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Every songwriter, no matter how disciplined they are, will go through periods of time where new songwriting ideas are hard to come by. It many not be writer’s block, per se, but simply those times when life gets very busy and it’s hard to feel creative.
One great idea for keeping the writing flowing is to consider reworking public domain folk songs or classical music into something of your own. Songs in the public domain are not protected by copyright. Generally, these are songs that were written long ago enough that the copyright has expired. In the case of folk songs, many of them were written centuries ago, where the original authorship is unknown.
If you read music, every library has collections of folk songs that you can dig through to find songs that you can use. If you don’t read music, it’s archival recordings you should be looking for, and again, libraries are a great source.
Once you’ve found a folk song or two that you like, what do you do next? Here are some thoughts on how to use folk songs to help you produce your next song:
- Take the lyric and write a new melody. Paul McCartney did this with his song “Golden Slumbers” on the Abbey Road album.
- Use the song as-is, and create a contemporary arrangement that gives it new life.
- Take the melody and play it backwards, looking for interesting shapes and ideas. You’ll be surprised when you discover that many musical cells can work nicely in both directions.
- Take a song that’s meant to be fast and slow it to less than half speed. There’s a story out there that Adler & Ross took Mozart’s Piano Sonata #1 in C Major, and slowed it down massively to produce the hit song “Hey There” from the musical “The Pajama Game”
- Take an original melody and invert it. For example, if the song you find starts with a rising scale, try recreating the song by using a falling scale. You may have to adjust the chords to make it work.
If you want some online sources of public domain music, try any of the following for starters:
Musopen (Public domain classical music)
Public Domain 4U (Public domain folk recordings)
About.com’s list of free public domain music.
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