Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Songwriting Coursera: Looking to Alaska

I recently completed a Coursera (link) on songwriting. The instructor is Pat Pattison of Berklee College of Music. It is a phenomenal course focusing on lyrics. Pattison is one of the biggest names in songwriting, so I strongly suggest anyone with an interest in writing songs with lyrics take the course. It will be offered again in October 2014 (and likely every six months after that).

My final project is a song called Looking to Alaska (link2)

The piano track is at (link3):

Mr. Pattison teaches a songwriting process that includes story development, rhymes, and lyrics. With lyrics, the length of lines, number of lines, parts of the song, emphasis, phrasing, are all subtopics. There are no prerequisites. For non-musicians, there are music loops. The assignments involve writing lyrics, and then recording vocals set to music (either your own music or the one of the loops).

I tend to be a process oriented person, so I liked the style of teaching. I'd guess that about half of the 25,000 participants are true beginners. Some other songwriting workshops focus on writing more songs, often to a theme or topic. I found some of the topics to be quite a challenge, and still struggle with some. The course gives a songwriter more tools, whether a person decides to use them is another question.

Lyrics follow:
Looking to Alaska

There's this old photo
grandfather Amar
standing so tall,
Inuit proud

Get's me to thinking
'bout my life here
too many people,
too many cars

Looking to Alaska,
Land of soaring eagles
natural cathedrals
and my native home

So many worries
how 'bout the money?
how will I live there?
how 'bout the cold?

Looking to Alaska
ocean breeching whales
wise old ancient tales
and my native home

I have to go there, I have to try
I'm gonna make it, I'll feel alive

Looking to Alaska
searching for salvation
find my revelation
and my native home
Looking to Alaska,
Land of soaring eagles
natural cathedrals
and my native home...

notes on music: the verses and bridge are all white piano keys. The choruses all black keys. The five black keys form a natural pentatonic scale, which gives a primitive feel to the music. I'm not sure about Inuit music, but there is a lot of Native American music uses a five note scale. The music is relatively simple, but I like the mood and tempo changes from verse to bridge to chorus.

notes on lyrics: The title is derived from the book title Looking for Alaska. The story came to me after going through the process, and there is this photo of the Inuit grandfather. I moved that to box1 because it is what sets the song in motion. I choose not to rhyme the words in the title, because the rhyming words feel clumsy. The name Amar is short for Amaruk, which is a popular Inuit name that translates to wolf. The focus of the song turns to the animals. I have some rhyming in the verses, but delete them to keep the verses unstable and also for matching verse lengths.

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