Measure For Measure: Unleash Your Sensitivity

Sometimes the greatest songwriting secrets are hidden in plain sight. A lead sheet, for example, freezes all the elements of songwriting success in black and white for all to see. Yet that stark simplicity conceals something big: the mountain of decisions that preceded the notes on the page. This lays bare a tantalizing mystery: You, too, know a lot of guitar chords, and you, too, have studied at the University of Life. So what accounts for the gulf between you and, say, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Gordon Lightfoot, or Buddy Holly? Talent, certainly. But how to cultivate talent? Not easy, so let me suggest cultivating something else: sensitivity. Where you or I often hear only one way a melody might go, master songwriters hear dozens, and they home in on the best of them. This is a hallmark of talent, but sensitivity to the subtle connotations of intervals and scale tones can help us do the same, a proposition we will now prove in our first-ever sensitivity workshop. Just listen to the following songs: “Numb” (Gary Clark Jr.), “Strange Brew” (Cream), and the Soprano’s theme, “Woke Up This Mornin’” (Alabama 3). These,…

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