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Songwriting
9 October 2013
5.01pm
jodiff
A Beginning
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Hello everybody!

I'd like to know if there are any books or interviews etc where the Beatles themselves or people close to them talk about or describe the song writing process of the Fab Four. I mean detailed stuff like how they would start a song from scratch… would they strum a few chords and then add a tune on top of it or would they start by humming a tune and then harmonizing it or both at the same time or whatever. Stuff like that. But I'm interested in actual facts not books by musicologists who analyze their songs. I really love the chapter " The Beatles and their music" from Hunter Davies' book where he tells the story of how John and Paul were writing " With A Little Help From My Friends" but he kinda focuses on the lyric writing and not the actual writing of the music and I only care about the music writing not the lyrics. 

Or maybe you guys know something about this topic.

Anyway, thank you for your time and any help would be appreciated.

Peace!

9 October 2013
5.11pm
LikeASir
Paris Olympia
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I'm wanting the answer to this too. Most of the interviews just give a vague sort of thing like "we play a few chords and see what we make of it" and that sort of thing. I want to know if they had a magic formula of chord progressions or something like that.

 http://afloydianslip.tumblr.com/

"White Album - My joint-fave Beatles album along with Revolver. They show the two sides of Beatles. Revolver's very controlled - even though it's also very innovative. The White Album's playful and almost ramshackle. It's like a scrapbook kept by a genius. Fantastic stuff."

9 October 2013
5.27pm
Bungalow Bob
Carnegie Hall
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Offhand, I can't think of one particular book that describes the Beatles' songwriting process, but I have read about it from many different sources. Paul has the gift of musical improvisation, even though he says he can't read music. He can sit down with a piano or a guitar and bang or strum a particular chord, listen for "inspiration," and then "take" that chord on a musical journey, even if he technically doesn't know where the journey is going. He then instinctively knows enough to end his compositions on the root chord, giving them a natural resolve. After developing a melody like this, he will then scat-sing nonsense syllables, until something begins to lyrically take shape. Lennon, on the other hand, often started with a phrase that interested him, like "All You Need Is Love," or Instant Karma" or "Give Peace A Chance," and he would develop a melody to fit the phrase. There are many exceptions to these examples, as I'm sure other posters will point out in this thread. There was no magic formula, or carefully-considered process that some successful songwriting teams honed to perfection.

9 October 2013
7.02pm
Ben Ramon
Candlestick Park
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Bungalow Bob said
 Lennon, on the other hand, often started with a phrase that interested him, like "All You Need Is Love," or Instant Karma" or "Give Peace A Chance," and he would develop a melody to fit the phrase.

Whatever Gets You Thru the Night is another example of this, and the assorted fragments and ephemera he found in the Daily Mail which were the genesis of A Day In The Life.

I would point jodiff to Many Years From Now; the only book I've read where a Beatle describes their songwriting process in anything near detail. I don't have the book to hand, but I recall passages where Paul says something like: "I was sitting at the piano and just hitting this D6 chord over and over and Fool on the Hill came out of that." Based on that I would assume he just fiddles around until he finds a chord sequence he likes the sound of, goes with the flow and the melody comes naturally to him, words added in afterward.

This video corroborates that theory pretty well: he knew what he wanted to write about, "got a riff going" and it sprang from there in a list of ideas that matched the rhythm.

 

 

 

 

SHUT UP - Paulie's talkin'
9 October 2013
9.03pm
Bungalow Bob
Carnegie Hall
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That's a good video, Ben. Both John and Paul had a gift of simply strumming a guitar, or plunking piano chords, and eventually at least a serviceable melody, and sometimes a haunting or gorgeous melody would emerge. Many songwriters know music theory inside out, and can craft a melody almost like a mathematical formula. But The Beatles were more organic, and much less scholarly about it. A music critic once famously noted the "Aeolian cadences" in the Beatles early song "Not A Second Time." John Lennon just-as-famously answered "Aeolian cadences? What are they, exotic birds?" That is so cool that the Beatles could write so many good songs, without much more knowledge than the standard l-lV-V chord patterns, and the creative desire to experiment. :)

9 October 2013
11.27pm
jodiff
A Beginning
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9 October 2013
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Thanks a lot for the replies. You guys are so great. The video is so cool. I also got to get that Many Years From Now book.

That's what I figured too. Like Bob said " there was no formula". There's that classic John quote from the Playboy interview where he talks about " I Want To Hold Your Hand" : " We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in 'I Want To Hold Your Hand,' I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, 'Oh you-u-u/ got that something…' And Paul hits this chord [E minor] and I turn to him and say, 'That's it!' I said, 'Do that again!' In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that — both playing into each other's noses". 

So i guess it's pretty clear that they were writing bits of improvised stuff and kept what they liked and joined them together. And I'm sure that's the best way to do it.

Anyway, this subject is ultra-fascinating to me and I'll keep researching. 

Thanks again, guys.

10 October 2013
12.03am
trcanberra
Canberra, ACT
Apple rooftop
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"A Hard Day's Write" by Steve Turner has a lot of info on the songwriting process, as well as the inspiration for each of their songs; though it is scattered among the song info and other background.  I quite like the book though, as an aside, the latest edition has far too many typos.

[EDIT] And welcome aboard *wave*

10 October 2013
5.02pm
Bungalow Bob
Carnegie Hall
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16 September 2013
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jodiff said

Anyway, this subject is ultra-fascinating to me and I'll keep researching. 

jodiff, one of the best ways for you to research this right now would be to browse through the "Songs" section on this website. The Beatle Bible has done a very thorough job of collecting pertinent quotes from various sources on every song, and many of the quotes deal with the aspects of the song's creation. If you do this, you will also see the sources that these quotes came from, and it will give you an idea of what books to read. When I first started visiting the Beatles Bible, I found out about a book called "That Magic Feeling," a listing of every Beatles' recording session. I found it in my local library, and I'm reading it right now. I'm at the part where George Harrison has just demoed his new song "Old Brown Shoe" for the other Beatles, and no one was very interested at all. So, George is quoted for the first time that he should release his own album, of all his songs that are being rejected. Fascinating stuff! I know this is not exactly the "nuts-and-bolts-of-songwriting" that you're looking for, but I'll bet you'll find a lot of answers in the Songs section.

10 October 2013
9.53pm
jodiff
A Beginning
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9 October 2013
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Thanks a lot for the replies and for the warm welcome. I'll check out the books you all mentioned. And the " Songs" section is really a gold mine and I'm keeping myself busy with it. The guys who put up this site have done an incredible job.

11 October 2013
6.34am
Funny Paper
America
Apple rooftop
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1 November 2012
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I too would enjoy reading a detailed account of the musical specifics of their songwriting process.

I remember one thing Paul said in an interview about how early on he was stuck in a mode of thinking that each chord naturally ought to have its tonic as a bass -- so that A7 would have A for a bass, G6 has a G for a bass, etc.  Then he said John showed him that you could have an A bass for a D chord, and that opened up new possibilities for him.

As a songwriter myself, I suspect that one thing people don't seem to realize so it's often overlooked, is that a good deal of the songwriting occurs after the song has been written -- it's like editing a novel you're already typed out.  Sometimes a lot of creativity and flashes of genius happen in re-structuring and re-arranging and adding crucial flourishes to the original inspiration.  And this often happens by just playing the song over and over again.  This is what separates the artists with talent from the others: the former will be constantly open to new possibilities and creative tweaking after the song's already on the table -- plus the critical ability to tell what to keep and what to trash.

Mundo paparazzi mi amore cicce verdi parasol.
11 October 2013
5.30pm
Bungalow Bob
Carnegie Hall
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16 September 2013
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Funny Paper said
  Sometimes a lot of creativity and flashes of genius happen in re-structuring and re-arranging and adding crucial flourishes to the original inspiration.   …new possibilities and creative tweaking after the song's already on the table -- plus the critical ability to tell what to keep and what to trash.

Good points, Funny Paper. And if there was any magic formula with the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership, it was that there were two very creative people who were, for the most part, on the same page. And when they weren't exactly on the same page, it was in a way that augmented the existing song, and took it to another place. Lennon helped write the bridges for McCartney's melodies for "Michelle," and "We Can Work It Out," to name just two instances. And those bridges seamlesly fit in with the verse melodies, but with a "blues-ier" feel than Paul would have arrived at on his own. I know there are other examples of melodies that were wriiten mainly by one Beatle, and then added to by the other, but I can't think of them right now. And like Funny Paper said, they would then add "critical flourishes" to one another's songs as they rehearsed them, or on the spot in the studio while recording. I would really like to read more in-depth accounts of their songs' creations.

13 October 2013
11.56pm
jodiff
A Beginning
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9 October 2013
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Thank you Funny Paper for the info from that interview. I'd really love to hear or read the whole thing.

And everything you said about the stuff that happens after a song is written is so true. If you just listen to the Beatles demos that are available it's just amazing to hear how songs developed over time before the official recording was done. A few examples  and 

15 October 2013
12.35am
Funny Paper
America
Apple rooftop
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Thanks for those videos jodiff.  The Strawberry Fields one sounds markedly raw and "embryonic".  On the other hand, it could have been an "unplugged" version of it after he had already formed it.  I've heard Paul Simon do such unplugged versions of his own songs, and they sound like they could have been done before the polished recording, but they weren't.  It would be cool (or would have been cool) to film a musician nearly 24/7 during the days he is writing a song and ask him questions while he's in the process.

Mundo paparazzi mi amore cicce verdi parasol.
17 October 2013
12.46am
jodiff
A Beginning
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9 October 2013
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I was watching an online live interview with Paul yesterday and believe it or not he showed on his guitar how he wrote a song for his new album and talked about his songwriting approach in general. I can't believe he actually revealed most of the stuff I've been waiting to find out for such a long time… Not too many surprises there but still….it's amazing!

Here it is for my friends at the Beatles Bible:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..Xdl1x4wOMg

 

 

18 October 2013
6.59am
Funny Paper
America
Apple rooftop
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Thanks for that video jodiff -- some very interesting stuff there.  I still haven't watched more than 30% of it, will do so when I find time.  I left off where he was describing his songwriting process for "Alligator".

I recall another video back from the 1990s in conjunction with his composition of his classical piece "Liverpool Oratorio" (or something).  He was collaborating with a classical musician for that, and at one point Paul is trying to write some new song on the piano, and he's in E minor, and he instinctively goes for the B major chord, but the classical music guy says -- "No, don't do that, it's so predictable", and Paul says something like, "Yeah, you're right" -- and so they try something else. 

Mundo paparazzi mi amore cicce verdi parasol.
20 October 2013
11.10pm
jodiff
A Beginning
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Wow. Thank you so much, Funny Paper. I found it on youtube. It gave me goosebumps seeing Paul actually write a song. 

 

21 October 2013
11.56pm
Funny Paper
America
Apple rooftop
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Thanks jodiff -- that's the one!  I couldn't find it (even though someone else here months ago found it for me also).  Thanks for zeroing in on the scene I was talking about. 

If only we had videos of him during the writing process of -- (to speak for myself) -- Uncle Albert, or Bip Bop, or Get On the Right Thing, or Jet, or Take It Away …!

Mundo paparazzi mi amore cicce verdi parasol.
16 December 2013
2.19pm
vectisfabber
The Jacaranda
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11 November 2013
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I'm guessing that the reason for the question in the first place wasn't just simple interest, it might have been with a view to "sourcing the magic" for the purposes of starting out with songwriting, which would be understandable.

 

The problem is that they didn't write to a formula (or, if they did, they didn't stick with it very long): rather, they used every songwriting trick in the book, and a lot which weren't:

Head to head

Riffing on a chord

Nicking ("inspiration" from elsewhere)

It came to me in a dream

Words first

Words from an outside source

A story

Just messing about

Writing to a deadline, title or theme

Following rules

Breaking rules

etc. etc. etc……

If the query was indeed for advice at the start of doing your own songwriting, I would suggest that the best advice is – start.  You don't get a song without starting it.  Have a go, see what works, see what doesn't.  It is rewarding – I've written many songs over the years (all unpublished, I am an accountant not a professional musician!) and all have been fun to write.

22 January 2014
9.13pm
SirHuddlestonFuddleston
A Beginning
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22 January 2014
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I have a related question. Once those songs were written, how did they remember them all, without the use of notation? It's said that L&M wrote over 50 songs before Love Me Do, and some of them, like When I'm Sixty-Four, were used a decade after they were written. How did Paul remember how it goes?

Furthermore, I kinda disbelieve Paul when he says he can't read music. You can hear him teach a song to George on Let It Be, calling out "D minor", "F6" whatever. He clearly knows his chords, and certainly a lot of music theory, which is evident from the way he describes his bass playing ("I tried using the fifth of each chord" etc). What's the final verdict? Can a dude who knows 6 chords, diminished chords, I-IV-V-I progressions, suspended resolutions, plagal cadences, etc, really not be bothered to learn where the notes go on a staff?

Finally, Paul talks about travelling hours by bus to find a guy who "knew how to play a B7 chord on the guitar." These kids were middle class (except Ringo). They had money for guitars. They couldn't afford a dollar or two to buy a chord book from the music shop? Are they really just being disingenuous?

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