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Hints to Young Song Composers.


If you have the lyric gift, and have a real desire to undertake vocal composition, your chances of writing a successful song are much greater than if you take up this branch of composition merely as a matter of duty, with the thought that as you have been writing instrumental compositions, you will also turn your attention to writing for the voice.

Many young composers forget the limitations of the human voice, for their first attempts at song compositions show that they think that organ to have the range of a flute or a clarinet, or even the combined range of a trombone and a piccolo.

If you are a singer, you will probably produce a much more singable composition than a composer who does not fully comprehend what the human voice can do. Notable instances among American songwriters are J. C. Bartlett, Carl Sobeski and Eugene Cowles, all of whom are as well known vocalists as composers.

Be sure you know the average range of the voice you are to write for, and keep within that range always. It will be all right once in a while to put in an optional note, but do not try to write your song for a soprano, contralto, baritone, or bass, with a phenomenal range. Many of the most pleasing songs have been written within the range of an octave, and there is more of a demand for such than for those with a greater compass.

Never write when you do not feel in the mood. Let your work be spontaneous or it will never be worth anything.

Do not try to write something that is difficult and complex. Simplicity is the perfection of art. Some young composers try to embody in their first songs every rule of harmony and counterpoint they know.

Melody always should be the principal consideration; just so sure as you load up your compositions with a mass of peculiar chords, odd progressions and complicated rhythms, they will fail to make their mark.

Furnish an accompaniment that sustains the voice, and yet does not prevent the melody from being prominent at all times.

Study the most acceptable forms in modern song- writing, and yet do not copy any one composer’s style. Let your originality have free rein.

A short song with a single well-developed theme is better than a long one with an anti-climax. Remember that there is a growing demand for short songs, as can be seen by the recent prize offer of Madame Nordica.

Whenever a suitable theme comes into your mind, jot it down. It is better to even write it on your cuff (in the often-quoted way of the genius), than to lose it. The wise composer will always carry a notebook with him, in which he can put down at once any musical idea that occurs to him. If he does not put it down when it first suggests itself, he may find later that he has lost the very best part of it.

The selection of verses for settings is a very important matter. Choose something that appeals to you. If possible, take something that has not been set before. If you have the temerity to add another to the hundreds of setting of “Thou Art Like Unto a Flower” or “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” you immediately invite comparisons. Remember that “comparisons are odious.” Leave the settings of famous lyrics until you have tried your wings and can fly, and instead, select verses with a pretty musical picture in it. Begin with the simple things, and work up to the others by degrees. Do not start in with a big concert song. A ballad will be much better.

Study the poem carefully. If you can, learn it by heart. Then when you have thought out the meaning of every line, and feel that you know just where the proper accents belong, you can begin to set it. Look out for the breathing spaces, and have them come in the right places. Be sure that the climax has no unsingable words, especially any harsh or sibilant consonants that break in on sustained quality.

Take your first song to some one who can give you good advice, and then if you can profit by it, rewrite it before you send it out to a publisher. Do not be discouraged if it is returned. You may have no idea of the hundreds of manuscripts the leading publishers receive every week, from which they can select only a very few.

Be patient and persevering and by and by you will succeed in getting your first song published. After that, it is “the survival of the fittest.” If you improve, your work will be in demand. If you retrograde, it is better to submit to the inevitable, and come to the sensible conclusion that you cannot write songs worthy of publication.


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