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Songwriter Exercise 6 - Songwriting Notation

Compose Your Song Using Meter-Tabs™ (Part 1)


What are Meter-Tabs™ and how will they help you Notate your Song?

Songwriters are useless if they can not effectively express their song idea to composers and musicians

If you can't notate your song's music, it'll be difficult to develop your melody...so you need way to record your notes based on your chosen tempo and songwriter dynamic.

...And what about developing your lyrics? What if it takes more than one sitting to write your song's lyrics (as it normally does for songwriters)? Will you remember exactly how you wanted to your lyrics sung?

For this reason, you're going to learn a cool way to record the lyrics and melody of your song without needing to learn complicated sheet music symbols.

Meter-Tab is a more simplified way to read and write rhythm and melody

A meter-tabs chart shows “how much can happen” within “a moment in time”.

So what does this mean? Normally we can only "feel" rhythm, but now we also have a way to see rhythm and show exactly how we want our lyrics to be sung - and our melodies played - without learning traditional music theory.

How meter-tabs work

4/4 Meter-Tabs Songwriting Chart: 1(2,3,4)...2(2,3,4)...3(2,3,4)...4(2,3,4).

  • Each black number (1) in the top row represents one (1) beat - same as in our clock example.
  • Each brown number ([1]) in the next row represents one (1) "space" in time (each the same size).
  • Each purple number ([1]) (shown later) represents one (1) "space" in time (each the same size).

Each space can be filled by:

  1. 1 syllable from a word (or 1 word sound)
  2. 1 note from a melody, or...
  3. Remain as an empty space.

The way you sing your lyrics and play your melody will affect how they're recorded on your chart.

For example, on a 4/4 Meter-Tabs chart - the most common songwriter dynamic - only a maximum of 4 syllables and 4 regular notes can exist inside 1 beat.

For practice, let's record "Mary Had A Little Lamb" in Meter-Tabs!

 

"Step 2: Print a copy of your 4/4 Meter-Tabs Chart from your Rhythm Toolkit"

“Mary had a little lamb” uses the most common songwriter dynamic (4/4), so we’ll use a 4/4 meter-tabs chart. Tap your thigh while counting four beats ("1, 2, 3, 4") on tempo…

4/4 Meter-Tabs Songwriting Chart: 1(2,3,4)...2(2,3,4)...3(2,3,4)...4(2,3,4).

 

"Step 3: Sing 1st line of “Mary had a little lamb” while trapping to the tempo."

Sing the first line of the nursery rhyme. If you've never heard it before, take a listen to the following free mp3. When singing the 1st line of nursery rhyme, notice how the words are spread across 4 beats in a unique way...

Notice on this Songwriting chart that each word fits within a beat in a unique way.

...but if we were teaching someone else how to sing this song, we'd still need to be a little more exact than this.

We needed to explain this song's exact lyrical position in time. How would it look?

Answer: "We record in syllables - 1 syl-la-ble at a time - in the correct spaces."

 

"Step 4: Start tapping again, and now count from 1-to-4 within each beat"

[If you're having trouble counting this fast...slow down your tempo just a bit. It won't change the rhythm at all.

Count to 4 as you tap on each beat/"tick".

Even though we have to count rather quickly, 4 counts can safely exist within each beat. This means each syllable of our nursery lyric easily exists in a unique space ("count" or "point in time") within our beats

In this songwriting example, "Mary" is broken into its syllables. Each syllable fits within a unique space.

  • "Mary" starts at the top of beat 1 - exactly when beat 1 hits - so we know the word starts at count 1.
  • "Mary isn't sung as fast as your count "1-2-3-4", so "Ma-ry" =\= "1-2"
  • Listen carefully...“Mary” is stretched apart, leaving ["space"] between it's 2 syllables: "Ma-[]-ry"
  • So "Mary" is probably sung in 3 or 4 counts ("1-2-3"): "Ma-[2]-ry-[4]" or "Ma-[2]-[3]-ry"

 

"Step 5: Now let’s place this word on our Meter-Tabs Chart, one syllable at a time."

On our Meter-Tabs Songwriting Chart - at Beat 1 - we write the 1st syllable "Ma" in space 1, and 2nd syllable "ry" in position 3.

Personally, I sing "Mary" in 3 counts, so that's how I recorded it on my meter-tabs chart.

Using the same process, we can record the the rest of this lyric on our sheet

...We break each word into its syllables and then listen to where each fits within a beat.

...After a while you won't need to include the numbers...

Here a cleaner version of the above songwriting chart example, without the "count".

Now we can visualize; actually see the rhythm of our nursery rhyme’s lyrics.

Ma-2-ry-4-had-2-a-4-lit-2-tle-4-lamb-2-3-4

(“1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4”)

“You're not required to be 100% accurate when recording your lyrics in Meter-Tabs. This method of notation was developed primarily as a mnemonic tool to help you remember how you wanted to deliver your lyric & melodies in for a song."

Let's continue with part 2 of songwriting notation.

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Joshua P. May is an independent music producer & artistic career coach.