of folks who took a well-worn slogan and recharged it by giving it a little twist that plays off of our expectations.



Click Track:

A pulse from a MIDI file or a metronome used to keep time during the recording process. This can also serve as a guide to musicians who overdub a part later in the process of completing the production. It’s a skill to play along to a click track, and it is advisable for singers and instrument players to practice playing to a metronome.




Clustering is a very useful technique although it has been the subject of ridicule among some writers. Clustering amounts to simply writing down the central thought and in a circle around it writing down every thought that the central thought suggests to you. It’s a way of producing a list of words that can be lyrics and it suggests more thoughts for the development of the song.




Closing section of a movement.




       The act or process of knowing; perception. Also the product of such a process; something thus known, perceived, etc.




Collaboration in songwriting helps in many ways. Working with one or more friends can improve a writer's productivity and skills and can even create access to the business side of music faster than anything else I know of. Some of us have a hard time getting started, some have a hard time finishing a song. Some of us only write lyrics, some only music. Some of us are great at thinking of titles, some preponderate in the left brain, some are lost in the right.



Comedy Songs:

   There is always room for at least one good funny song on the charts. In the fifties there would be many vying for radio time. Songs about flying saucers, The Purple People Eater, the epic, Stranded In the Jungle, Beep Beep (the song about the race between a Nash Rambler and a Cadillac), The Itsy‑Bitsy, Teeny‑Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, and dozens of other novelty songs.

   George Jones' career song until the recent He Stopped Loving Her Today, was White Lightning, a song extolling the effects of the corn liquor of the same name. Ray Stevens has delighted country audiences with clever and silly songs like Guitarzan, and The Streaker. A recent song on the country charts by David Frizell warned, “I'm gonna hire a wino to decorate our home.” In the song the wife is notifying her husband that she is going to do the house over with the décor of the neighborhood bar so that he'll feel more at home.

   Writing funny songs seems to require a sense for the really absurd things that we all either do or have seen others do. Lou and Peter Berryman have hit the mark with many excruciating and wonderful songs. In A Chat With Your Mother, the mother describes a series of rough characters and ends each verse with, “It's from them I would expect to hear the F word, not from you.” Here's the last verse:

   “There's unsavory musicians with their filthy pinko lyrics

    Who destroy the social fabric and enjoy it when they do.

    With their groupies and addictions and their poor heartbroken parents,

    It's from them I would expect to hear the F word, not from you.”


   Mark Graham has explored a sort of pseudo-scientific vein of humor. He has written, I've Seen Your Aura and It's Ugly, Working On the Food Chain, Festival Love and Their Brains Were Small and They Died (a song about the once proud and passionate dinosaurs.) One recent lyric he adapted from the Greek classic Oedipus Rex. A line which sticks in my memory is “He killed his pa and he married his ma, they don't even do that in Arkansas.”




Many professional songwriters have relied on writing commercials and jingles to generate extra money or to tide them over a rough patch between royalty checks. Many have found it to be a lucrative career in itself.

The biggest drawback of writing commercials is in the area of compromise. There are the compromises which may be necessary to satisfy the client, but the more basic compromise is in using a medium which has been the expression of the highest potential of the human spirit to serve the commercial purposes of the highest bidder.




       Derived from ‘accompaniment,’ musicians in an ensemble will play chords and countermelodies emphasizing rhythm behind the singer or lead player. In a rock or folk band, a guitarist or piano player will accompany by playing primarily root-position triads consisting of the notes of the chord known as the root, 3rd, and 5th.

In a jazz band a guitarist or pianist will comp by playing a variety of chords that include the notes of the chord known as the 3rd, 7th, 9th, and 13th (jazz chord players often omit the root, because the bass player usually plays the root.) There is an effect developed by jazz guitarists where a series of chords played on each quarter note keeps voices moving behind the melody of the song.



Compulsory Mechanical License:

A license allowing anyone to record a song that has been commercially recorded as long as they pay the royalties set by a Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel. Once you release your song commercially for the first time, you have no control over who records it from there on out. All they have to do is pay you 9.1 cents per unit sold, and you are required to allow them to do it.



Concert Master:

Usually the first violin in an orchestra. The master gives the A for the orchestra to tune to.




       A composition written for a solo instrument. The soloist plays the melody while the orchestra plays the accompaniment. Evolved from various forms of works using a solo instrument throughout the Baroque era and by the end of the eighteenth century denoted a work invariably in three movements (fast-slow-fast). It was designed principally as a work to demonstrate the virtuosity of the soloist, and was often written for the composer's own use as a soloist.



One who directs a group of performers. The conductor indicates the tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and style by gestures and facial expressions.



New material, one or two notes that connects two motives or two phrases together.




Groups of tones that are harmonious when sounded together as in a chord.



Consonance in Lyrics:

Repetition of consonant sounds within words. An example from my song, Tír Na nÓg:

                     “Pull upon the oars, my boys

                         Borne upon the water.

                         To the land of never ending joys

                         On the shores of Tír Na nÓg.”




       Song contests have been initiated in many places throughout the country. Most offer serious prizes, cash, studio time, even record deals. It has been helpful to many writers to have the recognition and validation that comes with being a winner.

It's important to note that not all writers feel that songs are created for competition. There are many spiritual aspects to the process and to the effects of good songwriting and some may not wish to subject this to the materialism and competitiveness that is inevitably a part of song contests. Each writer must make his own choice in these matters.




Lowest female singing voice.



Controlled Composition:

A clause in some artist contracts limits how much record labels will pay for songs written, co-written, or owned (and therefore controlled) by the artist on whose album it appears. The record company will generally pay the publisher of the controlled composition a reduced rate, which tends to vary from 50 - 75 percent of the statutory rate.




The publishing rights to a song are owned by two or more parties.




Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the creators of original works of authorship. The filing of a copyright application with the Library of Congress is a legal formality which publicly records the basic facts concerning the authorship, publication, ownership, or transfer of a song, dramatic work, pictorial or sculptural work, motion picture or sound recording. Even computer programs and maps are protected by copyright.




Two or three melodic lines played at the same time. Oblique Counterpoint occurs when these voices move independently.




A piece of music written in triple time. Also an old French dance.



Cover Version:

  A re-recorded version of a song by one or many subsequent artists after the initial recorded version has been released.




  To collaborate in the creation of a song. Also the song created by collaboration.



Creative Listening:

We live in a time when there is so much good music to listen to. Anyone interested in writing for a commercial market can find a dozen such marketplaces right on the radio dial. In addition to being inspired by what we hear, we can also pick up some less welcome messages. You can get the impression that songs don't always have to be written to a very high standard.




Meaning growing, as in a swelling of sound, or becoming louder.




  A song that is popular in more than one musical category.



Cue Sheet:

A list of the music used in a television program or motion picture by title, composer, publisher, timing and type of usage (background, feature, theme,) usually prepared by the producer, or music supervisor of the program or film.



Cumulative Song:

       A song that brings elements into is as it goes along so that each verse is longer. Good examples are The Twelve Days of Christmas, Children Go Where I Send Thee, and Old McDonald Had a Farm.




A commercially released recording of a song.



D.C. al fine: or da capo al fine

In sheet music, an instruction to repeat the beginning of the piece before stopping on the final measure marked with the word ‘fine,’ Italian for end.



Deceptive Cadence:

A chord progression that seems to lead to resolving itself on the final chord; but does not. Often instead going to the minor chord built on the sixth degree of the scale.




Getting softer; the opposite of crescendo.




Short for demonstration. It is a finished studio or home-recorded track that you use to pitch the song. Can be as simple as a singer with piano or guitar.



Derivative Work:

A work based on a pre-existing work. This can be a translation, dramatization, fictionalization, art reproduction, abridged or condensed version, or any other transformation or adaption of a work. Under U.S. Copyright Law, the only person who can grant the rights for a derivative work to be created is the holder of the copyright for the original work.



Deus Ex Machina:

       Taken from the Latin, means God from the machine. It refers to the abrupt resolution of a problem or conflict with some contrived, artificial plot device that steps in without any previous warning. It also touches on a similar concept, the ‘ghost in the machinery’ which has a very different meaning along the lines of an inanimate object taking on the semblance of a spiritual being.




Where the musical themes and melodies are developed, written in sonata form.



Diatonic Notes and Scales:

Elements derived from the modes and transpositions of the white note scale C to C on the white keys of the piano. In some usages it includes all forms of heptatonic scale that are in common use in Western music (the major, and all forms of the minor.)



Digital Download:

       A contract may designate how downloads are classified and paid for. PDD or DPD stands for permanent digital download or digital phonorecord delivery, both are used in contracts. A digital download is considered a phonorecord and is considered a mechanical replication.



Digital Millennium Copyright Act: (DMCA)

A federal anti-piracy law that makes it illegal to create and/or use technology that allows people to bypass measures intended to restrict access to copyrighted material. The DMCA also criminalizes the distribution of copyright-protected material, and targets music, film, and software piracy in particular.



Digital Recording:

Audio signals picked up by a microphone are converted into a stream of numbers which accurately represent the wave-form of the sound. This is referred to as ‘analog-to-digital conversion.’ These numbers are stored either on a tape, disc drive or a memory card. To play back a digital sound recording, the numbers are retrieved and converted back into their original analog waveforms. This is the ‘digital-to-analog conversion’ part of the process.

The method by which these sound waves are converted into digital information is called sampling. The ordinary CD is playing back samples recorded at 44.1 kHz, or forty-four thousand, one-hundred samples per second. Higher sample rates up to 192 kHz are used in the original recording process and then reduced, (dithered) down to the standard playback rate of a commercial CD. A similar process is used for video recording.

The other issue in digital recording is the ‘word size.’ The number of increments possible in measuring the volume of the signal as it sweeps up from zero to full volume. If there are more increments, or ‘bits’ in the sample, a greater resolution, a clearer sample is possible. Similar to using a larger film negative for clearer resolution. Commonly sixteen and twenty-four bit samples are used, although the word size must be reduced in any case to sixteen to be played back on a consumer grade CD player.



Digital Streaming:

       Also called streaming – when a song is playable online. Pandora and other online digital radio stations employ digital streaming into their business models. There is currently no standard rate for royalties for streaming. Spotify pays less than 1 cent per stream, Rhapsody pays about 1 cent.




  A designation that shortens the note values it is applied to.



Dionysus and Apollo: Creative chaos versus order and calm.

The ancient Greeks believed that creativity was a struggle between the forces of chaos (the Dionysian) and the forces striving to bring order to chaos (The Apollonian). My sense of it is that by being a willing witness to the reality of all struggle more than enough material for creative work can be found.



Dirty Songs:

       Also called ‘blue’ material. The famous song Rum and Coca Cola, began life as a Calypso song and achieved popularity with many nightclub audiences. There are dozens of suggestive and highly suggestive verses that have been sung to this song over the years. One of my favorites is:

   “Billy Rose said to Sally Rand,

    Why don't you dance without your fan?

    Sally danced without her fan,

    Billy rose and Sally ran.”


   I remember hearing Chuck Berry complain that his song, My Dingaling had eclipsed Johnny B. Goode in popularity and that he was afraid that he would be remembered for a song that he wrote as a gag.



Harsh, discordant, and lack of harmony. Also a chord that sounds incomplete until it resolves itself to a harmonious chord.



The Divine Madness:

It may have been in response to the scientific revolution of the late eighteen hundreds, but much artistic work began to take issue with the ever more prevalent idea that a person was no more than a complicated machine. Many authors from Henry James to Dostoyevsky sought to characterize the working of the human mind and raised new questions about thought and creativity.

Many of these writers explored the mind not in terms of logic and determinism, but in terms of magic and myth, even insanity. Much of the writing of this century could be characterized as a movement of The Wild Mind, the Theater of the Absurd, Impressionism and Fantasy.



DIY: (Do it Yourself)

       It is easier from an artist to take on many aspects of their own career management. Publicity, bookings, even recording, editing and distribution are easier in the Internet world. It may be that eventually professional services will become available, but in the interim there is no need to wait to do professional work. No need to ask permission.




Meaning to be performed sweetly or delicately.




A small symbol placed to the right of a note that increases the duration of the note by one half. These are called ‘dotted notes.’



Double Entendre:

       Literally, a statement with two meanings. “She’s acting single, I’m drinkin’ doubles,” “It’s Your Call,” “On the Other Hand.” The songwriter must take care to control other meanings that are not intended.




The first beat in a measure as conducted by the leader of an ensemble is called the downbeat.




       Many people have experienced the beginnings of a song in a dream. Dream journals can be a good source of ideas, and many have explored the language and symbolism of dreams.

“Consciously or unconsciously, all writers employ the dream, even when they're not surrealists. The waking mind, you see, is the least serviceable in the arts. In the process of writing one is struggling to bring out what is unknown to himself. To put down what one is conscious of means nothing, really, gets one nowhere.” - Henry Miller




Dull, monotonous tone such as a humming or buzzing sound. Also a bass note held under a melody.




A piece of music written for two vocalists or instrumentalists. Or two people performing a work.



Dummy Line:

In lyric writing, a dummy line is one that’s stuck into the rough draft of a lyric in lieu of a better solution. It keeps the song moving where it might otherwise stall. A dummy line is temporary, and will often be tweaked or replaced entirely before the song is ready for performance.




Pertaining to the loudness or softness of a musical composition. Also the symbols in sheet music indicating volume. Can also refer to the variations in volume of a vocal or instrumental performance.




The joining together of two phrases usually by having the last note of the 1st phrase become the first note of the next phrase.




An instrumental lament with praise for the dead.




A piece of music played at the end of a recital responding to the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to the performance, shown by continuous applause.



End Rhyme:

  The normal type of rhyme where the last word-sound of a line rhymes with an early line. Also called ‘masculine rhyme.’




A symbol in sheet music a direction to play energetically.



Enharmonic Interval:

Two notes that differ in name only. The notes occupy the same position. For example: C sharp and D flat.




A group of musicians playing together like an orchestra or a string quartet; or the actual act of playing as a unit, or performing together.




Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning and end of a phrase:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” - Romans 12:15




Repetition at the end of a line with the beginning word of that line:

 Shine, Jesus Shine, by Graham Kendrick, which also includes the phrase “Blaze, Spirit blaze and Flow, river flow.”




The repetition of a refrain.




Repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive verses or clauses.




A direction to play expressively.




A musical composition written solely to improve technique. Often performed for artistic interest.



Exclusive Rights:

       The right of a copyright owner to exclusively authorize recording, performance, or other uses of his work.



Exclusive Songwriter Agreement:

       A contract between a publisher and a songwriter in which the songwriter, for a percentage of any royalty income, assigns all songs written during the term of the contract to the Publisher.




       In music publishing, to seek sources of revenue for a song.



Exercises for Songwriters:

Word games, timed writing, random adjectives and nouns, etc.




The first section of a movement written in sonata form, introducing the melodies and themes.




Atonal and violent style used as a means of evoking heightened emotions and states of mind.



Fake Book:

A collection of musical lead sheets intended to help a performer quickly learn and perform new songs. Each song in a fake book contains the melody line, basic chords and sometimes lyrics - the minimal information needed by a musician or small group to make an impromptu, extemporized arrangement of a song, or fake it.

The fake book is a central part of the culture of playing music in jazz, where strong improvisation abilities are expected from comping rhythm section players (piano, electric guitar, double bass, drum kit) and lead instruments which play the melody and improvise lengthy solos over the chord progression.




A style of male singing where by partial use of the vocal chords, the voice is able to reach the pitch of a female.




A musical work used as an announcement, often played by the brass section of the orchestra or a single instrumentalist like a trumpet.



Feminine Rhyme:

       Also called double rhyme. When the last two syllables of a word rhyme with an earlier word. ‘Fable and stable.’ The very last syllable may be exactly the same, or simply rhyming; ‘offer and coffer, or offer and copper.’ The feminine rhyme refers to the next-to-the-last syllable.




To hold a tone or rest held beyond the written value at the discretion of the performer. Indicated by a sign in the score.




There are many international song festivals which present the most illustrious songs and songwriters and artists and give kings' ransoms in awards. These seem to be primarily centered on the handful of big songs and are actively sought after by the large corporate music entities. Still they are all worth attending and certainly worth aspiring to.

       By contrast, almost every regional and traditional music festival has now made some provision for emerging songwriters to present their songs. Some offer awards while some just provide a place and an audience and no other formal recognition. One example of an established song competition is the New Folk segment of the Kerrville Folk Festival held every spring in Texas.




The interval between two notes that are a fifth scale degree apart. C to G. Three whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between the two notes.




Ornamental phrases played by a lead instrument to fill in a space on a recording or performance. Drummers also employ fills in the space between sections of a song.



First Thought:

   The idea that first thought is best thought comes to us from Eastern teaching. Every writer must develop some way of getting back to this first thought moment even after many second thoughts. This is in the same category as trying not to think of monkeys. I usually set up the recorder and do at least a half hour of a running first draft just to get some of the kinks out and to selectively forget what I can go back and evaluate later. It's good to do this in a place where you don't need to apologize if you moan or cry or laugh out loud.


First Use:

An element of copyright law that grants the publisher or copyright owner control over the work's first use. Though the custom is to charge the statutory rate, the publisher or copyright owner can decide who gets to record a copyrighted work for the first time and how much to charge them.



Fixed in a Tangible Medium of Expression:

A term coined by the Copyright Act meaning that an original literary, artistic or intellectual work has a valid copyright as soon as it is written down or recorded in a manner sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced or communicated for a period of more than transitory duration.




Movement or passage that concludes the musical composition.




A symbol () indicating that the note is to be diminished by one semitone. For example, if we have the note D and we add a flat to it the note now becomes D-flat or D. Also the condition of being out of tune below the correct pitch.



Folk Music:

       Most simply, music made up and played by and for people, as opposed to commercial or royal patronage. In an article called The Folk & the Modern, Colin Lazzerini writes:

“It might seem oxymoronic to call something modern when it refers to practices rooted in a period identified by song historians as the golden age which occurred back before the 1950s, but that was when popular song became clever and complex and sophisticated - so it works ok for me.

Similarly, folk may sound an incongruous rubric to use in reference to contemporary pop and rock forms, but I think it should be clear by now that their simpler strophic structures have traditional folk roots. So it makes sense without too much trouble. Come to that, though, with the very idea of strophe having origins in ancient Greece, we could also fairly get away with calling it classic.”



Foreign Mechanicals:

Royalties paid to a publisher for the sale of copyrighted songs in foreign territories. Unlike US mechanical royalties, foreign mechanicals do not have a fixed penny rate, but usually are paid as a percentage of the wholesale price (generally between 6 and 12%, depending on the territory.) Foreign mechanicals are collected by local societies such as GEMA in Germany and SACEM in France.




The structure of a piece of music. Is form the cornerstone of good writing, or is it the millstone? Isn't it true that the more we work with these elements, the easier it is to just see them as suggestions and sense the new and original things that may work within the form?




A symbol indicating to play loud and strong.




Louder than forte.




The interval between two notes four scale degrees apart. C to F. Two whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between the two notes.




Smaller sections of a composition.



Free Writing:

       Often used as an exercise or a way to begin writing on a topic. Similar to timed writing where for a set period of time the writer writes loosely, freely in complete sentences and paragraphs without concern for editing, punctuation, or how it may sound to others.




A composition written for three to six voices. Beginning with the exposition, each voice enters at different times, creating counterpoint with one another.




Music written for a lively French dance for two performers written in triple time.




A 17th century dance written in Quadruple time, always beginning on the third beat of the measure.




A genre of music is simply a category. This category is affixed by artists, fans, critics, or salespeople in an attempt to group musically similar works together.

A genre may be associated with certain musical instruments, attitudes, philosophies, and values; composition techniques, artistic approaches, demographics, musical scales, rhythms, time periods, lyric themes or geographic locations



The Geography of the Song:

It’s possible to see the features of a song in a geographical model. The soft meadows, the rugged peaks, the romantic hills. The hard climb, the rapid slide, the sense of journey, the sense of coming home.



Ghost Melody:

When a lyricist writes a lyric inspired by a specific melody, then discards that melody and keeps the lyric, we say that the lyric was written to a ghost melody.

Lyricists do this sometimes when inspired by the melody of a copyrighted song. To avoid infringement, the original melody is discarded and a new one is composed.




Vocal composition written for three or more solo parts, usually without instrumental accompaniment.




Sliding between two notes.




Chose words to clearly convey your meaning. Many subtle qualities of shading and mood are there to be exploited.

“Grammar is to a writer what anatomy is to a sculptor, or the scales to a musician. You may loath it, it may bore you, but nothing will replace it, and once mastered it will support you like a rock.” - B.J. Chute




Word to indicate that the movement or entire composition is to be played grandly.




Word to indicate the movement or entire composition is to be played very slow and serious. Gravely.




Word to indicate the movement or entire composition is to be played gracefully.



Gregorian Chant:

Singing or chanting in unison without strict rhythm. Collected during the Reign of Pope Gregory VIII for psalms and other parts of the church service.




       The groove is the sense that the song is holding the players in a strong center, a course that seems to continue on its own by virtue of their playing well together. We say that a track has a ‘good groove.’ The term groovy comes out of the jazz lexicon. It may derive from the idea of a phonograph needle ‘in the groove.’




       Classical Guitar:

              The traditional instrument for which much of the classical repertoire was created. Usually with gut or nylon strings, the classical guitar is played without picks.


       Electric Guitar:

              Because the tone of the electric guitar is generated by the string moving across a magnetic pickup, the sound can be amplified and processed electronically. Notes sustain for a longer time and can be compressed further and enhanced with reverberations and other effects, so that the instrument has more of the characteristics of a bowed instrument. Also the electric guitar can employ very light gauges of strings, so it’s easier to play scales and patterns, and to bend strings for musical effects.


       Steel String Guitar:

              What we think of as the normal six-string guitar, although twelve-strings are made with the setup as far as playing is concerned. Jazz music is more often played on a guitar with a carved top, with a shape similar to a cello or violin, with ‘f’ holes cut into it. Folk and Country music are played on a ‘flat top guitar’ with a round hole. Styles differ as well.


Guitar Tunings:

Standard tuning is EADGBE from the lowest, the sixth string to the highest or first string. In Drop-D tuning, the sixth string, E is tuned down to a D, so the guitar is tuned DADGBE. For this tuning almost all the same chords can be played, some changes might be needed. In the key of D, this tuning can be very satisfying with the root note, D at the bottom.

DADGAD is a tuning utilized by a lot of British and generally Celtic players. Open-G DGDGBD is favored by blues players and works very well with a slide since anywhere you put the slide will create a major chord.

The Hawaiians have explored tunings with great results and call this kind of tuning experimentation, ‘Slack Key.’

Harvey Reed has developed a way of teaching and playing the guitar which utilizes tunings to create simpler, more easily played chords. He calls this the Liberty Guitar Method.



Gypsy Music:

Romani-related music played in a characteristic gypsy style and Romani music, the original music of the Romani people. Eastern-European musical scale elements are common, the use of the harmonic minor mode, etc. Wikipedia offers these examples:

Hungarian minor scale, minor scale with raised fourth and seventh degrees, also known as Double Harmonic minor scale. Hungarian Gypsy scale, minor scale with raised fourth but natural seventh. It is the fourth mode of Neapolitan minor scale. Phrygian dominant scale, also known as Spanish Gypsy scale. Double harmonic scale (major), the fifth mode of Hungarian minor, or Double Harmonic minor, scale. Ukrainian Dorian scale, also called Ukrainian minor scale.


Gypsy Jazz:

Also known as gypsy swing or hot club jazz, also jazz manouche based on its origins in France. Gypsy Jazz is a style of jazz music popularized by guitarist Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt in the 1930s. Drawing from the Eastern European and Roma traditions, the work of Django and Stéphane Grappelli have influenced succeeding generations of players.




A musical interval (as E-F or B-C) equivalent to 1/12 of an octave.



Harmonic Tension:

In building toward a resolution of a musical theme, tension is created by using dissonance. The most common device is the dominant chord. In the key of C this is the G7 chord. Also harmonic tension can be created by using suspension dissonances where a note that is not in the resolving chord is held over from the previous chord such as a fourth resolving to a third. Heard often in an ‘amen’ ending.




Pleasing combination of two or three tones played together in the background while a melody is being played. Harmony also refers to the study of chord progressions.



The Harmonic Song:  

Major or minor, diminished or augmented chords or intervals. Is there a sense of resolution? Do the song's harmonic elements seem to be well integrated and memorable?



Harry Fox Agency:

A company that represents music publishers in the negotiation of mechanical licenses, synchronization licenses and foreign licenses, and the collection of music royalty income. In 2015, the Harry Fox Agency was bought by SESAC.



Head Rhyme:

Head rhyme refers to rhyme pairs that appear at the beginnings of lines, rather than the end.

Most songwriters and listeners take it for granted that rhymes always appear at the ends of lyric lines, so this simple trick can be very ear-catching. It shifts emphasis away from the ends of lines and makes them top-heavy in a way that sounds fresh and different.



Heptatonic Scale:

A musical scale that has seven pitches per octave. Examples include the major scale and minor scale and some variations. The C major scale is C D E F G A B C, and its relative minor, A minor A B C D E F G. There is also the melodic minor scale, C D E F G A B C ascending, C B A G F E D C descending; the harmonic minor scale, C D E F G A B C; and a scale variously known as the Roman Byzantine, and Hungarian, scale, C D E F G A B C.



Hip Hop:

A music genre formed in the United States in the 1970s that consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. It developed as part of hip hop culture, a subculture defined by four key stylistic elements: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching, break dancing, and graffiti writing. Other elements include sampling (or synthesis), and beatboxing.

While often used to refer to rapping, Hip hop more properly denotes the practice of the entire subculture. The term hip hop music is sometimes used synonymously with the term rap music, though rapping is not a required component of hip hop music; the genre may also incorporate other elements of hip hop culture, including DJing, turntablism, and scratching, beatboxing, and instrumental tracks. - Wikipedia



Hit Song:

       A song which has become widely known and popular. Formerly, a song which reached the ‘Top 40’ on one of the sales charts.




Music written to be sung or played in unison.




Musical or lyrical devices that Hook the listener. Some of these devices can be very subliminal. Are they effective? Are they used smoothly and tastefully?



House Music:

A genre of electronic dance music created by club DJs and music producers that originated in Chicago in the early 1980s. Early house music was generally dance-based music characterized by repetitive 4/4 beats, rhythms mainly provided by drum machines, off-beat hi-hat cymbals, and synthesized basslines. While house displayed several characteristics similar to disco music, it was more electronic and minimalistic, and the repetitive rhythm of house was more important than the song itself. - Wikipedia




A song of praise and glorification. Most often to honor God.




A figure that employs exaggeration, as in Wesley’s “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.” In her poem Sow, Sylvia Plath uses hyperbole to tell us about a pig with quite an appetite, who:

“Proceeded to swill

 The seven troughed seas and every earthquaking continent.”




       A movement of poetry founded by Ezra Pound in the early twentieth century. Pound who was the first editor for T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, wrote that the image was an essential feature of a poem.


       Petals on a wet, black bough.” and

“The Image is the poet’s paint box.” - Ezra Pound



Imperfect Rhyme:

Words that sound close in rhyme but are not strictly rhyming. Also called ‘near rhyme’ or ‘slant rhyme.’




A short piano piece, often improvisational and intimate in character.




       A more free interpretation of melody and even rhythm expression of a piece. Not proscribed by the music. Extemporaneous performance.



Incidental Music:

Music usually composed in short sections, often with recurring themes, for a particular stage production.



Independent Publisher:

Music publishing companies that are independent from major recorded music businesses. A songwriter may choose to keep the publishing rights to his own songs and establish a publishing company for that purpose.




An independent record label, producer, or music publisher.




The legal term for stealing, or otherwise profiting from someone else's copyrighted work. It is usually construed to mean an intentional act, but there have been cases of unintentional infringement such as the famous case involving the songs My Sweet Lord and He's So Fine.

George Harrison always said that it was an unconscious or at least un-intended imitation of the Chiffon’s hit. There is a lot of joyful imitation in rock & roll, without necessarily amounting to larceny. Here’s an article from Performing Songwriter Magazine about the case:




       Perception. Apprehending the true nature of a thing, especially through intuitive understanding. The quality of the observations of a song. Ideas that draw the listener to a deeper experience.




   “Inspiration may be a form of superconsciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness, I wouldn't know. But I am sure that it is the antithesis of self-consciousness.” - Aaron Copeland




Arrangement of music for a combined number of instruments. It is the way a composer or arranger takes musical sounds and assigns them to specific instruments.



Instrumental Break:

       That part of a recording or live performance where a musician plays a ‘lead’ or solo part, usually between vocal sections or in the introduction of the song, or the ‘outro’ as the songs fades out.



Intellectual Property:

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

Alternatively, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Isaac McPherson on August 13, 1813: “If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”




Piece of instrumental music played between scenes in a play or opera.




Short movement or interlude connecting the main parts of the composition.



Internal Rhyme: (Also called Middle Rhyme):

Rhyme that occurs within a line or within the body of closely grouped lines, rather than End Rhyme, which occurs at the end of lines.




The expression the performer brings when playing his instrument.




The distance in pitch between two notes. In the C scale, the interval between the first note and the second is a major second, C to D where the black key, the D# needs to be jumped over. Alternatively, the distance between the E and the F is only a minor second since there is no key between these two. Other intervals are major and minor thirds depending on the orientation of whole steps and half steps. C to E is a major third, while D to F is a minor third. Similarly, the interval of the sixth can be major or minor, while the fourth and fifth are both ‘perfect.’



Intervallic Ornamentation:

A type of embellishment of a melody wherein which additional notes are used to fill up an interval between two notes.




The manner in which tones are produced with regard to pitch.




The opening section of a piece of music or movement.




A chord may be written with the root on the bottom and the third and fifth above, or ‘inverted’ with either the third on the bottom or the fifth. The first case is called the ‘first inversion,’ and the second is the ‘second inversion.’ The chord may function differently in the harmony and better serve the melodic movement of the parts.

Also used to describe a reversal of the natural grammatical order of a phrase or sentence (subject-verb-object,) this is called an Anastrophe:

“All to Jesus I surrender

 All to Him I freely give”




Language and vocabulary specific to a particular trade, profession, or group. Cowboy songs, for instance employ a colorful array of terms like ‘raita,’ ‘hobble,’ ‘cayuse,’ etc. Same for sailing or whaling songs, many other specialized sets of terms. Cutting-edge contemporary songs may use street language that will come and go quite rapidly, and can seem ‘dated’ when heard even a few months later.




A music that originated in New Orleans during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and moved north to places like Kansas City and Chicago. It emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African American and European American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz spans a period of over a hundred years, encompassing a very wide range of music, making it difficult to define.

Jazz makes heavy use of improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swing note, as well as aspects of European harmony, American popular music, the brass band tradition, and African musical elements such as blue notes and African-American styles such as ragtime. Although the foundation of jazz is deeply rooted within the black experience of the United States, different cultures have contributed their own experience and styles to the art form as well. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as one of America's original art forms.



Jazz Standards:

       Musical compositions which are an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded by jazz musicians, and widely known by listeners. Many are originally Tin Pan Alley popular songs, Broadway show tunes or songs from Hollywood musicals – the Great American Songbook.




       Many a great song has been inspired by a joke. But it’s also helpful to think about how jokes work, and apply that logic to our songs. There’s not a wasted word in a good joke. There is an agenda of information, a formula that must be upheld for the joke to have its impact.

Just as in a joke, a song must adhere to principles to honor the listener’s sense of time and relevance. The punchline is a ‘hook,’ and the setup is the kind of explication we associate with a verse.

       For an example of a joke made into a song, listen to Mr. O’Reilly at:




A group of pitches based on a particular tonic, and comprising a scale, regarded as forming the tonal basis of a piece or section of music.



Key Signature:

The flats and sharps at the beginning of each staff line indicating the key of music the piece is to be played.




The technique of altering the tone color of a single note or musical line by changing from one instrument to another in the middle of a note or line.




Usually slightly faster than largo.




Meaning wide, broad. In music a tempo marking meaning to be performed slowly, ponderously.



Lead Sheet:

       A simple page with words and chords for a song. May also show the melody in simple notation, but not a complete piano arrangement as in most sheet music.



Leading note:

The seventh note of the scale where there is a strong desire to resolve on the tonic.



Ledger Line:

A small line written above or below the staff to extend the range of notation.




       Notes played in a smooth, connected manner.




A musical theme given to a particular idea or main character of an opera.




A book of text containing the words of an opera.




Curved line connecting notes to be sung or played as a phrase.




A written agreement allowing a person to use a song or other property in exchange for payment of a royalty.



List Song:

       A song which uses a list of things usually in order like the alphabet, or seasons of the year. Good ones are, A-You’re Adorable, or the Beach Boys’ California Girls.




       The words.



Lyric Writer:

       Songwriters often find that there is a benefit to having one writer focus on the words, and the other or others be more involved with the music. Many well-known songs are the product of that division of labor. Bernie Taupin wrote lyrics for most of Elton John’s songs. Dorothy Fields wrote the words to The Sunny Side of the Street.




A contrapuntal song written for at least three voices, usually without accompaniment.




A term of respect. It refers to any great composer, conductor, or teacher of music.




One of the two modes of the tonal system. Music written in major keys have a positive affirming character. When it refers to a chord, then the chord has three musical pitches with the space between the first and second pitches being four half steps, and the distance between the second and third pitches being three half steps. A half step is the smallest interval (space or distance) in traditional western classical music. It is the distance from any key on the piano to the closest adjoining key (white or black).

When major refers to a key, it is the central tonality upon which a work or movement is constructed, and will usually use the same tonic chord as the central or destination chord of the composition. For example, the Schumann Symphony No. 3 is in the key of E-flat major, and the first and last movements begin and end in the key of E-flat. Of course many keys and chords are used throughout this five movement work, but the most prominent one is E-flat.




A form of music written for marching in two-step time. Originally the march was used for military processions.




  The final mixed version of a recorded song that is intended to be released for commercial sale.




The unit of measure where the beats on the lines of the staff are divided up into two, three, or four beats to a measure. A measurement of time in music that contains a specific number of pulses defined by a time signature, and that is contained within bar lines.



Mechanical Royalties:

Fees paid by a record company to the copyright owners for the right to manufacture and distribute CDs, records, tapes, and certain digital configurations containing a particular song. The current statutory rate is 9.1 cents per song, per unit manufactured and sold up to 5 minutes in duration. Add 1.75 cents per min for songs over 5 minutes in length. However, the rate is often negotiated to a reduced rate of the statutory mechanical rate.




Often used in overtures, a composition that uses passages from other movements of the composition in its entirety.




       A form of ornamentation. This is when a note is replaced or emphasized by a group of adjoining notes.



Melodic Contours:

The shape of melody as it is ascending, descending, or moving in an arch or inverted arch.




An identifiable succession of musical sounds. The tune.



Melody writer:

Songwriters collaborate and sometimes benefit from the separation of duties. One writer may focus more on melody, and the other or others on lyrics. Famous melody writers would include, Burt Bacharach, who worked primarily with Hal David, and Richard Rogers, who is famous for songs written with Laurence Hart as well as with Oscar Hammerstein.



The Melodic Song:

   Do re mi. Can you whistle the tune? Does it sound too familiar? If you heard a Muzak arrangement of it on an elevator would it have its own recognizable identity?  




A comparison between two unlike things, in which one is symbolic or representative of the other.




     Meter is expressed as a pattern of strong beats and weak beats within the lines of a poem. Meter is what give a song lyric or a poem its rhythmic energy. Strong beats tend to be longer and weak beats tend to be shorter. An example of this is ‘tryptic,’ or ‘magic,’ or ‘often.’ If you read the poem out loud, you may hear the patterns more easily. In a song these should be subtle effects and should serve the natural conversational language of the song.

English poetry employs five basic meters including; iambic meter (weak, strong) as in ‘connect,’ trochaic meter (weak, strong, weak), as in ‘vacation.’ Spondaic meter, (strong, strong), as in ‘sandman,’ anapestic meter (weak, strong, weak), as in ‘corruption,’ and dactylic meter (strong, weak, weak), ‘hungrily,’ or ‘awkwardly.’



The voice between soprano and alto. Also, in sheet music, a direction for the tempo to be played at medium speed.



MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface.

A system used by the computer to sequence musical sounds. MIDI files are small and can be sent or downloaded over the Internet. Files can be adapted for tempo and key within the MIDI program. Sections can be cut and pasted like text. A great way for the songwriter to program instruments he may not be able to play.




One of the two modes of the tonal system. The minor mode can be identified by the dark, melancholic mood. When it refers to a chord the chord will have three different pitches. From the first to the second pitch or note there are three half steps, and the distance between the second and third pitch there are four half steps.

When minor refers to a key, it is the central tonality upon which a work or movement is constructed, and will usually use the same tonic chord as the central chord. For example, the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony is in c minor. The most prominent chord is a c minor chord and the central pitch is a C. Of course many keys and chords are used throughout the movement.




Slow and stately dance music written in triple time.




Mnemonics are memory devices that help you recall larger pieces of information. Everybody knows how to remember how many days there are in each month. “30 days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31except February, the little one.” Or, “I before E except after C or when sounded like A as in neighbor and weigh.” The ABC Song helps children to learn the letters of the alphabet.

Remembering how to count time signatures can be reduced to a similar device which represents the pulses. 4/4 time is like watermelon, 3/4 is Strawberry, 2/4 is Pizza, 6/8 is Pineapple pineapple, 5/4 is Hippopotamus, 7/8 Baby hippopotamus. 




       A mode is a scale. The most common mode is what we think of as the major scale. It has a unique pattern of whole steps and half steps between the notes of the scale. On the piano keyboard, using only the white keys, beginning on C, the notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. A closer look will reveal that between each white key and the next white key there is a black key with only two exceptions. Between E and F there no black key, so this distance is referred to as a half-step. The same occurs between B and C.

A major scale, then, is built from two whole steps and one half step from the starting note. This first group of four is called a tetrachord, the four notes from C to F. The second tetrachord, from G to C must be separated from the first by a whole step, and then the same pattern of two whole steps and a half step to complete the scale.

       We’ve come to think of this mode as the common major scale, but it is also known as the Ionian mode and is one of many such modes. If we use the same white keys, but start on the D, we are using the Dorian Mode. Starting on the E, we find the Phrygian Mode. (This mode has a sense of much of the music of Spanish or Arabic influences.) Then from F, the Lydian Mode; G, the Mixolydian Mode; A, the Aeolian Mode; and finally, the Locrian Mode from B to B.

       There’s more to this than just the letters. A song which seems to be in the key of G, but uses an F major chord (as opposed to the F# minor chord which is built on the normal seventh scale degree in the key of G) might actually be written in the Mixolydian Mode. Played in G, the song still uses the pattern of whole steps and half steps that we had in the G to G scale using only the white keys.

       The Aeolian Mode built on the sixth degree is the only minor mode derived from the white keys in this exercise, but we do often hear several different minor modes with different features. The two most common variations on the standard Aeolian minor mode are the Melodic Minor with the same relationships except for the third scale degree lowered (or flatted) by a half step.

In our example this would change the C to C flat (actually B, but can be written as C flat in sheet music.) The second variation is known as the Harmonic Minor, and this is achieved by lowering (or flatting) the seventh scale degree, the G to G flat. Try playing these first on a piano keyboard, and when you are familiar with the difference try singing melodies with those features.

       Each key has its relative minor. This is the minor chord and scale built on the sixth scale degree of the key. In G Major the relative minor scale would be E minor. When you play the notes to a G Major scale but start on E, you get an E minor scale).

       Each minor scale is related to a major scale by way of its third scale degree, so the relative major of A Minor is C. The scale of the key of D minor is related to the scale of F Major.

       It’s not necessary to know all the modes in order to benefit from interesting chord choices, but it does help us to remove some of the mysteries of composition.




Medium tempo / speed




To shift to another key.



Molto Vivace:

Very lively, or at a very quick speed.




In workshops I'm fond of saying that if it took you twenty years to write Gentle on My Mind, you still would have earned at least $100,000 a year. The idea is not to try get in step with the industry and its voracious appetite for songs, but to get into our own rhythm of creative productivity. That appetite for new songs will be there when we feel our songs are ready to be heard. The idea is to do the kind of writing that honors the time spent. If we can remove the artificial speediness of the so called success orientation, we can really do something worthwhile.




Repetition of a single tone.



The Mood Song:

Is there a quality of non-verbal, emotional expression to the song?  Have we worked it too long, or not long enough? Have we lost the first sense?



The Moon:

       The moon is used so often in songs and poems that it seems unnecessary to point it out. But the moon has properties and meanings which have been explored by scientists and writers for thousands of years, and continues to be a rich source of powerful art.

This list of the Names of the full Moons is from the Farmer's Almanac. Although this list is particularly useful to songwriters, the Almanac contains a wealth of other amazing and informative stuff. Many these names date back to the Algonquin tribes of the Northeast.


January:      The Wolf Moon, also called the Full Old Moon.

February:    The Snow Moon, or the Hunger Moon

March:      The Worm Moon, or the Crow Moon, Sugar Moon or Sap Moon

April:         The Pink Moon, or Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, or Fish Moon

May:        The Flower Moon, Corn Planting Moon, or the Milk Moon

June:         The Strawberry Moon, the Rose Moon, or the Hot Moon

July:           The Buck Moon, the Thunder Moon, or the Full Hay Moon

August:      The Sturgeon Moon, the Red Moon, or Green Corn Moon

September: The Harvest Moon. (Always the full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

If this occurs in October, the full Moon in September is called The Corn Moon.)

October:     The Hunter's Moon, Travel Moon, or Dying Grass Moon

November: The Beaver Moon, or the Full Frost Moon

December: The Cold Moon, or the Full Long Nights Moon


A Black Moon is the second new moon in any month.

A Blue Moon is the second full moon in any month.


Charles John Quarto wrote the poem, Grapes On the Vine, which I set to music. Sung by Waylon Jennings, Tony Rice and others, it contains the lines:

“You can find him in Pittsburgh at Christmas

 You can find him in Buffalo in June.

 And he knows all the backroads between them

 Like a gypsy knows the moon.”




       The designation for ‘middle-of-the-road music.




Primary theme or subject that is developed. An identifiable succession of musical sounds, but shorter than a complete melody. Also referred to as ‘motive.’




A separate section of a larger composition. A large unit within a symphony or concerto. It usually is comprised of many themes or musical ideas.



The Muse:

       The Muses were the Greek goddesses of inspiration in literature, science and the arts. There were nine Muses according to Hesiod, each protecting a different art and being symbolized with a different item; Calliope (epic poetry - writing tablet), Clio (history - scroll), Euterpe (lyric poetry - aulos, a Greek flute), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry - comic mask), Melpomene (tragedy - tragic mask), Terpsichore (dance - lyre), Erato (love poetry - cithara, a Greek type of lyre), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry - veil), and Urania (astronomy - globe and compass). On the other hand, Varro mentions that only three Muses exist: Melete (practice), Mneme (memory) and Aoide (song).


“There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, It is yet more difficult than you thought. This is the muse of form.

...It may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” - Wendell Berry




A Baroque dance with a drone-bass.



Music Publishing:

       The commercial exploitation of songs through the issuance of mechanical licenses, synchronization licenses, performing rights licenses, print licenses as well as other licenses authorizing various uses of the songs.



Music Row:

An area of Nashville, Tennessee which consists primarily of recording studios, publishing houses, and others involved in the songwriting trade. It’s an older, residential neighborhood with lots of history and songs written about it. Sixteenth Avenue, Church Street and many others that refer to local landmarks.



Musical Work:

A melody and any accompanying lyrics; more commonly referred to as a musical composition or a song.



Musician’s Union Scale:

The contract wages paid to a studio musician for his instrumental work on a demo or a master recording session. If demo scale is paid initially, the recording cannot be used as a master unless an upgrade to master scale is paid to each musician who played on it.




The study of forms, history, science, and methods of music.




       A commercial broadcast of mostly easy listening and classical music, often heard in elevators, shopping malls and restaurants. It has been used as a term for innocuous music, not exciting.




Many wonderful songs have been written with people's names in the title. Sometimes just a name and sometimes a memorable phrase with a name. Here are some of the women's names;



   Barbara Ann

   Billie Jean


   Delta Dawn

   Dizzy Miss Lizzy

   The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll


   Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds


   Norma Jean

   Polk Salad Annie


   Sweet Caroline


And some of the men;


   Bad Bad Leroy Brown

   Duke of Earl

   Dumas Walker

   Hey Joe

   I'm Henry the Eighth

   Good Time Charlie

   Johnny B. Goode


   Louie, Louie

   Mr. BoJangles

   Ode to Billy Joe

   Running Bear

   Reuben James

   Stagger Lee


What about place names?


   Alabama Waltz

   The Battle of New Orleans

   California Dreamin'

   Chattanooga Choo Choo


   Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?



   Kansas City

   Key Largo


   Luckenbach, Texas


   Missouri Waltz

   Moonlight In Vermont

   New York, New York

   Penny Lane

   Rose of San Antone

   Tobacco Road



Nashville Chart: Nashville Numbers:

A system of using Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4) to notate music as opposed to written notation (notes on a music staff) or the Classical method of notation using Roman numerals such as I, ii, iii, IV (lower case designates a minor chord). This is widely used in recording sessions in Nashville and allows musicians to quickly transpose songs instead of writing out a new chart for every key.



NSAI: Nashville Songwriters Association International

A member organization sponsoring songwriter workshops and information.



National Music Publishers Association: (NMPA)

The trade association representing American music publishers and their songwriting partners. The NMPA's mandate is to protect and advance the interests of music publishers and songwriters in matters relating to the domestic and global protection of music copyrights. Visit the NMPA's official website for more information.




A symbol in sheet music that returns a note to its original pitch after it has been raised or lowered by an accidental.



Neighbor Tone:

Like the passing tone, a neighbor tone is a melodic embellishment that occurs between two stable tones, typically chord tones. Also like the passing tone, movement from the stable tone to the neighbor tone and back will always be by step.




Movement in music where the characteristics are crisp and direct.




A new word, or unique combining of two existing words in a new way which often utilizes a pun to convey its point. Can also mean applying a term in a new way. In psychology this can be associated with schizophrenia and may only have meaning to the person who coins the word.

Songwriters do exploit the split brain on occasion, so it may be useful especially in humor. The Washington Post publishes the winners of its annual contest in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.  Here are a few of the clean ones:


Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

Explanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.




A musical composition that has a romantic or dreamy character with nocturnal associations.




A composition written for nine instruments.




First developed in the 8th century, methods of writing music.




       Symbols to represent sounds or pitches and duration of those sounds.




       An extended solo, often accompanying the vocal part of an aria.



Object Writing:

       Choosing and object to explore as a way of getting into the territory of a song. Similarities and differences and other aspects of objects can move a song ahead and bring a sense of place and time to the work.



Objective Correlative: As T.S. Eliot defined it:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an objective correlative; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

Hank Williams’ classic I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry uses a series of objective corralatives to express loneliness: the night, a whippoorwill, a midnight train, the moon behind clouds, a weeping robin, turning leaves and a falling star.




The interval between two musical notes, the upper one of which has twice the pitch of the lower one. In a major or minor scale, the distance of this interval lies eight steps away, hence the term octave. In the major or minor scales, the eight steps are actually a combination of whole steps and half-steps.




A composition written for eight instruments.



On Hold:

When an artist or producer decides to keep a song for consideration on a recording project and asks that the song not be actively pitched elsewhere, they ask to put it on hold.



On or Off Card:

A term for union or non-union rates. Demo rates are different from master rates.




A word that sounds like what it describes. Buzz, honk, click, meow.

              “Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.”




A drama where the words are sung instead of spoken.




A short light musical drama.




A method of numbering a composer’s works where a number follows the word opus. For example, Opus 28, No. 4. Often the opus numbers are assigned in order of composition, but at times the numbers are assigned by order of publication.




An extended cantata on a sacred subject.




A large group of instrumentalists playing together.




Arranging a piece of music for an orchestra. Also, the study of music.




Tones used to embellish the principal melodic tones.




A repeated phrase.




Recording a voice or lead instrument after the basic song is recorded when the guitarist or pianist makes another pass to add an extra layer to the track.




Introduction to an opera or other large musical work. Usually an orchestra-only curtain-raiser to an opera, often used to open concerts. During the nineteenth century it became increasingly fashionable to compose independent concert overtures, occasionally with picturesque titles.



       Oxymoron means literally pointedly‑dull. An oxymoron is a combination of two incompatible words or thoughts that can have the effect of making the whole idea seem preposterous. Some are fun. Here are a few examples. Think of more.

Jumbo Shrimp, Ordinary Sex, Bitter Sweet, Deafening Silence, Cruel Kindness, Pretty Ugly, Harmonious Discord, Hard Water, Politely Insulting, Moderately Extreme, Increasingly Little, Monosyllabic, Simple Arithmetic.



A Palindrome is a word or phrase which is the same when read in both directions. Some of the more famous Palindromes are:

Able Was I ere I saw Elba

Sex at noon taxes

Madam, I'm Adam

Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus

Was it Eliot's toilet I saw?

A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!

Too far, Edna, we wander afoot

Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron



A phrase or line containing ideas which seem to be opposite but work together in some way. William Cowper explores paradox in several levels of his God Moves in a Mysterious Way, such as his contrast of mines (which conjure images of darkness) with God’s bright designs, and “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”



Parallel Structure: (also called parallelism)

The repetition of a grammatical device within a sentence. Giving items the same weight by using the same framework of expression.




Explaining or qualifying a phrase in the middle of the phrase. Lyricists literally use parentheses or dashes to demonstrate this in their lyrics.




A composition based on previous work. A common technique used in Medieval and Renaissance music.




A line in a contrapuntal work performed by an individual voice or instrument.




A harmonic given off by a note when it is played.




Suite of Baroque dances.




A composition whose style is simple and idyllic; suggestive of rural scenes.



Passing Tone:

       A note that occurs often in step-wise motion to form a harmony ‘in passing.’



Pentatonic Scale:

A musical scale having five notes. For example: the five black keys of a keyboard make up a pentatonic scale.




A sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstances or situation.



Perfect Rhyme:

       Rhymes involving sounds that are exactly the same as in ‘moon and June.’



Performance Rights Organizations:

Chartered by congress to collect royalties from radio, television and live performances of copyrights; as opposed to the actual sale of copies of the song on records, CDs, downloads, etc. Often referred to as PROs, there are performance rights societies in virtually every country in the world. Through international agreements royalties are paid for the use of songs worldwide. These include ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers,) BMI (Broadcast Music International,) SESAC (The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers,) and the Canadian society, SOCAN (The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.)



Performance Royalties:

Payments made to a songwriter or publisher for the public performance or broadcast of a musical work. Public performance refers to playing a song on the radio, on television, in bars and nightclubs, at concert venues, and other public places. Performance royalties are collected by performing rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.



Performing Rights License:

Authorization for the public performance of a song frequently granted by a performing rights society through a blanket license.



Performing Rights Organization: (PRO)

Societies responsible for collecting income on behalf of songwriters and music publishers when a song is publicly broadcast. Public performances can include play in television, radio, clubs, restaurants, websites, or other broadcasting systems. PROs collect fees from these establishments which they then pay to their registered songwriters. The PROs in the United States are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.



Performing Songwriter Magazine:

       A print and online source of articles about the craft of songwriting.




Giving human attributes to an inanimate object or concept:

 While My Guitar Gently Weeps by George Harrison

 Death Be Not Proud by John Donne




A single line of music played or sung. A musical sentence.




Softer than piano.




An instruction in sheet music to play softly. Abbreviated by a p.




Copying a record or tape without authorization.




The frequency of a note determining how high or low it sounds. Frequency in this context is the number of complete oscillations per second of energy as sound in the form of sound-waves.



Pitching a Song:

To try to generate interest in a song by audition or by submitting a demo tape or an MP3 attachment to an email.




String instruments that are picked instead of bowed.




More so. In a counterintuitive example, piu piano would mean more softly.




There are many types of poetry. These include epic poems, songs, sonnets, psalms, etc. Poetry is much more than just words that rhyme and meter. Poetry has the power to express things that cannot be said in any other way. Any discussion of poetry might include: insight, cognition, symbolic language and other devices of the communication of meaning.

“It is difficult to get the news from poems; yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”- William Carlos Williams         




Combining a number of individual but harmonizing melodies. Also known as counterpoint.




       Polyrhythm is a combination of two or more rhythms played simultaneously while moving at the same linear tempo. One may play a three based rhythm (waltz time) over a four based rhythm (straight time.) Two rhythms are considered a polyrhythm if the number one is their only common divisor. One conforms to the basic pulse while the other is a ‘counter-rhythm.’




Combination of two or more keys being played at the same time. Or a melody composed with a relationship to two keys.




Repetition of a word root in two different forms (suffix or prefix): 

“Deep in our hearts, let us record / the deeper sorrows of our Lord” - Isaac Watts



Popular Song:

The term, ‘popular music’ belongs to a number of musical genres typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music] and traditional or folk music.

The original application of the term is to music of the 1880s Tin Pan Alley period in the United States. Although popular music sometimes is known as ‘pop music,’ the two terms are not interchangeable. Popular music is a generic term for a wide variety of genres of music that appeal to the tastes of a large segment of the population, whereas pop music usually refers to a specific musical genre within popular music.

Popular music songs and pieces typically have easily singable melodies. The song structure of popular music commonly involves repetition of sections, with the verse and chorus or refrain repeating throughout the song and the bridge providing a contrasting and transitional section within a piece.




A mild glissando between two notes for an expressive effect.



Portmanteau Word:

A word derived from the combination of two words. Examples are ‘infomercial,’ and ‘rockumentary.’




       A feature of a song, usually four to eight bars, that ‘sets up’ the chorus, or prepares for a new emotional level for the chorus to follow. Also called a ‘lift,’ or a ‘rise,’ or ‘build.’




A short piece originally preceded by a more substantial work, also an orchestral introduction to opera, however not lengthy enough to be considered an overture.



Press Kit:

A selection of materials with which a songwriter or company may promote their work to media outlets. This can be done electronically with links to pages on the Web, or by attaching photos or documents to an email. May include biographical material, clippings from articles, or music and video samples.




A direction in sheet music indicating the tempo is to be very fast.



Print License:

Authorization from a music publisher or song writer to reproduce and distribute a song in printed form.

Printed Music Royalties

Payments made to a publisher for the sale of printed sheet music, which can take the form of musical notation and/or lyrics. Printed music royalties are generally paid directly to the publisher, and can vary depending on the type of sheet music and whether it's a physical or digital print.




The person who supervises the creation of an artist's album project, usually through selecting songs, instruments, and musicians, as well as mixing and producing a high-quality, broadcast-ready product. They work for the artist and the label at the same time.




The movement of chords in succession. A common progression familiar from fifties pop music is I, vi, IV, V, or C, Am, F, G.




Prosody is the study of different types of verse and meter. If you say the word out loud it give a hint of how it is meant in songwriting. It’s a consideration of several aspects of word choice, rhythm and conversationality are always at play with each other. The phonetic effects of word choices are considered in the area of prosody. Hooks are all about prosody.


Public Domain: (pd)

Works that don't have intellectual property protection are in the public domain, and can be used by anyone and for any purpose without the need of permission or the payment of a fee to the original composer. A work can be in the public domain because of its copyright or patent protection has expired, because it is a government work, or for a number of other reasons. An example of a work in the public domain is Beethoven's 5th Symphony.




Defined by the Copyright Act as the distribution of copies or recordings of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental lease or lending. The offering to distribute recordings to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. However, merely performing a new song in public doesn't publish it.




       A publisher handles the business of the song, generally being the one to file copyright forms and collect royalties around the world. In addition, the publisher provides much needed services to the songwriter. Many publishers work very closely with the writer to help improve the quality or the commercial viability of the songs. Active publishers keep track of who is recording and when and who is producing their records. This amounts to a full time competitive campaign to get the cuts and promote the singles that are the life blood of their business.

The writer/publisher relationship may be a lifelong arrangement with the publisher taking a real paternal or partnership role in the life of the writer. The publisher may arrange for advances to attract a writer to the company or to help the writer get through an occasional rough time. Even after the writer's death, the publisher often will provide for the surviving family by continuing to work the songs.




Cleopatra, Queen of Denial


My Sugar Is So Refined




Sometimes progress can be made by acting out the characters in the song. What has happened to them? What would they say about it? In theatrical tradition of Stanislavski and The Method, the job of the actor is to get centered in the character. From this place, the actor is able to speak in character and saying what the character would say in the way he would say it will give you some realistic dialogue.



Psychology of Creativity:

       Rollo May was a Jungian psychotherapist who has written many books on the relationship of emotional and artistic ideas and their bearing on the quality of human life. The two books I recommend most often are: Love and Will, and The Courage to Create.

       “Creativity is the encounter of the intensively conscious human being with his or her world.” - Rollo May




A 19th century square dance written for 4 couples.




Most royalty payments are distributed four times a year. SESAC has started offering monthly payment of royalty to its affiliates under certain circumstances.




A set of four musicians who perform a composition written for four parts.




A set of five musicians who perform a composition written for five parts.




  Designates the category of rhythm and blues.



Rate per Song:

The mechanical royalty amount owed to the publisher per song for each copy of the song that is distributed and/or downloaded. The rate per song is often based on a statutory rate set by the Copyright Statute (which is currently 9.1 cents), but there are exceptions in which the rate per song is less than the full statutory rate.




A reprise. A re-statement of a musical theme.




A musical genre that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 and 1918. Its cardinal trait is its syncopated, or ragged, rhythm. The genre has its origins in African-American communities like St. Louis years before being published as popular sheet music for piano.

Ernest Hogan (1865–1909) was a pioneer of ragtime music and was the first to compose ragtime into sheet music. The composition was called, La Pas Ma La and it was released in 1895. Hogan has also been credited for coining the term ragtime. The term is actually derived from his hometown Shake Rag in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Ben Harney, who is also a Kentucky native has often been credited for introducing the music to the mainstream public. His first ragtime composition, You've Been a Good Old Wagon But You Done Broke, helped popularize the musical genre. The composition was published in 1895 but released in 1896. Ragtime was also a modification of the march made popular by John Philip Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from African music.

The ragtime composer Scott Joplin (ca. 1868–1917) became famous through the publication of the Maple Leaf Rag (1899) and a string of ragtime hits such as The Entertainer (1902), although he was later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s. For at least 12 years after its publication, Maple Leaf Rag heavily influenced subsequent ragtime composers with its melody lines, harmonic progressions or metric patterns. - Wikipedia



Rap Music:

Rapping, also referred to as MCing or emceeing, is a vocal style in which the artist speaks lyrically, in rhyme and verse, generally to an instrumental or synthesized beat. Beats, almost always in 4/4 time signature, can be created by sampling and/or sequencing portions of other songs. They also incorporate synthesizers, drum machines, and live bands. Rappers may write, memorize, or improvise their lyrics and perform their works a cappella or to a beat.




A solo concert with or without accompaniment.




A form of writing for vocals that is close to the manner of speech and is rhythmically free.




Often when recording artists sign a recording contract or record a song (or album), the record company pays them an advance that must be paid back (recouped) out of their royalties. Recoupable expenses usually include recording costs, promotional and marketing costs, tour costs, music video production costs, as well as other expenses.




A strip of cane used to produce the sound in wind instruments like the clarinet or saxophone. The oboe is a ‘double reed’ instrument.




A repeating phrase that is played at the end of each verse in the song.




A portion of the range of the instrument or voice.



Relative Major and Relative Minor:

The major and minor keys that share the same notes in that key. For example: A minor shares the same note as C major.



Relative Pitch:

Ability to determine the pitch of a note as it relates to the notes that precede and follow it.




A period in history dating from the 14th to 16th centuries. This period signified the rebirth of music, art, and literature.



Repeat Sign:

A sign that indicates a section of music to be played again.




Repetition is a powerful tool for songwriters. How many times does the chorus repeat? Repeating certain lines in the song give emphasis in addition to repeating whole sections. In her TED Talk Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than passive listeners.




To repeat a previous part of a composition generally after other music has been played.




A dirge, hymn, or musical service for the repose of the dead.



Residual Royalties:

       Payments that continue for multiple uses of an artist’s work. Common in commercials based on how many times the performance is used and in how many markets.




A group of chords can create harmonic tension. When this tension is released with a calm chord, or a chord without tension, it is resolved and is thus called a resolution.




When several strings are tuned to harmonically related pitches, all strings vibrate when only one of the strings is struck.




       A symbol used to indicate silence for a duration designated by the note value.



Retrograde Motion:

       When a section of a tune is played backwards.



Reversion Clause:

A feature of a publishing agreement that returns the ownership of the copyright to the songwriter if the publisher fails to get the song commercially recorded in a set period of time such as one year.



The Rhyme Scheme of the Song: ABAB, AABB, AABC DDEC, etc.

Are the rhymes true rhymes? Are there other forms of alliteration? Are the rhymes natural and conversational? Do your choices honor the listener?




The element of music pertaining to time, played as a grouping of notes into accented and unaccented beats.



The Rhythm Changes:

       A series of chord changes used by jazz musicians to jam. Based on George Gershwin’s song, I’ve Got Rhythm. Many songs have been written to these chord changes. This progression's endurance in popularity is largely due to its extensive use by early bebop musicians.



Rhythm Section:

       The instruments in a band or orchestra that define the rhythmic expression of the work. Drums, piano, bass and rhythm guitar all keep the beat and define the complexities of the rhythm song.



The Rhythmic Song:

Dum diddly dum dum, dum dum! Can you dance, walk, or dream along with the song? Does it have its own clock and is it rhythmically interesting or even enchanting? Think about the rhythm of the words as well. This is called scansion, how the words scan, strong syllables and weak syllable. Avoid putting the ac-CENT on the wrong syl-LAB-le. Does the language chafe and grate or does it resonate?




Elaborate polyphonic composition of the Baroque and Renaissance periods.




       A riff is an inventive sound event, a melodic phrase of voice or guitar, often constantly repeated. Common in jazz and rock and roll, it can also refer to a spoken idea such as a standup comic might use. The Rolling Stones’ song Satisfaction employs riffs, as does Arrowsmith’s Walk This Way.




A quick 20th century dance written in double time.



Rise Up Singing, and Rise Again:

       Song collections popular in group singing for camps, schools and singalongs. Edited by Annie Patterson and Peter Blood, the first book, Rise Up Singing released by Sing Out in August or 1988. With song lyrics and chords for 1,200 songs, it has sold more than a million copies. Rise Again, the sequel released in 2016 also contains 1,200 songs.




A musical style characterized as excessive, ornamental, and trivial.




A period in history during the 18th and early 19th centuries where the focus shifted from the neoclassical style to an emotional, expressive, and imaginative style.




A musical form where the principal theme is repeated several times. The rondo was often used for the final movements of classical sonata form works.




The principal note of a triad. The note from which it takes its name.




A canon where the melody is sung in two or more voices. After the first voice begins, the next voice starts singing after a couple of measures are played in the preceding voice. All parts repeat continuously.




Songs may earn money in several ways. Songs can be written for hire for a flat fee or for a royalty which is an ongoing fee for the use of the song. Songs written for radio or television themes are paid royalties for their use during one season, usually thirteen weeks, and earn again although at a different rate if used in reruns. Songs written for commercials earn in a similar way and the amount is determined by how many times the commercial is played and in how many markets.


1.  Mechanical Royalties.

Recorded songs earn money in two main ways. When the song is pressed onto a record or reproduced and sold in any mechanical or electronic device, a royalty is paid based on the number of units sold. The device may be a cd, cassette, even a musical toy. Nowadays, downloads represent a growing portion of these reproductions and sales. This mechanical royalty is calculated currently at 9.1 cents per song per unit sold. So, if you have co-written a song on an album which sells one million copies, your share or the mechanicals would be a portion of the total royalties of $91,000. If you wrote ten songs on the CD you would earn ten times this much.


2. Airplay Royalties.

The second main way that recorded songs earn money is from airplay, or performance on radio and television and to a lesser extent live performances of the song. Broadcasters pay for the use of songs and this money is pooled and paid out to the writers roughly in proportion to the amount of play the song gets during a given royalty period. Performance royalties are collected by what are called performance rights societies and are paid directly to the writers and publishers in quarterly statements. Airplay royalties on the album cut in the example above might be a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but if the song is a top ten single it may earn many times in airplay what it earns in mechanical royalties.




An important characteristic of the Romantic period. It is a style where the strict tempo is temporarily abandoned for a more emotional tone.



Satire & Parody:

Stan Freeburg, one of the creators of the Time For Beanie and later, The Beanie and Cecil Show produced many song parodies. One of the first was a wonderfully clever record with a man and a woman's voices saying, “John” and “Marsha” alternately with different inflections each time. She would say “John?” as a question with rising inflection and then he seeming to be angry, “Marsha!”, then her pleading, “John?”, then him consoling, “Marsha,” again her more conciliatory, “John,” him, romantic, “Marsha,” her giggling, “John” and so on. The effect, though difficult to describe was truly hilarious.  

Stan Freeburg did spoofs on Harry Belafonte's Day‑Oh, and Saint George and the Dragon Net a parody of the Dragnet TV series; a very funny treatment of Laurence Welk's television family, Turn Off the Bubble Machine, and many other vicious take‑offs. Eventually Freeburg made a whole album based on early American History. It was one of the first concept albums and made good fun of Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Betsy Ross. The Album, called, The United States of America, was a big seller and many of us as teen-agers had memorized every word.

More recently a group from Washington, DC known as The Capitol Steps has kept audiences laughing with songs that parody political developments. In the old tradition, they have taken familiar songs and adapted them to the issues of the day. On the health care crisis, one song advised, Examine yourself, at home to the tune of the Broadway song, Consider Yourself At Home. Their clever tongues in their cheeks seem to bring a new life to old issues and the older songs they use as well.

Another master of satire is Tom Paxton. When Republic airlines damaged Tom's guitar in baggage and refused to take responsibility for it, Tom smiled and wrote Thank You, Republic Airlines. and sang the whole story to thousands of sympathetic fans upon whom the irony was not wasted, especially when Republic Airlines went out of business.




Successive notes of a key or mode either ascending or descending. An ordered succession of adjacent pitches, arranged in a sequence of whole steps and half steps, for example the major or minor scales. A specific scale is defined by its characteristic interval pattern and by its starting pitch, known as the tonic. See the section on Modes.




     Scansion or scanning is a consideration of how the words sit in their rhythmic context. Does each syllable land on an appropriate beat? Is there a satisfying sense of ‘ringing true?’ In poetry the lines are made up of ‘feet’ each foot represents an expression of meter. Iambic pentameter, describes a string of five metrical feet which are ‘iambs.’ Each iamb has a strong beat followed by a weaker beat, as in the words ‘I am.’ ‘Mama, Daddy, Montezuma, Krakatoa,’ etc. See ‘meter’ for a description of other metrical feet. 




Pertaining to the sonata form, a fast movement in triple time. Often light or humorous.




The retuning of a stringed instrument in order to play notes below the ordinary range of the instrument or to produce an unusual tone color.



Sean-nós Singing:

A highly ornamented style of Irish solo, unaccompanied singing. Tomás Ó Canainn described it as: “. . . a rather complex way of singing in Gaelic, confined mainly to some areas in the west and south of the country. It is unaccompanied and has a highly ornamented melodic line....Not all areas have the same type of ornamentation—one finds a very florid line in Connacht, contrasting with a somewhat less decorated one in the south, and, by comparison, a stark simplicity in the northern songs.”



The Second Presence:

Much has been written in the field of poetic criticism about the Chinese concept of the second presence. The first presence, of course is the voice of the poet. The poet seeks to free his work from the service of ego and desire and to let it speak from the best place he can. He tries to clarify his personal issues so as to allow for the expression of the voice of a deeper truth. This is what is referred to as the second presence.

In Chinese poetry, the second voice is the voice of nature. This may be another way of saying that we and all of the natural world are one organism and one spirit. It's my belief that nature is the only sane model for our ideas about the world. Man has constructed a world which is so much in reaction to his fear and obsession with control, that the man made world can almost be described as an edifice to man's frailty.

Rather than be limited by the ill-fitting armor of conflict and competition tailored for us by others, I feel it is best to spend as much time as possible in as natural a place as possible or at least to try to maximize the natural qualities of the place we find ourselves in.

The Meitei Indians of Canada talk about the quality of Atoyocan the essence or isness or central characteristic of living things. The thing that makes the bird the bird, the treeness of the tree. They have great respect for the sanctity of all living things and participate in the dialogue between them.

If nature can be said to have a voice, and I believe this voice can be heard in some of the poets, then let us seek to promote an atmosphere in which we can be aware of this presence and be guided by this awareness, this nature‑consciousness. It may be something that can be found in the work of others but it remains for each of us to interpret this consciousness for ourselves.



Second Verse Problem:

The second verse problem is always there. You've written a great first verse, led us into the chorus, the chorus lifts beautifully, and comes to a perfect resolution, then what? You've got to go back not to square one, but where?

One way I like to envision this problem is as if we were going up the mountain again, but this time from a different side. There are different considerations in this verse, it takes on a different area of experience. If we come up with the right approach, we may find when we get to the place from where we can all see the top of the mountain this time, that we will be pleasantly surprised to find that the chorus has taken on another meaning which takes the first time chorus to a new level of profundity or universality.




Programming a digital keyboard or digital drum synthesizer to play pre-arranged parts simultaneously.



SESAC: (The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers,)

A performance rights society, charged with collecting royalties for use of music in concerts, radio and television.
35 Music Square East
Nashville, TN 37203 (615) 320-0055



Self and Self Consciousness:

“Virtually every spiritual tradition distinguishes the self-clinging ego from the deeper, creative Self: little self as opposed to big Self. The big Self is transpersonal, beyond any separated individuality, the common ground we all share.” - Stephen Nachmanovitch




Buddhists talk about the issue of self-justification, the tendency be insecure about one’s right to simply be. Creative people are aware of the need to be able to distance themselves from the imagined critical voices of others in order to be truly present. The songwriter must be willing to provide himself with at least some time for the completely unattached immersion into the creative moment.




Always. For example, sempre forte would mean always loud.



Sempre Piu:

Always more.




A set of seven musicians who perform a composition written for seven parts.




A successive transposition and repetition of a phrase at different pitches.




A lighthearted piece, written in several movements, usually as background music for a social function.




A set of six musicians who perform a composition written for six parts.




Forceful, usually accented.  




When a sharp symbol # is added to a note it raises the note by a half-step. For example, if we add a sharp to it the note G, it now becomes G-sharp or G#.



Short Shelf-life Songs:

Tom Paxton has written and written about his love of songs that may only be a momentary observation of a world that is moving quickly from one hot story to another. He may only sing the song a few times, but when you have the kind of facility that Paxton has, you can put some good work into a current issue to good effect.




A kind of metaphor in which the comparison or connection is made using the word like or as. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow uses like and as similes in his Hymn to the Night :


       “The calm, majestic presence of the Night

         As of the one I love

         That fill the haunted chambers of the Night

         Like some old poet’s rhymes.”



Simple Verse-Form:

A style of strophic form is one which alternates two different lyrical sections - there are first the sequence of those stanzas (as in Barbara Allen) which continue and develop the story-telling narrative and then, in between these, another strophic section which uses the same repeated lyric each time it occurs. The example chosen by Philip Furia in the American Song Lyricists section of the Dictionary of Literary Biography is My Darling Clementine.



Slant Rhyme:

Imperfect rhyme, half rhyme, near rhyme or off rhyme. Rhyme in which either the vowels or consonants of stressed syllables are identical, but not both, as opposed to the more traditional Perfect Rhyme, like about/ in doubt.




A glissando or portamento. Also refers to the moving part of a trombone.




A curve over notes to indicate that a phrase is to be played legato.



SOCAN: (The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.)

A performance rights society, charged with collecting royalties for use of music in concerts, radio and television.

41 Valley Brook Drive

Toronto, ON MB3 2S6 1.866.944.6223




       For one player, or to be played alone. In an orchestral work it has come to mean the important line or part for one player, while soli would be the same for a group or section of players. The term is also used to describe an improvised performance on an instrument like the electric guitar or keyboard during a song.     




Music of a particular form consisting of four movements. Each of the movements differ in tempo, rhythm, and melody; but are held together by subject and style.



Sonata Form:

A complex piece of music. Usually the first movement of the piece serving as the exposition, a development, or recapitulation.




A short or brief sonata.




Legally a song is lyrics and melody. The chord progression is not considered part of the song because it is not copyrightable. The title is not copyrightable either.



Song Cycle:

A sequence of songs, perhaps on a single theme, or with texts by one poet, or having continuous narrative. Often performed in a sequence as a unit.




A Web-based service that users a way license copyrighted works, and to pay the proper royalties to publishers and songwriters.




The highest female voice. Also the highest voiced saxophone.




A performance rights organization that collects and distributes royalties from platforms like satellite radio (like Sirius XM), internet radio (like Pandora) and cable television stations (like Music Choice). SoundExchange is a non-profit PRO, and is the only American entity that collects and distribute royalties earned by artists through these platforms. SoundExchange works on behalf of record companies and artists whereas ASCAP, BMI and SESAC work on behalf of music publishers and songwriters.



Sound Recording Copyright:

This is the copyright designated by the letter (p) printed on audio recordings. Also known as a master, the sound recording copyright is the protection for the audio only of a particular recording. The © copyright is for the underlying composition of words and music. The songwriter or publisher typically owns the © copyright and the record company or artist typically owns the (p) copyright.



Spiritual Materialism: The Sincerity Issue.

The Tibetan Buddhists, among them Chogyom Trungpa Rinpoche have written about the issue of spiritual materialism. If we are to ask for the gift of creative thought to be given to us we need to examine the nature of our desire. The belief is that with enlightenment comes responsibility. The aspiring artist must be a respectful candidate for inspiration.

“As the artist works, some portion of his creation is bestowed upon him... along with any true creation come the uncanny sense that I, the artist, did not make the work...religions often prohibit the sale of sacred objects, the implication being that their sanctity is lost if they are bought and sold. A work of art seems to be a hardier breed; it can be sold in the market and still emerge a work of art...but it may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity... I do not maintain that art cannot be bought and sold; I do maintain that the gift portion of the work places a constraint upon our merchandising.” - Lewis Hyde (The Gift)

Is the great songwriter truly without guile, or is he just better at it? Very few artists can point to work they have done and claim that it is without artifice, but with a healthy respect for the issues involved any writer can foster his own growth and approach his highest potential. Pablo Picasso made the following statement along these lines. I think he was being overly hard on himself but it gives us a glimpse of the way he thinks about the best in art.

“Today I am famous and very rich. But when completely honest with myself, I haven't the nerve to consider myself an artist in the great and ancient sense of the word. I am a public entertainer who has understood his times. This is a bitter confession, mine, more painful indeed than it may seem, but it has the merit of being sincere.” - Pablo Picasso

Songwriters have no hourly wage. It seems that we're always paid far too little or far too much when we do get paid. When the lightning of notoriety strikes one of our songs, it is very hard to connect the success with the work we did. It's very hard to sit down and try to do it again. This whipsaw effect can be very disorienting. A writer must find the way to keep the doors open and the lights on and to continue to produce good work regardless of how long it has been between credits.



Split Publishing:

When the publishing rights in a song are held by more than one publisher. Songwriters who collaborate may each keep the publishing rights and split the song with his co-writer.




Short detached notes, as opposed to legato.



The Stack of Plates Theory:

       If you can think of the song as many songs existing at the same time like a stack of plates that can be un-stacked and re-stacked, you can develop the ability to examine each layer for its own values and to more effectively understand the interaction of the different layers. One can look separately at the story song, the melodic song, the harmonic song, the rhyme scheme of the song, etc.




Made up of five horizontal parallel lines and the spaces between them on which musical notation is written.



Staff Writing:

Staff writing is a paid position that is offered to a writer by a publisher who recognizes potential in his work. It is a way for the writer to begin to earn a living from his songs even before they earn royalties. It also gives the publisher the opportunity to work closely with the writer. The staff writer’s salary is advanced by the publisher against future royalty earnings.



Standard 32 bar Chorus:

A general form used by songwriters that is broken up into four 8-bar sections. It usually has a theme played twice, a bridge, and then a recap (AABA).



Statutory Rate:

The fixed royalty rate determined by an act of congress. This rate is adjusted every few years to compensate for inflation. Statutory rate is the generally accepted standard for the music business, however it is sometimes negotiated to a lower rate when an artist writes all of his or her own songs (this is called a Controlled Composition Rate or control comp for short).



Step: (or whole step)

The distance between two adjacent pitches such as C to D or Bb to C, comprising two half steps. Also expressed as a major second.



The Story of the Song:

Does the song begin somewhere and go somewhere? Does the second verse merely restate the first verse? Is there a sense of having made progress in the course of the song? Even if the song is not a story song, there is a shape or scheme to the song that can be recognized.




Pertaining to the fugue, the overlapping of the same theme or motif by two or more voices a few beats apart.



String Quartet:

A group of 4 instruments, two violins, a viola, and cello. Also pieces written for these instruments.



The Structural Song:

Verse, chorus, bridge, refrain, intro, outro, fade, tempo changes, instrumental breaks and riffs.


  1. Simple Verse Form

The simplest strophic form has just one musical section. Words may vary and develop, but that one single basic musical unit, or strophe - usually of eight or sixteen measures - gets repeated. As in, for example, the traditional story-telling narrative ballad Barbara Allen.


  2. Simple Verse-Chorus Form

Another style of strophic form is one which alternates two different lyrical sections - there are first the sequence of those stanzas (as in Barbara Allen) which continue and develop the story-telling narrative and then, in between these, another strophic section which uses the same repeated lyric each time it occurs.


But from the language of France, where there is an extensive and profound troubadour tradition, and in which the verb refraindre means to repeat, the chorus came also to be known widely as the refrain.


And there was yet another practice of referring to this same chorus/refrain section as the burthern - this time from an Old Saxon word meaning burden, used by mariners as a measure of merchandise a ship could carry. The burthen was considered to be the weight of the song.


  3. Contrasting Verse-Chorus Form

Where verse and chorus are musically different and contrasting, that structure then gets to be described as a contrasting verse-chorus form. Which makes a good deal of immediate sense. But whatever we call it, I seem to be short on actual 19th Century examples. There may well be some others around somewhere, but I have found no significantly contrasting verse-chorus forms happening until the great Stephen Foster begins weaving an authentically American fabric from the old folk cloth in the late 1800s. It is more common in contemporary pop, of course.


The Modern Structure

Most of the songs in the Great American Songbook are still written in verse-chorus form, but with a significant shift in the way the two segments are treated: It is now the chorus which becomes the central focus, while the verse not only becomes secondary but fades away in importance often as far as non-existence.


The Verse


In the dramatic context of musical theatre, where most of the Great American Songbook originated, the verse became a transitional section leading us from dialogue and action into the more artificial world of song and dance. It works like an intro or set-up for the song proper, and typically has a free musical structure, speech-like rhythms and rubato delivery.


Where it exists, the verse of the Modern Structure is singular and secondary. Singular because it only happens once at the very beginning of the song. And extremely secondary because, when performed as a song in its own right, outside of any originating stage-show context, it is overlooked and omitted so often as to be almost completely forgotten.


Take the following, for example:


“Behold the way our fine feathered-friend

His virtue doth parade.

Thou knowest not, my dim witted friend,

The picture thou hast made.

Thy vacant brow and thy tousled hair

Conceal thy good intent.

Thou, noble upright, truthful, sincere

And slightly dopey gent - you are...”


If we were to hear those words being sung, hardly anyone would recognize them as the introductory verse of My Funny Valentine by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart - but everyone would know the song once the chorus started.


The Chorus


In the modern formula, the chorus becomes the main course, the central core of the song, and the primary focus of the composer's creativity and inventiveness.

The structure of the modern chorus might sometimes be out of the ordinary. Hoagy Carmichael's Star Dust, has its own uniquely loose and complex pattern which, in the words of Oscar Hammerstein II, rambles and roams like a truant schoolboy in a meadow. But then Oscar also describes songs like these, which ignore the basic principles, as freaks and anomalies and warns that one doesn't learn much from them. Better to consider the common standard chorus of 32 bars.


  3. The Standard 32-Bar Chorus

The modern chorus can be as complicated as the composer wishes but, while other patterns may be adopted from time to time, it is almost always 32 measures divided into four 8-bar sections - AABA.


The first eight bars (A) is a statement of melodic theme so catchy, so cool and lovely, that we want to hear it again. And so the second eight bars (A) repeats it. Then, before such repetition has a chance to become cloying or boring, the third eight bars introduces harmonic variation and another melody (B), which leads right back to a welcome return of the original melodic phrase (A) as the final eight bars of the chorus.

A 8 bars

A 8 bars

B 8 bars

A 8 bars


This pattern is so pleasing and effective that it became a standard model favored not only by those great old dead guys like the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, et al, but also by Lennon and McCartney as well as seminal rock 'n' roll songsmiths from the Brill Building through Motown and on to Steely Dan.


  4. Other Terms for Chorus

Manuscripts from the Gershwins, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, etc., show us that this chorus section was also still regularly labelled the refrain, while Jerome Kern - who had spent time in the UK working on English operettas - persisted in the archaic practice of calling it the burthen. The chorus - just as in the earlier folk forms - is still conventionally the section which gets repeated. Especially in jazz performance - where the standard repertoire continues to thrive.


  5. Other Terms for the B Section

The modern chorus form also gives us the bridge, or the release, or the middle eight. The eight bars of (B) is known as the bridge because of the way it joins one (A) to another. It is also known as the middle eight because it fits in between one (A) and another. And known as the release for the way it so often offers welcome contrast to (A) A is just called A.


Pop Structure:


  1. The Verse

The verse has largely been restored to its C19th strophic folk-form incarnation of stanzas, and generally with the same traditional narrative story-telling function.


       The Pop-Chorus


Like the Modern Chorus of the previous era, the pop-chorus is the central focus of the song. Unlike its predecessor, however, it eschews the more complex sophistications of structure in favor of a straight return to the single distinctive repeated and repeatable strophic section of yore, at least eight bars in length, but containing an essential ability to repeat a hook with high frequency inside the standard three or four minutes of a pop-song. The successful pop-chorus expresses a song's core identity.


       The Hook


This is a relatively recent concept. It is a musical idea used to catch the listener's ear and hook their attention. As such, we have to admit it's certainly not a completely new thing. I mean, even old dead classical music guys used phrases and figures intentionally to do the same. And surely the simpler folk-forms worked that way, too. What is relatively recent is that it has been given a special new name and elevated to a major principle in pop.


       The Bridge


The term bridge in pop usage seems to have been completely severed from its roots in the standard 32-bar AABA chorus and is now applied much more casually to describe pretty much any linking passage at all between one section and another. It's a looser and less specific use of the term than before, but has the advantage of being readily understood as an identifier for a separate and intervening section of song which is neither verse nor chorus.


       The Pre-Chorus


The pre-chorus is a particular style of bridge. Designed with specific intent of lifting the level of intensity up and into the climax of a final triumphant pop-chorus - an emotional effect achieved through the use of musical devices like harmony, tempo, melody, instrumentation, arrangement and production - sometimes something as simple and effective as a change of key.


       It's called a pre-chorus because it precedes the chorus.

       It's called a climb because it rises towards a higher level of emotion.

       It's called a build because it increases the intensity.

       It's called a rise or a lift for the same reasons.


       The Refrain


During the first half of the twentieth century the refrain was the chorus, but in the arena of contemporary pop, however, the common attempt to translate usage direct from the previous era's notion of the chorus over to the current model of the pop-chorus causes problems.




A Sub-Publisher is a company that is assigned the right to administer songs outside of a publisher's territory. For example, an American publisher would engage the services of a sub-publisher in Germany to handle its affairs in that country.




       Great songs have often come out of pain. War, the deprivations of long sea voyages, miners, widows, poverty, laments of all kinds. Sometimes the pain of a whole people. Frank Harte, beloved Irish singer and song collector said: Those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs.




A loose collection of instrumental compositions. Usually a selection of short movements taken from a ballet or incidental music, sometimes orchestrations or another composer's work, although quite often an entirely original set of pieces.




Marked by the designation ‘SUS’ a suspension occurs when the harmony shifts from one chord to another, but one or more notes of the first chord are held over into the second chord momentarily and are then allowed to resolve. Sometimes referred to as a syncope, the whole process is called a suspension as well as the specific non-chord tone or tones.

A suspension can also be described in terms of the numbers of the intervals involved. The resolution may take place when the fourth scale degree is resolved downward to the third, or the seventh resolved downward to the sixth. The ninth can also resolve downward to the octave.

“Endeavor, moreover, to introduce suspensions now in this voice, now in that, for it is incredible how much grace the melody acquires by this means. And every note which has a special function is rendered audible thereby.” - Johann Joseph Fux (1725)



Symphonic Form:

The structure of a work for large ensemble.



Symphonic Poem:

A one-movement work popular during the nineteenth century, with a story-line or program often detailed by the composer.




Three to four movement orchestral piece, generally in sonata form; commonly in four, but occasionally only in three, contrasting movements, the outer ones often being vivacious in character, with a more reflective slow movement and contrasting minuet or scherzo.




A note played at variance with the normal rhythmic accent. By stressing a normally unaccented beat a sense of more adventurous expression is created. Ragtime music is heavily ‘syncopated.’




       Where one attribute of something becomes shorthand for it. In calling somebody ‘carrot top,’ or referring to a car as a ‘ride.’



Sync Licensing Fees: (synchronization fees)

       Payments made to a songwriter or music publisher for permission to use a song in sync with visual images on a screen. More specifically, sync refers to the use of a song in television, movies, and commercials. Sync royalties are generally a one-time sum paid directly to the publisher. In addition to the sync license fee, songwriters and publishers also benefit from Performance Royalties when the program is aired in certain instances.




       Literally, a mixture of senses, the conscious use of synesthetic images can really lend power to a song. A combining of the language of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing can make a moment in the song come to life. This phenomenon may also account for the longevity of some songs which just seem to connect with us at a deep and possibly unconscious level.


   In the Van Morrison classic, Brown Eyed Girl, lines like:

   “Slippin' and slidin' all along the waterfall with you.”




A combination of two or more staves on which all the notes are vertically aligned and performed simultaneously in differing registers and instruments.

Tablature - A system of notation for stringed instruments. The notes are indicated by the finger positions.




     We all have certain natural attributes. Each person may have developed some areas of ability, but more may be discovered or encouraged.

“Talent is a question of quantity. Talent does not write one page: it writes three hundred.” - Jules Renard



Talent Agent:

A representative who arranges live performances and other employment opportunities for a musician. Also referred to as a booking agent.




Repeating the thought behind a phrase, using different words:




       The skills required to play and instrument or write a composition.




Refers to the tuning of an instrument.




The rate of speed of a musical work.




The length of time that a contract is in force. Usually a recording contract or publishing deal will last for an initial period of one to two years and can be extended by exercising options. The option of extending the contract is usually up to the publisher.




       The range of an instrumental or a vocal part. It can also refer to the change of character as the higher ranges of a singer’s voice are employed in a song.




A melodic or, sometimes a harmonic idea presented in a musical form. The most important melody at any specific time in a musical work. There can be one main theme in a work, or many themes.



Thumb Lines:

Literally the notes between the two hands on the piano.



The Thoughtful Song:

      The treatment of strong lines and ideas. Are there original thoughts? Are there thoughtful lines? Are they presented in a conversational and singable way?




       A curved line connecting two notes indicated to play them as a single note.




Tone color, quality of sound that distinguishes one verse or instrument from another. It is determined by the harmonies of sound.



Time Signature:

A numeric symbol in sheet music determining the number of beats to a measure. It can be as simple as the letter C indicating ‘common time,’ or 4/4; four quarter notes per measure. Three/four or ‘waltz time’ indicates three quarter notes per measure. Similarly, 9/8 indicates that nine eight notes are played in a measure. In this last case, the listener might hear these notes in groups of three. 5/4 could be heard or counted as three and two in each measure.



Tin Pan Alley:

       This is the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place: West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, and a plaque exists on the sidewalk on 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth avenues commemorates it.

The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to about 1885, when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan. The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut. Some date it to the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s when the phonograph and radio supplanted sheet music as the driving force of American popular music, while others consider that Tin Pan Alley continued into the 1950s when earlier styles of American popular music were upstaged by the rise of rock & roll, which was centered on the Brill Building.




The title is the name of the song. A title is not protected by copyright. A good title can represent the song well to us. Peak our curiosity. At the very least, the title should relate to the song well enough so that we can find the song when we are looking for it. But titles often do so much more. Titles capture our attention with some common wisdom or familiar phrases.

Here are some examples of time honored sayings as song titles from the book Songwriting and the Creative Process :

   As Time Goes By, A String of Pearls, Behind Closed Doors, Big Girls Don't Cry, Blue Monday, Born Too Late, Break It To Me Gently, Brown Sugar, Chances Are, Dime a Dozen, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, For All We Know, For Once In My Life, Good Time Charlie, Goin' Steady, Great Balls of Fire, The Great Pretender, Heart and Soul, In The Mood, In The Still Of The Night, It Don't Matter To Me, It's Only Make Believe, Let It Be, Livin' In a Fool’s Paradise, The Man In The Mirror, My Girl, Return To Sender, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Sweet Nothin's, Take The Money and Run, Takin' Care Of Business, Tell It Like It Is, Tell Me Why, That'll Be The Day, Too Late To Turn Back Now, Under My Thumb, Walk On By, What's New, The Wind Beneath My Wings, You've Got a Friend.




       A virtuoso piece, developed to show off the performers dexterity hence the Italian for ‘touch.’ Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor is famous, there are other examples from Widor and Vaughan Williams.




Pertains to tone or tones. Usually means a consistent sense of musicality as opposed to ‘atonal’ music.




The tonal characteristics determined by the relationship of the notes to the tone.




The intonation, pitch, and modulation of a composition expressing the meaning, feeling, or attitude of the music.




Unmusical, without tone.



Tongue Twisters:

   Tongue twisters are fun to work with unless you are a singer trying to work your way through a tricky song lyric. It's a good idea to learn about the properties of tongue twisters if only to learn how not to create them. Here are few:

Some shun sunshine.

Does the wristwatch shop shut soon?

The sinking ship sunk.

Six slim slick slender saplings.

A noisy noise annoys an oyster.



The first tone of a scale also known as a keynote. A pitch that is the first degree of a major or minor scale and the tonal center of a piece composed in a particular key.



Transcendent Vision:

       In songs as in films, when a writer or director wants to take the listener into a darker place it is helpful to let the listener know that he can ‘see beyond’ the present discomfort. Certain topics are hard to take up without creating anxiety, but can be prepared for if the listener’s concerns are met and he has confidence in the story-teller.

       It’s not enough to complain or protest about an issue, I look for the song to give me a way to understand the writer’s philosophy or vision to provide a context for the problem.




       To change the key of a song.




The playing or singing the upper half of the vocal range. Also the highest voice in choral singing.




Quick repetition of the same note or the rapid alternation between two notes.




Three note chords consisting of a root, third, and fifth. In major and minor triads, the distance between the root and the fifth is three whole steps and one half step, or a perfect fifth. Remember that a half step is just the distance to the next key on the keyboard, white or black, while a whole step is the distance to the key above the next key, white or black.

The difference is that in a major triad the distance between the root note and the third is two whole steps, a ‘major’ third. In a minor triad, the distance between the root and the third is one whole step and one half step, or a ‘minor’ third.

The distance between the third and fifth in a major triad is one whole step and one half step, or a ‘minor’ third, and in a minor triad, that distance is two whole steps, a ‘major’ third. This is so that the fifth is kept at three whole steps and one half step.

In an augmented triad, two major thirds are stacked so that the distance between the root and the fifth is four whole steps, or an ‘augmented’ fifth. In a diminished triad, two minor thirds are stacked so that the interval between the root and fifth is just three whole steps or a ‘diminished’ fifth.




Rapid alternation between notes that are a half tone or whole tone apart.




A composition written for three voices or instruments performed by three persons.



Triple Time:

Time signature with three beats to the measure.




Three notes played in the same amount of time as one or two beats.




A chord comprised of three whole tones resulting in an augmented fourth or diminished fifth.




A rhythmic succession of musical tones, a melody for instruments or voices.




The raising and lowering a pitch of an instrument to produce the correct tone of a note. Also, alternate tunings can be used. See the section on guitar tunings.




       The place in a song arrangement where the sections end and begin affords the opportunity for playing a ‘turnaround figure.’ Often a cycle through the basic chords of the song, as in 4, 5, 1, then maybe the 5 as the beginning of the next section is anticipated to start on the 1. An opportunity for a lead instrument to ‘play the turnaround.’




Passage for the entire ensemble or orchestra without a soloist.



The Twelve Days of Christmas:

The Roman calendar corrected a lot of the inaccuracies of the previous systems, mostly based on the phases of the moon. Julius Caesar decreed the year to be three hundred and sixty-five and one quarter days, divided into twelve months.

But even with the introduction of the leap year, the system overestimated the length of the year by eleven minutes fifteen seconds, which adds up to one extra day every hundred and twenty-eight years.

Pope Gregory XIII instituted the Gregorian Calendar in 1582 which took off the eleven minutes and fifteen seconds and deleted ten spare days which had accumulated since Roman times.

By the time Protestant England came to adopt the Gregorian calendar in the eighteenth century, they were eleven days ahead of the Continent. In 1751 the Calendar Act decreed that the 2nd of September 1752 would be called the 14th, instead of the 3rd.

Many people thought that the days had been stolen from them by the government. Before these changes, England had celebrated Christmas on what came to be the 6th of January, which many people still call "Old Christmas Day." December 25 became the official Christmas day but also became the first of the "12 Days of Christmas."

During this time the public observances of Catholic ritual were suppressed, so the poem and song "The 12 Days of Christmas" were created in which there is a hidden level of meaning, a way for children to be reminded of the points the catechism.


According to Ann Ball in her book, Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals:


The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments


The three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.


The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.


The five golden rings represented the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man's fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior.


The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.


Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.


The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.


Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency [Chastity].


The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.


The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful Apostles.


The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles' Creed.


And the partridge who is known to sacrifice herself by feigning injury and leading predators away from the nest, represented Jesus.



Twelve-tone Music:

Music composed such that each note is used the same number of times.



U.S. Copyright Office:

  The official government body that maintains records of copyright registration in the United States. Your work is technically copyrighted once it's in tangible form, but registering it with the U.S. copyright office is an additional way to protect your copyright. In order to file an infringement action (to recover damages or stop someone from using your copyright without your permission), your work needs to be registered with the U.S.



Unsolicited Songs:

  Tapes or CDs sent to a publisher or record label without prior consent to do so. You can call or write and ask permission first to learn about a publisher's or record label's policy on accepting material. Many will not listen at all if they don't know who you are.




The preparatory sign given prior to the first beat in a bar.




       Alan Watts taught of the tradition in the culture of India wherein the man in middle age may turn over the family business to his sons and move into the forest, where the later part of his life is spent in a more spiritual relationship with nature. A choice of how to spend one’s later years.

Vanaprastha is part of the Vedic ashram system, which starts when a person hands over household responsibilities to the next generation, takes an advisory role, and gradually withdraws from the world. This stage typically follows Grihastha (householder), but a man or woman may choose to skip householder stage, and enter Vanaprastha directly after Brahmacharya (student) stage, as a prelude to San yasa (ascetic) and spiritual pursuits. - Wikipedia




Two or more voices or instruments playing the same note simultaneously.




The naming of groups of animals in colorful language is a tradition going back to a time long before Shakespeare. Often referred to as the game of venery, these terms demonstrate a certain worldliness on the part of the user. Some of these names seem archaic but most are wonderfully descriptive.

We've all heard A gaggle of geese, or A school of fish. How about A Leap of Leopards? Here are a few examples from James Lipton, An Exaltation of larks, and C.E. Hare The Language of Field Sports:



A Bale of Turtles

A Bevy of Roebucks

A Colony of Penguins

A Covey of Partridges

A Crash of Rhinoceroses   

A Fall of Woodchucks

A Gam of Whales

A Gang of Elk

A Host of Sparrows

A Hover of Trout

A Knot of Toads

A Mustering of Storks

An Ostentation of Peacocks  

A Paddling of Ducks        

A Party of Jays

A Pod of Seals

A Rafter of Turkeys     

A Shrewdness of Apes

A Spring of Teal

A Skulk of Foxes      

A Sloth of Bears

An Unkindness of Ravens



Lipton retells the famous joke of the four Oxford dons each of a different school or area of expertise. “Their path is crossed by small but conspicuous group of prostitutes. The quickest don mutters, A jam of tarts. The second, obviously a fellow in Music, ripostes, No, a flourish of strumpets. From the third, apparently an expert on nineteenth century English literature, Not at essay of Trollope's. The fourth offers, An anthology of pros.”




A form of Italian opera beginning at the end of the 19th century. The setting is contemporary to the composer’s own time, and the characters are modeled after everyday life.




The verse has largely been restored to its nineteenth century strophic folk-form incarnation of stanzas, and generally with the same traditional narrative or story-telling function. The verse is usually the place in the song where information can be conveyed, as opposed to the more slogan-like nature of the chorus.




Varying the pitch of a note by rolling a finger on a violin string, or stretching a guitar string along a fret in a rhythmic way. Vibrato can be slow or fast, but is most effective when it enhances the rhythmic expression of the part.




A person with notable technical skill in the performance of music.



Virtual CDs: (or Net CDs)

Music that can be directly downloaded as a CD without the need for purchasing the actual hard copy of the recording, the jewel case and the graphics. Those elements can be provided on the Web.




To play a composition in a brisk, lively, and spirited manner.




In recording, the lead vocals features the singer or singers singing the melody, background vocals may be used in singing harmony parts or choral effects.




One of two or more parts in polyphonic music. Voice refers to instrumental parts as well as the singing voice.




Walking is recommended at every stage of the songwriting process. If you are stuck, change your scenery, change your level of physical exertion, just getting up and going for a walk can give you a whole new sense of what you are doing. You don't have to concentrate on the song throughout your whole walking time, just come back to it once in a while.




A dance written in triple time, where the accent falls on the first beat of each measure. Three/Quarter time is waltz time, three quarter notes per bar.



Who's Watching?

       As hard as it is, it's so important to hear all the voices of our inner wisdom clearly no matter how faintly they may speak to us. So it is important to keep the chorus of wise crackers to a minimum. Don't just take anybody's word for the big things and certainly be cognoscente of the built-in critics we all carry around with us. Dance like there's nobody watching.



Whole Note:

A whole note is equal to 2 half notes, 4 quarter notes, 8 eighth notes, etc. In a bar of 4/4 time, a whole note would be held for the length of the bar.



Whole-tone scale:

A scale consisting of only whole-tone notes. Such a scale consists of only 6 notes.



Word Pairs Exercise:

       A game of random choices of adjectives and nouns, in that order or reversed. Write a list of adjectives on one side of a vertically folded page, and then write a list of nouns on the side of the fold. Listen to them in both directions.



Word Painting:

Popular among classical composers was what is called word painting. This was the practice of placing notes on the page in such a way as to create forms and symbols. For instance, if the choir was to sing a line referring to Christ on the cross, the notes might intersect between the parts to actually create a cross on the page of music. This could not be seen by anyone not looking at the music and was not heard in any way that it could be recognized by the listener but was just written in as a gesture by the composer.

Names, as has been mentioned earlier, were often spelled out in musical notes. Bach, with the H being represented as an A (the note above G) was often written into musical scores.



Work Made for Hire:

  This is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his employment, and the employer is considered the author of the work.




   One of the most rewarding things songwriters and songwriting teachers can do is to attend a weekend or weeklong retreat where they can rub elbows with each other and get to the bottom of this songwriting thing once and for all. At least until next year. These workshops take place in the mountains, the forest, on college campuses during summer vacation and any other place where people can gather for a few days.

   The Puget Sound Guitar Workshop conducts a weeklong songwriting school on a lake south of Seattle. The Kerrville Festival has a three day school mid‑week between concert weekends. The Swannanoa Gathering takes place in Ashville, North Carolina in July. Augusta Heritage festival convenes at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. The Pinewoods camp is located in a forest in Connecticut. Many encourage the writing of a complete song under the tutelage of one or more successful professionals. And they all offer a memorable and nurturing experience.

       We conduct two such workshops. One group meets in Santa Cruz, California in the spring, and the other in North Bennington, Vermont in October each year. Visit our website for more information:



Write a Letter:

Write a letter, write an outline, write an itemized bill. Go back to the beginning. Tell the story with your hands. What are the colors of things in the song? Is there an unseen irony lurking in the song? Pretend that you had to shout to be heard and had to convey the idea of the song in only a few words. Think of two notes that best represent the song. Change the gender of the characters. Sing the words in reverse order.



Writer's Block:

The sense of feeling at an impasse or feeling that you are dry or somehow unable to come up with a thought is probably just a subjective impression of the moment having no basis in fact. Blocks have nothing to do with your talent or songwriting ability.

All writers experience blocks. It's more likely that blocking has something to do with expectations and the desire to be in control of a process which is more complex than you may wish to believe. The impasse may just be the beginning of a new direction and a requisite part of the greater work.



Writer's Block Busters: 

For me the best block breaker is time. I derive a great benefit from just knowing that there is the freedom to experiment with a direction of thought that, if not as successful as I would like, has not really cost me anything but a little time. It makes inspiration that much easier.

Like a three year old up to his elbows in finger-paints I can indulge myself in the luxury of the enjoyment of ideas or fantasies, or toy with melodic opportunities without distraction.



Writers' Rounds:

  A circle of three to four people playing original songs, usually around three songs each. Lasts a half hour to an hour. Often called a ‘workshop’ at music festivals, sometime with a theme like ‘work songs,’ etc.



Writer’s Share:

When a song is composed, the writer hold all rights to the copyright. If a writer enters into a publishing contract, generally there is a fifty-fifty split of the earnings of a song into the writer’s share and the publisher’s share. If the writer is his own publisher he earns both shares. If more than one writer is involved they usually split the writer’s share equally among them.




       A stringed instrument from Eastern Europe. Most often, the strings are the same length as the sound board, and are plucked with a plectrum or thumb pick.



© 2016, Compass Rose Music




Please contact me about corrections or additions and suggestions;

or if I’ve stepped on any toes.


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Send me mail.




Resources and Bibliography:


Links on the Web: ASCAP Industry Notes Austin Songwriter Bemuso Blog Berklee Learn Online Steve's Songwriting Tutorial Wikipedia - Music Glossary Songwriting & Music Forum Song Forms & Terms Songwriting Glossary Songwriter’s Glossary Poetic & Rhetorical Devices Musical Terms Songwriting Techniques Song Strutcture & Terms Songwriting Terminology Songwriter Terminology Wikipedia Song Structure






Carl E. Bolt Jr., Secrets of Successful Songwriting, Arco Publications, New York, NY 1978  


John Braheny, The Craft and Business of Songwriting, Second Edition, Writer’s Digest Books, 2001            


Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue, William Morrow & Company, New York, 1990


Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Princeton University Press, 1990         


Hal Chamberlin, Musical Applications of Microprocessors, Hayden Book Co. Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, 1985


Stephen Citron, Songwriting, William Morrow & Company, New York, 1985             


Aaron Copeland, Music and Imagination, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1952


Frederic Danne, Hit Men, Vintage Books, 1991


Hal David, What the World Needs Now, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY 1970


Sheila Davis, The Craft of Lyric Writing, Writer's Digest Books, NY


Diana Deutsch, The Psychology of Music, Academic Press, New York, NY 1982              


Betty Edwards, Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain, Tarcher, 1989


Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, Harper & Rowe Publishers, Inc. New York, NY, 1987


Peter Elbow, Writing with Power and Writing without Teachers, Oxford University Press, 1981


J. Gunnar Erickson, Musician's Guide To Copyright, Charles Scribner & Sons, New York, NY              


Matthew Fox, Spirituality Named Compassion, Harper, 1990


Aaron Frankel, Writing the Broadway Musical, Drama Book Specialists, New York, NY, 1977


Eric Fromm, The Forgotten Language, Grove Press, 1987


Michael Fuchs, Editor, The Recording Industry Sourcebook: 1992, Ascana Communications, 1992


Reebee Garofalo, Editor, Rockin' the Boat, Mass Music & Mass Movements, South End Press, Boston, MA 1992


Ira Gershwin, Lyrics On Several Occasions, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1959


Steve Gillette, Songwriting and the Creative Process, Sing Out! Press, Bethlehem, PA 1995


Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, and Wild Mind, Shambala, 1986, Bantam, 1990


Mark Halloran, Editor, The Musician's Business and Legal Guide, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1991


Paul Hindemith, The Craft of Musical Composition, Associated Music Publishers, Inc. London, 1941-42


Walter E. Hurst, Entertainment Industry Series, Seven Arts, (23 volumes)


Lewis Hyde, The Gift, Vintage Books (Random House) NY, 1979


Harold Arlen & Edward Jablowski, Happy With the Blues, Doubleday & Co., New York, NY, 1961


Robert Edmund Jones, Dramatic Imagination, Rutledge, Chapman & Hall, 1941        


Sidney Jourard, The Transparent Self, Van Nostrand, Reinhold


Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols, Dell, 1968


Al Kasha & Joel Hirschhorn, If They Ask You, You Can Write a Song Simon & Schuster, 1990


Kent J. Klavans, Protecting Your Songs and Yourself: Legal Guide Writer's Digest Books, 1989


Fred Koller, How to Pitch and Promote Your Own Songs, Writers Digest Books, 1989


Michael Kosser, How to Be A Successful Nashville Songwriter, Porch Swing, Nashville, TN


George Leonard, The Silent Pulse, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1978


Alan Jay Lerner, The Street Where You Live, W. W. Norton, New York, NY, 1978


Kristin Linklater, Freeing the Natural Voice, Drama Book Specialists, NY, 1976


Max V. Matthews, The Technology of Computer Music, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1969


Rollo May, The Courage to Create and Love and Will, W.W. Norton & Company, NY, 1975   


Moore & Gillette, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Harper Collins Publishers, NY, 1990


Donald Murray, A Writer Teaches Writing, Houghton Mifflin, 1984


Randy Poe, Music Publishing: A Songwriter's Guide, Writer's Digest Books, 1990


Bruce Pollack, In Their Own Words, Collier MacMillan Pub. Co., New York


Harvey Rachlin, Songwriter's Handbook, Funk & Wagnalls, New York 1977


Paul Gorman & Ram Dass, How Can I Help? Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1987   


Diane Rapaport, How To Make and Sell You Own Recording, Jerome Headlands Press, Jerome, AZ, 1993


Gabriele Rico, Writing the Natural Way, J. P. Tarcher, Inc., 1983


Eloise Ristad, A Soprano on Her Head, Real People Press, 1982  


Joseph Rothstein, MIDI: a Comprehensive Introduction, A-R Editions, Madison, WI, 1992


Rand Ruggeburg, Songwriter's Market, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH            


Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, Washington Square Press, 1983


Sidney Schemel, This Business of Music, Billboard Publications, New York, 1979   


Arnold Schoenberg, Style and Idea, University of California Press, CA, 1950


Idries Shah, Learning How to Learn, Institute for the Study of Humanity, 1978


Janet Sternburg, The Writer on Her Work, W. W. Norton Press


Igor Stravinsky, The Poetics of Music, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1942


Elizabeth Swados, Listening Out Loud: Becoming a Composer, Harper & Rowe, New York, NY, 1988


John M. Woram, The Record Studio Handbook, Elar Publications, 1985                              


Marilee Zdenek, The Right Brain Experience, McGraw-Hill, 1983  




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