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Nancy Rost: Blog

The Making of naimehoB ydospahR

Posted on October 27, 2015 with 0 comments
I get some unusual requests from my piano students. Case in point: a middle-school student who'd been playing with a backmasking app and thought it'd be fun to learn to play Bohemian Rhapsody backwards.
Sure, I said, stalling. The next recital isn't for three months. Why don't we start with you learning it forward?

So then this happened. A reconstruction involving mirror-imaging, cut-and-pasting, and a whole lotta pages. We had to do a lot of rewriting to make this understandable in music notation. At least technology made it possible to hear what the backmasked vocals might sound like. 
I've had this blog in drafts for years and forgot about it. The student is now in high school and we occasionally refer to this episode with a combination of cringing and laughter. He'd tried to memorize it, I was in way over my head with the vocal, and we had a moment in the performance when he forgot, I tried to show him the score, and the accordion of pages flew away. But we made it to the [...]
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My blog has been on hiatus, but for some reason a post about songwriting collaboration has garnered a ridiculous number of comments. I thought I'd share a few of them (sans irrelevant links) for your amusement. I'll be back to normal blogging soon. Enjoy!

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Q&A from Individual Songwriting class

Posted on December 8, 2013 with 2 comments

Thanks to everyone who participated in my Individual Songwriting workshop at Madison Music Foundry on Saturday. This was my first time teaching this subject in such a short time-frame -- I usually cover this material over 15 hours! -- so I wanted to address some leftover questions and give you a chance to follow up.

Q: What resources would you recommend for someone who wants to write serious, personal songs? I have a musical background but haven't learned theory.

A: For music theory you can start with a website such as Another handy tool is a chord wheel, giving you a color-coded representation of how chords go together. (I've seen these at Ward-Brodt, and other local shops may carry them as well.)

You'd also asked about chord progression software. I'd recommend going with something free as a sort of training-wheels approach to writing your own progressions.

Try applying the melody techniques we discussed in class once you have the chords; if you have further questions, let me know. 

A lot of the lyric-writing resources that are out there, including ones I've found really helpful for personal songs, tend to direct their advice to those who want to write commercial songs. As always, take the advice that applies and leave the rest. I'm partial to Sheila Davis's books, starting with "The Craft of Lyric Writing", as an introduction to song forms, rhyme schemes and lyrical devices. Pat Pattison's "Writing Better Lyrics" has a great chapter on ways to make your lyrics more vivid.

Beyond (and before) the mechanics, there's great advice on getting started and finding your style in "The Complete Singer-Songwriter: A Troubadour's Guide to Writing, Performing, Recording & Business" by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers. Don't let the title put you off if you don't aspire to make this a business; his approach is authentic and mature.

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Finding your co-writing style

Posted on November 18, 2013 with 8 comments

If you’re new to co-writing and you’ve found a songwriting partner or two, you may be wondering how to start writing together. I find it helps to choose a collaborative working model first. Here are some popular ones:

 Lyricist and Composer

This is a pretty straightforward division of tasks. It’s the obvious choice if you’re much stronger in one area than the other, or if you have a set of lyrics or composition you’re certain you want someone else to finish. Bernie Taupin and Elton John worked this way for many years, with the words coming first. Burt Bacharach and Hal David also used this method most of the time, with the music coming first.


Starter and Finisher

One songwriter starts with both music and words, then hands it to the next person. Many ongoing writing partnerships use this model, often with alternating roles. If you’re stuck on the second verse, another writer may be able to offer a fresh perspective and run with what you’ve got. Conversely, you may be looking for a co-writer who’ll spark your process with some starter ideas.

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To collab or not to collab?

Posted on November 5, 2013 with 5 comments

Some songwriters are collaborators or solo writers by temperament, and never have to ask this question. Others, like me, ask it every day.

I'm a huge proponent of songwriting collaboration. Writing with others has expanded my horizons, been some of the greatest fun I've had -- and resulted in hundreds of songs that wouldn't have been written without the synergy of two or more minds. The results often feel like magic. And there's plenty of history to support this model of song creation favored from Tin Pan Alley to Motown to Nashville to countless rock songwriting duos and beyond.

But not every collaboration clicks, and not every song is best written collaboratively. 

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