SONGWRITING DAY 6: BALLADS

TODAY’S PROMPT: Write a Ballad

Wikipedia says that a ballad is a narrative set to music.  By that definition, you could have the prompt be simply “Tell a story in a song.”

Before the 19th Century (I’m getting most of my info from the wiki site!), ballads were, as I mentioned in a previous post, a form of HBO-type entertainment.  They spread news stories across oceans, they compelled listeners with riveting suspense.

In the 19th Century, the definition of a ballad became “a slow popular love song.”

So, write a narrative song or a slow popular love song. Up to you! This month is totally your oyster.

I’m going to be working with traditional ballads today, though, because those are some of my favorite songs to sing and write.  I have a special fondness for new music that sounds old.  (This is why the band Over the Rhine tends to be my favorite.)

If you too want to be traditional, make sure you kill someone off in your story and structure the lyrical rhythm to go a little something like this:

BaDAH baDAH baDAH BaDAH

BaDAH baDAH baDAH

BaDAH baDAH baDAH BaDAH

BaDAH baDAH baDAH

And try to have no less than six verses.  The longer it is, the more impressive it is until it gets too long.  But the longer you can hold the audience’s attention with suspense, the higher quality the ballad.

Here’s another challenger: the refrain, in a good ballad, changes meaning in context of the verses.

News stories make good ballads.  Deaths (as previously stated) make good ballads.  Lost love makes good ballads too. Keep it dark, people.

Or don’t.  If you’re not dark and you have no fascination for the old-timey, do this assignment the post-19th Century way and write yourself a powerful (slow) love song.

SONG OF THE DAY: Boots of Spanish Leather

Bob Dylan loved him some ballads.  Here’s one that Norton anthologized as one of the greatest poems of all time.

 

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