Imogen Heap’s “Ellipse” has been released, and it’s a gem. For you songwriters who want a demonstration on how to write songs with a strong, imaginative instrumental component, you need to listen to this album. It’s like a songwriting workshop for $12.99.
“Ellipse” is Heap’s third solo album, her first since 2005. The track “Canvas” will be the first single off the album. I get many emails from songwriters asking for advice regarding writing instrumental music, and it’s a wonderful example of how, with just a little creative imagination, you can construct something that really works beautifully. Most of the music is not specifically instrumental, but the instrumental treatments in each and every song are stunningly original and ingenious.
“Canvas” is written in the dorian mode (B dorian, to be specific, using the notes B C# D E F# G# A.) The melodic construction creates airy lines that start low in range and move higher as the song progresses, creating a very natural contour.
What gives that airy quality is the use of melodic fragments in and around B dorian that avoid strongly implying the key. With a very simplistic chord structure that plays with Bm9, D, E (implied), with modifications of each of those chords, the song has a lovely meditative quality. The instrumental break that occurs at 3’36” focuses on the chord A, as a pleasant diversion from the constant focus on B as a tonal hub.
The opening guitar figure plays with the notes A B C#, all found in B dorian, but not presented in a way that makes the mode obvious. This is followed by a piano vamping the melody: A F# G# A C#, a fragment that purposely veils the mode. It’s not until the vocal melody starts that we actually get a strong sense of the chosen dorian mode.
Modal writing offers songwriters great opportunity for shrouding the key and creating moods. It’s because most of the modes (including dorian) don’t have a semitone leading tone, and the absence of that semitone softens the arrival of the “tonic” note.
Imogen Heap is an enormous musical talent. You’ll love track “Wait it Out”, which progresses from a delicate vocal beginning to an energetic instrumental collage and back again. (“Earth” is my personal favourite at this point.)
If you really want to get inspired to write some music that breaks you out of your songwriting rut, get “Ellipse.”
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how to write great songs. It’s just one of a suite of 6 songwriting e-books written by Gary Ewer. (His newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books.) Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..