We’ve made it. It’s the end of June.  Hopefully you know how to play more songs than you did in May.  Maybe you’ve got some originals to work on, too.

Why not learn one more cover?  You choose which one.  Let it be another song that you’ve liked for a long time.  Or maybe it will be the first song you ever said, “This might be my favorite song” about.

TODAY’S SUPER-PROMPT:  Look over the songs you know (maybe from this month!) and put together a 30 minute set.  Play it.

SONG OF THE DAY: Folsom Prison

The whole album. Because I am obsessed with it.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 29: A different tone

PROMPT: Write a song in a different tone (emotion) than you’re used to writing in.

This prompt comes from the fact that when I look over my songs, almost all of them have Am and E in them.  In other words, they are usually sad, slow, and dark. Not always, but usually.  Today, the goal is to try your hand at a different sort of song than you’re used to writing.  Try learning a new chord and then work out a new chord progression with it into a song.

SONG OF THE DAY: Ghost on the Shore

Lord Huron is a band I discovered around December and they are pretty fabulous.  This album, Lonesome Dreams, made a lot of best of 2012 lists.

Their music is what I like to describe as what would happen if Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon had a love child. In the West.  This song is the one of theirs I like the most at the moment.

(For some reason, Youtube isn’t giving me the Share option at the moment, so follow the link.)


TODAY’S PROMPT: Learn a song you liked when you were in middle school.

Admittedly, I am having a hard time coming up with prompts in these last days, but I have been reading a bunch of student essays and so many of them focus on middle school that I have started to think about it a lot.

Middle school is the most complicated and horrible stage of life for most US-Americans. It’s just awkward.  It is fun, though, to think about the kinds of music that inspired us at the time. There should be a writing rule: if you have nothing to write about, write about middle school. Instant tension! Instant darkness! Instant humor!

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, check out this episode of This American Life.


I loved this song so much when I was in 7th & 8th grade(s).  So much. If you are going to be a one hit wonder, let it be a hit as wonderful as this song.  (Obviously, I still like it.  Maybe I’ll karaoke it next week or something…)

TODAY’S PROMPT: Write a song inspired by middle school.


TODAY’S SONG: We’re Going To Be Friends.

I’m pretty sure that this song is about middle school.  It definitely reminds me of the time.  And it’s so pretty.

Songwriting Days 23 & 24: Two in One (Again)

YESTERDAY’S PROMPT, which I didn’t have a chance to write, was to learn any song you want again.  Simple enough.

TODAY’S PROMPT: Learn a song you don’t actually like that much.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll like it after you will learn it?  The real challenge would be to improve the song with arrangement choices, but you could just learn it because it’s nice to have something harmless to make fun of (as long as you don’t mock it in front of it’s writer, you should be okay…)

TODAY’S SONG: Apple Blossom

This is my favorite White Stripes song, found on my favorite of their albums: De Stijl.  One thing I love about the White Stripes is how simple their songs are, especially the early ones, and this is a good example of that.  I also love how coy their lyrics are in contrast to their enormous sound.

Two people making a lot of noise: yes.

Two people from DETROIT making a lot of noise: yessss.


PROMPT: Take a super famous song and do something totally wacky with it—like make it a waltz. Change the genre.  What would Britney Spears sound like if you made her song sound old timey? Is it possible? It’s up to you to find out.

SONG OF THE DAY:With a Little Help From My Friends

I like to have conversations about “what’s the best?” with my dad and my friends.  Especially my dad. “What’s the best Hitchcock movie?”  “What’s the best Beatles album?”  It’s fun to pretend to be objective about it.  Of course, we are expressing opinions, but it’s still fun to argue opinions and take them seriously for five minutes.

During the rest of the minutes, I don’t really take taste-driven opinions that seriously.  I mean, of COURSE I have the best taste in music than anyone else.  Of course. Along with the best taste in food, movies, beer, dogs especially…

One of my favorite topics for one such conversation is “What’s the best cover of a song ever?”  I always propose this Joe Cocker version of the, cough cough, dorky second track on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club band.

Now I love the Beatles, really I do.  I love Sgt Pepper’s! But their version of this song, in my humble-not-even-trying-to-be-objective-here opinion, is downright terrible.  But then Joe Cocker comes along and transforms it into a gospel song.

It was so good, it became the theme Wonder Years.

(By the way, I try to use the Wonder Years as an example when I’m talking to my students and they have no idea what I’m talking about.  Youngins! They have no idea who Kevin Arnold even is! They don’t even remember the episode when Winnie Cooper comes in to a sick Kevin’s room all mad at him, punishing him by jumping on his bed and screaming if he wants coleslaw.)

Back to this song. I love the fact that Julie Taymor presents both versions in Across the Universe:


SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 21: Contrast Love Song

PROMPT: Write a song about how much you love something, but write it in a minor key. Let the words contrast the tune, so the words aren’t said, necessarily, but the tune is.


Write a song with really sad words but with a happy tune.


My favorite love song by one of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine.  The album this song comes from, “Drunkard’s Prayer” is incredible.  It tells the story, as this song does, of a couple who revives a troubled marriage.  It has some of the saddest, most beautiful songs on it I’ve ever heard–so sad and beautiful that I cannot listen to this album at all if I am in anyway broken-hearted.  But I’m not today, and hopefully you’re not either, so check this album out.  I suggest listening to it tonight while you make dinner.


PROMPT: Learn a pop song.

I wrote this prompt in April (as that is when I brainstormed for these) and as I wrote it down today in this here blog template, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure what officially makes a song a pop song. So I went to Wikipedia, of course.

It derives from Rock and Roll.  It’s from the 1950s. I guess it has to have a catchy hook to be a pop song; it has to have a verse chorus structure.  It’s aimed at the youth market. Maybe everyone knows this already, but because I’m really out of the pop culture loop, I had to look it up.

Part of the reason I want to learn a pop song is because I am amused at the challenge of taking, say, a Madonna song and making it work on the guitar.  Or maybe a Michael Jackson song. Yes. A folky version of a Michael Jackson song sounds like a good project for today.

SONG OF THE DAY: Billie Jean

I had a fun time looking up people’s acoustic versions of MJ songs on Youtube.  This one impressed and amused me. PS: I have no idea who this dude is.


PROMPT: Learn a song you liked before you turned 13 years old.

I’m having a good time remembering the songs I used to like as a kid.  Some of them, like Bryan Adams’s “Everything I Do, I Do It For You” I consider today to be so awful that I laugh at the thought of them (sorry if you’re still a fan).  Mostly, I just liked Broadway musicals–The Secret Garden, Les Miserables, and the Phantom of the Opera in particular. When I was too little to know what I was listening to, I had a thing for Paul Simon’s entire Graceland album.  So I had some good taste built in me. Also, I remember being obsessed with the song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”


The first band I ever loved (and there is a chance that it was the first band you ever loved, too–) was They Might Be Giants.  Good God, I felt so cool listening to They Might Be Giants.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAYS 17 & 18: Woody Loves the Kids

I had to make a last minute emergency drive across the country yesterday and so I didn’t get a chance to make a post.  Today I’m playing catch up.

PROMPT FOR DAY 17: Learn a Woody Guthrie song.

If you know me, you know I love me some Woody Guthrie.  I think it’s a singer/songwriter’s duty to keep his music alive, since he wrote hundreds of songs that are considered a big part of (our) American heritage.  Check out this biography page if you need more info about this dude.  There is a reason I call him Saint Woody. There is a reason I named my dog after him.

Because his songs are super easy (G/C/D anyone?), this prompt shouldn’t take too long to complete.  You can find an archive of his song lyrics here. Feel free to add your own tune. You know, like you’re Wilco or Bily Bragg or something.

PROMPT FOR DAY 18: Write a song for a child.

It could be a children’s song. It could just be a song that’s dedicated to a child. By the way, Woody Guthrie wrote tons of them.

SONG OF THE DAY(s): Why, Oh Why

This is my favorite children’s song that Woody Guthrie wrote.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 16: Song for Someone Else

TODAY’S PROMPT: Learn a song someone else likes or that you associate with someone else.  If you get good at playing it, maybe you can play it for them some time.

TODAY’S SONG: We Won’t Get Fooled Again

There is a game I like to play where I ask people which 1960s band they like the most out of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks.  Apparently, says the friend who taught it to me, you can learn a lot about a person through their answer.  I choose the Who.  I haven’t listened to all of the Who’s stuff, but what I have heard moves and wows me more than any of the others.  They are the only band I can listen to jam out without getting bored.

My father also loves the Who–has loved the Who since way before me. It’s either a music preference gene or I just like the music my dad likes. One of the two. He claims they lived in Detroit for a while before they were famous.  He claims his brother saw them play in a high school around here.

Well, folks. It’s Father’s Day. Here’s my father’s favorite Who song.