book love: the songwriters idea book // 04 [repost]

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Welcome to the 4th installment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Songwriters Idea Book: 40 strategies to excite your imagination, help you design distinctive songs, and keep your creative flow by Sheila Davis.

This book was recommended to me by the wonderful and talented Megan Jerome, herself a great songwriter. Megan is a wealth of songwriting information and resources and this will not be the last Book Love inspired by her.

Sheila Davis is well known for her books on lyric writing including The Craft of Lyric Writing and Successful Lyric Writing, but The Songwriters Idea Book is an invaluable resource for anyone looking for lots of different ways to get inspired and seed new songs.

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This is a great book for songwriters of any experience level who wish to keep up a regular practice of songwriting. I mentioned in my post on my songwriting process last Friday that regular work is way more effective than only writing when you are inspired. This book has a ton of jumping off points for you to work from included a variety of title strategies, plot devices, and wordplay.

My favourite title strategy found in this book is “book title titles” where you write a song with the same title as a book. I will often go to the library and fill a page with interesting book titles I find and then try and write songs with my favourite titles. It doesn’t always yield my best results but it certainly gets the creative juices flowing.

Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04

Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04

That’s it for Book Love // 04. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments below. You can also check out other book love books on the book love index page.

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book love: effortless mastery // 13

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Welcome to the 13th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book was picked especially for Creativity Self-Help Month and it is Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within by Kenny Werner.

Effortless Mastery is another one of these books that every musician seems to own. I always see it on shelves at friends’ houses and in music schools. Essentially, this book is about releasing fear and the need to play well, and embracing your inner master.

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Along with the book, there is a CD of four guided meditations that help the listener learn to approach playing and practice from a relaxed state. This is a bit of an oversharing moment, but the first time I listened to Meditation #1, I cried.

Even though the book is strongly directed at musicians, I think there are listens that can be gleaned by artists in other disciplines, especially when it comes to identifying as an artist. It can be a really scary thing to feel like you have to be great at singing, or painting, or writing, because you call yourself a singer, painter, writer. This book teaches you to release the artist identity and step back from it so that you can allow yourself to create without fear.

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That’s it for Book Love // 13. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can check out the last post in the series, The Artist’s Way, or see all of my book recommendations on the Book Love index page.

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book love: the artist’s way // 12

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Welcome to the 12th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book was picked especially for Creativity Self-Help Month and it is The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

As you can see from the photo above my copy of The Artist’s Way is a little beat up around the edges and that’s because as far as I’m concerned this is the most useful book a blocked creative can get their hands on. It is a 12-week program specifically designed to get to the root of your creative block and help to nurture the artist-child inside you back to health.

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Be warned that this book is not for the dabbler. When embarking on the program you are asked to sign a contract with yourself to promise that you will stick with the basic tools (three pages of daily journalling every morning, and a weekly artist date) as well as completing each week’s reading and tasks. Every week you will read about and work towards recovering something new, a sense of safety, identity, power, and much more.

I have completed the program one time and remember quite distinctly the look on my colleague’s face when I told him he would have to phone me if he needed to communicate with me because I was on the “no reading” week of The Artist’s Way and would not be answering emails or text messages.

All joking aside, this book was the reason I was able to get back to writing after spending much of my teen years songwriting and then losing myself through my university degree. I frequently refer back to Julia Cameron’s Rules of the Road and other bookmarked sections when I need a quick shot of creative juice to keep me going.

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That’s it for Book Love // 12. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can check out the last post in the series, Modus Novus, or see all of my book recommendations on the Book Love index page.

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book love: modus novus // 11

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Welcome to the 11th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is Modus Novus: Studies in reading atonal melodies by Lars Edlund.

Modus Novus is an atonal sight-singing textbook with instructions in Swedish, German, and English. It was first recommended to me by guitarist René Gely, my friend and collaborator from the Ottawa area. The first time I attempted to work from Modus Novus it was so unfamiliar and scary that I closed the book and put it back on the shelf for another year.

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In May of 2012 I attended the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Centre in Alberta. At the time the program was led by Dave Douglas. In the mornings the group would get together and sight sing from Bach Chorales and Modus Novus. He told us that sight singing and Modus Novus were an invaluable part of of his musical training and something that every musician should work towards mastering.

From then on I got over my fear of Modus Novus and continue to work through it over a year and half later. I use this book and Lars Edlund’s tonal sight singing book, Modus Vetus, with nearly all of my students.

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That’s it for Book Love // 11. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can check out the last post in the series, The Jazz Piano Book, or see all of my book recommendations on the Book Love index page.

book love: the jazz piano book // 10

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Welcome to the 10th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Jazz Piano Book by Mark Levine.

The Jazz Piano book a cross between a reference book and practice guide. It’s written for jazz pianists (obviously) but every jazz musician I know has a copy. Every chapter is filled with musical examples of theory set within the context of jazz standards. When I have been learning about intervals and modes and other foundational stuff, I have used this book to get the sounds in my ear.

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I highly recommend this book for singers, especially those of us who don’t play an instrument like piano or guitar. When I’m writing songs or lifting charts, sometimes I know the sound I want for the harmony of the tune but I’m unclear on what to call it on paper. This book is a great resource for chord function and chord nomenclature.

It also comes with a pianist listening guide, tons of photos of jazz pianists, and lots more unexpected surprises.

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That’s it for Book Love // 10. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can check out the last post in the series, The Right To Speak, or see all of my book recommendations on the Book Love index page.

book love: the right to speak // 09

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Welcome to the 9th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Right To Speak: Working With The Voice by Patsy Rodenburg.

The Right To Speak is required reading at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts in Toronto. My good friend, Evangelia Kambites, is an alumna of the Academy and I found this book laying around her apartment while on one of my frequent stays. (Fun fact: Evangelia and I became friends in high school because we both played alto saxophone in the concert band.)

Rodenburg’s book reads a bit like two separate books. Part one is about declaring your vocal rights, and goes into great detail explaining the ways in which our voices are affected through our experiences. It discusses vocal habits and where they can originate, from familiar mimicry to fashionable speech to stuttering. I feel that part one of this book is essential reading for any voice teacher who wishes to understand how privilege, power, and oppression can manifest as vocal issues. Considering you will be hard-pressed to find a vocal student who hasn’t experienced oppression in their life in some way, it’s obvious why this information is valuable.

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The second part of the book is called An Owner’s Manual of the Voice. This section explains the physical mechanisms that go into breathing, vocalization, and phonation. It includes a detailed warm up, and a bunch of other handy considerations like how to deal with an accented voice, how to vocalize heightened emotions, and general health.

Admittedly, I haven’t explored the second section of The Right To Speak as much as I would like to. I have attempted her full warm up twice but each time it aggravated my chronic back pain. I would recommend reading through the warm up fully before attempting it and attempt it only if you are an experienced vocalist. If you are a beginner I would bring the book to a teacher and be supervised.

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That’s it for Book Love // 09. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can also check out the last post in the series, The Jazz Standards. If you are interested in other resources for singers, click here.

book love: the jazz standards // 08

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Welcome to the 8th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire by Ted Gioia

Usually I read a book from cover to cover before posting about it in this column, however if you follow me on instagram then you know that I only received this book last week. However, I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait to share.

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I first heard about The Jazz Standards in the Fred Hersch interview I posted about last week. Basically, the book is a reference guide to more than 250 seminal jazz compositions. Each entry is roughly a page and a half in length and contains information about the composer and lyricist, where it first originated (whether on film, broadway, a jazz original, etc), who most notably recorded it, and some interesting stories relating to the song or composer. Each entry also contains a “recommended versions” list which is order by year.

This is a resource that I will treasure always and return to often.

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That’s it for Book Love // 08. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can also check out the last post in the series, Singers & The Song.

book love: singers and the song // 07

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Welcome to the 7th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is Singers & The Song by Gene Lees.

Gene Lees is a Canadian music critic, biographer, singer and lyricist. He is responsible for the English language lyrics to many tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim, including the popular Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado). Singers & The Song is a collection of essays about vocal jazz including biographical looks at important singers and songwriters (Edith Piaf, Johnny Mercer, and Frank Sinatra to name a few), the evolution of the English language and it’s use in vocal jazz lyrics, and the cultural links between the dance band, the rise of radio, and the fall of the electric train transit system.

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This book solidified Lees’ reputation as one of the finest jazz writers of his time and it’s easy to see why. Each essay is more intensely interesting than the last. Reading them has changed the way I think about vocal jazz by helping me understand the historical legacy to which we’re all a part of. For instance, in his first essay, Lees talks about how the etymology of individual jazz lyrics fit into a broader cultural context and reflects the moral attitudes of the time. I never considered how unusual it is for the canon of jazz standards to be made up of almost nothing but puritanical, sexless love (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just almost never the case in real life).

It seems even more absurd when contrasted with the topic of Lees’ second essay: the music of Edith Piaf. Piaf sings about issues that American jazz standards never even get close to like prostitution (with Love For Sale being the obvious exception), stalking, death, and juvenile sexuality.

And all that is just the tip of the iceberg. I found myself having a paradigm shifting moment practically every few pages. This book came out in 1987 and in an expanded second edition in1999 with an additional seven essays included.

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That’s it for Book Love // 07. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can also check out the last post in the series, The Private Voice Studio Handbook.

Book Love: The Private Voice Studio Handbook // 06

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Welcome to the 6th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Private Voice Studio Handbook: A Practical Guide to All Aspects of Teaching by Joan Frey Boytim.

I have a habit of buying books impulsively, especially if it’s the kind of book I can justify as a business expense. The Private Voice Studio Handbook was just such a purchase. When it arrived at my door I thought “I have been teaching voice privately for years, what could this book possibly teach me that I don’t already know?” I was surprised to find myself reading it cover to cover in a week.

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The title says it all, this is an extremely practical guide to teaching voice. Everything is covered in plain language and nothing is left out. Boytim shares her resources, excerpts from her handouts to students, contracts, lesson cards, and vocal exercises along with her years of experience.

The book is geared towards those expecting to teach young, classical singers but most things apply to a teacher of any style. She explains how to audition a prospective students, how to prepare a student recital, how to ask for recommendations and much more.

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That’s it for Book Love // 06. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can also check out the last post in the series, Leonard Cohen Selected Poems 1956 – 1968.

Book Love: Leonard Cohen Selected Poems 1956 – 1968 // 05

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Welcome to the 5th installment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Since April is poetry month around here I’ve decided to dedicate this month’s Book Love features to some of my favourite authors and collections of poems. Today’s book is Leonard Cohen Selected Poems 1956 – 1968.

I first came across this book while sitting cross-legged on the floor of a beautiful house on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. Craig and I were staying with friends while on vacation and the house where we stayed was brimming with books and maps and musical instruments. I always knew Leonard Cohen was an outstanding songwriter but at the time I really didn’t know anything about his poetry. When I opened this book I was shocked by how stark and simple and beautiful the writing was. Of course, I am drawn to his poems about love and people and heartbreak.

Book Love: Leonard Cohen Selected Poems 1956 - 1968 // 005I so love the unexpected images he uses. Take this excerpt from the poem above, for example:

“The naked weeping girl
is thinking of my name
turning my bronze name
over and over
with the thousand fingers
of her body
anointing her shoulders
with the remembered odour
of my skin”

When I can read that I can see her holding his memory in her hands like an object. It’s at once sad and sensual. Whenever I feel uninspired or that my life lacks beauty, I almost always reach for this book.

I should mention that I spent the rest of my trip in Victoria trying unsuccessfully to find this book. When I mentioned it to Craig’s brother, he pulled his own copy of a shelf and handed it to me. I have it now on long-term loan. Thanks, Eric.

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Book Love: Leonard Cohen Selected Poems 1956 - 1968 // 005

That’s it for Book Love // 05. Let me know who your favourite poet is in the comments below. You can also check out the last post in the series, Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04.

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