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Thread: Why is it so hard to write a "ballad?"

  1. #1
    Composer/Drummer Jay Norem's Avatar
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    Why is it so hard to write a "ballad?"

    Everyone who writes jazz wishes he'd written something like "'Round Midnight." And I've made a go at writting ballads, which to me just means a slow jazz tune, for the last week or two. I've come up with couple of sort of Monkish kind of things but they aren't...very good. There's something to writing a good slow jazz tune that continues to escape me. Maybe I just don't feel the music that slow, or don't have anything to express in that sort of tempo, but that doesn't feel true to me, because I love slow jazz when it's done right, meaning in a not overly sentimental or sacharine way. I just find it very difficult to write music like that. Anyone else come up against this sort of thing?

  2. #2
    www.jakehanlon.com Jakeweiser's Avatar
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    considering that most Ballads are love songs with normally a pretty lyric as well as melody it can be hard to write one coming from an instrumental point of view.

    I know my first attempts to write something in a quazi-ballad style morphed into other things and I've only written two ballads that I could consider to still be ballads. Subsequently the two are two of my favorite writings.

    I guess one thing one could do is write a new melody over something that you are connected to, ie Round Midnight, then take the melody and axe the changes and reharmonize it. Sure that is a round about way to get to a new tune, but it will maybe give you some sort of connection to a piece that you are already in love with.
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    Can't force in on a Ballad. Write lyrics first if you can't come up with a melody on its own. Then nix the lyrics.

  4. #4
    Composer/Drummer Jay Norem's Avatar
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    Well I can't write lyrics worth a damn, so that's out.

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    Inspiration can't be taught. You can learn rules but you can't learn inspiration. Try walking in a nice place and think about some stuff.

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    Compose /Arranger / Jazz Prod. Phil Kelly's Avatar
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    Work on starting with a melody ..sing it to yourself.

    make sure what you come up with is comfortable withing your vocal range, and works its way to an effective climax or peak.

    when you find a series of phrases that make sense accapella, then experiment with whatever changes work in context.
    Swing ..or I'll kill you ( Bill Potts )
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    Is it just me, or am I getting the impression that some people here approach writing from an intellectual perspective? What I mean is, for instance, Jay says that he's having trouble writing ballads. I take this to mean that he might sit down at the keys and say, "ok, time to write a ballad", and then go for it. In other words, the concept comes before the substance.

    Does anyone really do it this way? The reason I ask is because...well, this way of approaching it makes no sense to me. If/when I write a tune it's because I hear something...either in my head, or a combination of notes on the keyboard, that inspire me to work something up. It may only be two or three notes that seem like they want to go somewhere, so I start experimenting and see where it goes. I don't think I've ever thought before-the-fact about what's "supposed" to happen.

    Sometimes the resulting lines may indicate ballad, or sometimes they might indicate that they want to be up or medium, it just depends...

    Anyone know what I mean? Phat?

  8. #8
    Composer/Drummer Jay Norem's Avatar
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    Slant that's a great point. There really isn't any reason to write a ballad unless you find yourself writing one. Great point. I guess I just never find myself in that "mode."
    I really think that's a great point. Why try to write a ballad just for sake of doing it? Why write anything that isn't what you're writing? Seriously...why? "I think I'll write something in 6/8 time." Why?
    Great observation, it's why I like these discussions.

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    Well, there's a difference between writing something purely just to write it and then taking the intellectual intiative to write within constraints to explore a style, a meter, or a form. Pure inspiration doesn't account for everything I write, because if it did, I wouldn't get anything done, and I doubt anybody will contest me saying that its good to try new things, even if you don't know what you're doing yet. Often for me hacking away at an idea and going through a process of trial and error in new circumstances will start to yield some inspired ideas. Remember, art is 90 percent perspiration, 10 percent inspiration (or whatever made-up statistics people use, you get my point).

  10. #10
    Registered User dosuna11's Avatar
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    A ballad represents a moment in time. Every time I hear it it evokes that same moment. Search for that moment in your life and imagine that in a melody.
    Check out the music http://www.myspace.com/davidosuna and www.davidosuna.com

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    write one ballad a day for the next month... allow yourself to write crap, if that's what comes out. don't censor yourself too much... better to make one ballad a day, always pushing yourself, than like not finishing anything because you are holding yourself to very high standards.
    see where you are at the end of one month. if you are still not making any progress, write one ballad a day for the next two months. repeat forever.

    composing is just like ear training or any of the other musicianship skills... it's hard to start up... but you just have to do it, and you will improve.

    dan

  12. #12
    Jazz Artist, Author EdByrne's Avatar
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    I know what you mean about ballads being difficult to write: They're harder to learn to play, too--at least convincingly. They are harder to swing, and also to not sound corney, since, as Jake points out, even the lyrics are about rather corny romantic sentiments: romantic love, unrequited love, exstatic love. It's hard not to write something that you've heard a thousand times--or come up with something that sounds like a chorale or something else that's slow, yet has no relationship otherwise to a romantic song.

    I've found that, outside of experimentation and writing exercizes, that it is best to just keep in mind that I'd like to write one for my repertoire. Then, some time in the next few months--even perhaps a year, a motive or phrase will suggest itself to me when I least expect it, and I'll realize, "there's the beginnings of that ballad I'm looking for." This might sound silly, but it works for me--if I'm patient.

    I too have written far fewer of them than other forms, but I need fewer of them anyway.

    I agree with Phil about writing it by singing, rather than at the piano: Sing it and get the changes afterwords. Otherwise you may be putting lipstick on a pig.

  13. #13
    www.jakehanlon.com Jakeweiser's Avatar
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    Sometimes an intellectual concept can create something beautiful. Many times when I start to write something it comes out of something that I am trying to work out on my instrument from a cerebral level... "how do I do <insert problem>?"

    then I start working on it. At some point, because I am a writer it turns into part of my vocabulary and I find it turning into things musically that I'm writing.

    Often, as I had stated in a post not long ago, when I write I like to have one thing that I call "degree of control" it could be a key center, it could be a meter, it could be a chord, lots of things. These give way to allowing my creative musical mind to just work around that. Often when I just write something, without anything to sensor me then the tune gets out of control because of what I know about harmony and music theory.

    I often tell people when they ask me about composition (which seems to be to happen a lot now) that the first thing they should write should be a blues or some sort of contraphact because that way they can work on writing melodies and not harmony, and after that is over, ditch the old changes and write new ones, like I suggested earier. You'd be surprised with the results
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    I just wrote my first jazz ballad recently so I have some thoughts on this. Singing is almost certainly the way to go. I took four chords and over that I sang melodic fragments until I found one that I liked and then I sang the rest of the melody and put chords to the final 12 bars (it was a 16 bar tune) once I knew what the melody was going to be.
    Here is a link for my new ballad. It's called 'L'Escargot'.
    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page...?bandID=490898

    Dostoevsky used to only write when inspiration hit him but after his near death experience he resolved to write every day regardless of how inspired he felt. No doubt this approach led to him writing a lot of crap but it also led to him writing some great stuff (Brothers Karamazov) that he may never have come up with if hehad just waited for inspiration, and he was writing so much material that he never needed to publish the more substandard work.

  15. #15
    Compose /Arranger / Jazz Prod. Phil Kelly's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Tarquin1986;322Dostoevsky used to only write when inspiration hit him but after his near death experience he resolved to write every day regardless of how inspired he felt. No doubt this approach led to him writing a lot of crap but it also led to him writing some great stuff (Brothers Karamazov) that he may never have come up with if hehad just waited for inspiration, and he was writing so much material that he never needed to publish the more substandard work.[/QUOTE]

    This is a good idea why trying to get into the habit of writing something ..ANYTHING ..every day is a great habit to develop.

    even the "garbage" you write now might eventually lead to being developed over time with fresh ears down the line ..

    Swing ..or I'll kill you ( Bill Potts )
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