Songwriting for Survival – Inviting Your Audience to “Follow the Lion”

by Debra Alexander

The Final, Sixth Week of the SAC Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2013 is upon us. Our relatively small (50/65,000) but extremely dedicated and talented group of Coursera Songwriting Class Participants has braved jungle-like entanglements of song form, plot development, point of view, number of lines, lengths of lines, rhyme schemes, rhyme types, melodic and harmonic rhythms, and song structure. In short, we’ve been asked to climb the highest tree in the forest and have a look around in order to make decisions on how to support our lyrics with prosodic choices for every syllable, word, phrase, line, and section contained in our songs. And we have emerged from the jungle a new and upright-walking species of survivors.

Berklee College Professor of Songwriting Pat Pattison brings us full circle in the last lesson and reminds us that the reason we set out on this journey was because we, as songwriters, have ideas that we want to express. Our ability to translate to an audience how we feel about our subject will either bring our audience closer and intensify the feeling, or distance our audience and dissipate the feeling. The tools we have developed during this course are now at our disposal to aid us in our endeavour to create emotional resonance.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the development of one of Pat’s songs, starting from the initial idea to a fully realized lyric and melody. The final decisions required in writing the song concern phrasing, which Pat calls the “body language” of communication. In every day communication, it turns out that our actual words account for much less meaning than our tone of voice and our body language. So phrasing, in songwriting, is an extremely important skill to cultivate. We learn how to write front heavy vs. back heavy, and strong bar vs. weak bar phrasing to create stability or instability. Additionally, tone of voice can be equated to certain melodic intervals, and our awareness of these relationships can help us intensify the feelings we’re trying to express.

One of the most fascinating segments of Lesson Six was, for this writer, the part where Pat describes the work done by ethno/evolutionary musicologist by Joseph Jordania in his book, Why Do People Sing? Music In Evolution. Jordania posits that our tree-dwelling hominid ancestors, over the millennia, learned how to drive lions off their kill by making noise together, and that this skill fed the entire tribe. For 2.5 million years, we were scavengers who followed the lion; we were coming down from the trees, learning to raise our voices together, “singing” to get our supper! Singing is actually linked to survival, and predates language. So remember, Pat says, “when you write a song…invite your audience in, let them sing with you, let them bond with you. Let them be your tribe.” He goes on to say that songwriting “is really a lifetime of fun, a lifetime of exploration, a lifetime of growth…”

I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Songwriters Association of Canada for inviting me to participate in the SAC Blogging Challenge 2013 as mentor and guest blogger. And now, I have to go after a few of those lions I’ve been trailing.

All ye hunters, please post:

1. How you feel you have used front heavy, back heavy, and/or weak bar phrasing tools to assist the expression of your stable and unstable ideas.

2. The URL to your Week 6 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)


20 thoughts on “Songwriting for Survival – Inviting Your Audience to “Follow the Lion”

  1. Front heavy, back heavy phrases….I could see how they should be done on paper, and I could hear them when I spoke the lines naturally…but when I tried to match them in the rhythm of the song with the strong or weak notes/and or bars….well, let’s just say that it was like trying to learn to count to four all over again….and I failed miserably. But hey, I got a gold star for my effort.


  2. I found this week a very interesting exercise. I was not expecting the song to take on a different character as easily as it did-in fact it was I that took on the character but the song worked within it so I’m happy. The blog link is there and the Soundcloud link is within it. And good Ms Alexander -thank you for shepherding us all through these wordy weeks!


  3. For this assignment, I used front heavy phrasing for “facts” and back heavy for uncertainty. I tried to create an expectation of front heavy in the chorus to spotlight the title line using back heavy phrasing. Deciding on the phrasing made it easier to sing – gave me more room somehow.

    I want to come back to this song and change the 3rd verse to a bridge and do more tweaking but all the time I have for this week is spent!

    It’s been a pleasure walking this learning journey with you all.



  4. Well here we are… It’s been a fun [and challenging!] course and we’ve all met so many great people. Annnnnd we even have songs to show for it 🙂 Here’s the final edit of mine…
    I didn’t want to change it [like most of us don’t, I presume] but now I realize that it did actually improve the song. I’ll be using these principles a lot more now after having it so well explained by Professor Pat. 🙂


  5. I took a Pat Pattison course some time ago and this weeks lesson was the one thing that really stuck with me from before – i have been using back heavy quite a bit, now I will try to use all the tools we have learned. The course was built in a way that I felt reinforced all the things we have learned, along with the blog challenge. I don’t think it’s possible now to go forward without my 3 boxes of development and worksheet full of is my week 6 blog post.


  6. What a great experience! The course was great but the cherry on top was the social media aspect that the SAC brought to the table. I’m sad it’s finished now, but I had a great time and learned all sorts of things. The front and back heavy phrasing techniques were fascinating, and I found my chorus hook improved dramatically when I separated the words “and gone” in the title hook from the “six feet under” part, thus making the last two words land in a different position in the bar. This made the first part of the title back-heavy, and the finality of “and gone” benefited greatly from the primary stress “gone” now landing on the downbeat..

    It was a lot of fun! Please have a listen! Enjoy!

    An anti-terrorism song, “Six Feet Under and Gone” by Michael Holland.


  7. A wonderful blog entry, Debra. I really liked the Jordania theory too, such great and convincing images of our earliest dinner parties! Singing for our supper indeed! You write so beautifully.

    I really enjoyed your own writing both literary and musical. I really look forward to enjoying more of your work in future.

    Thank you Debra for moderating the forum and encouraging us all during this challenge. That was a lot of work and time but I tell you here I am very grateful to you. My own social media experience only began this January but here I am setting up a Facebook Group of my own to encourage other SAC members who took this challenge to continue the self-improvement in songwriting and do with me Pat Pattison’s four 14-Day Challenges, from his “Songwriting Without Boundaries” book, starting June 3. It feels like stepping into a wardrobe and finding yourself in Narnia! The whole view of the songwriting world and music industry is totally different from this side, so thank you for bringing me up to date so gently and kindly and thoughtfully.

    I’m happy and pleased, and also must thank the SAC for running this challenge as a social adjunct to the course, it was a powerful addition to the experience.


  8. This forty pound tool belt sure is weighing heavy on my hips.
    But that’s a good thing, great to have all of these songwriting
    tools here at my fingertips when I need them.

    Thanks to Pat Pattison for the FREE set of tools.
    Thank you SAC for making us aware of this course and
    setting up the blogging challenge.
    Thanks Debra for your blogs and encouragement. and
    Thanks to all of my new songwriting friends for
    your encouragement and friendship.



  9. Here’s one verse and the chorus I submitted for lesson six:

    Turned to Google in my hunt for clues
    Found an offer from Pat Pattison
    A six week song writing adventure
    At a price one could hardly refuse
    It was free there was nothing to lose


    I learned about rhythm, learned about rhyme
    How to think inside the box
    Fricatives, nasals and plosives
    P T K D G and B
    I have six best friends I never had before
    To help preserve the shape of the language
    Stable, unstable, spotlights
    Would surely lead me to the Holy Grail, Prosody.

    I’ve found that one can actually swear using the word “fricative” :>)


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