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  • Writer's pictureToby Tobias

Getting to know Form


'Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form Come in, she said I'll give ya shelter from the storm’


This is obviously the first verse from Bob Dylan’s very well known song, ‘Shelter from the Storm’, written in 1974 on the ‘Blood on the Tracks’ Album. Extremely poignant song with beautiful lyrics and a haunting, repetitive melody sung against the backdrop of a sole and jangly guitar. For me one of the most perfect songs ever written by Bob Dylan. But what sticks out like a sore thumb for me is his use of, well, to use one of lyrics, his use of Form.


So what is Form when it comes to writing songs, compositions, etudes, symphonies. Let me give you my explanation on what I think Form is. In very simple terms, Form to me is the blueprint of a song. The formula that the composer uses to compose his or her song. From this simple Bob Dylan song, to a Beethoven Symphony to a Debussy prelude, to a Modernist Charles Ives Piano Sonata. It is a composer’s or songwriter’s formula or vehicle that he uses to convey the true essence of that piece in question. Each composition is more easily understood when you break down the form in which the piece is written, from a listeners perspective. From the perspective of this Bob Dylan song, how would you describe the form of this song? Quite simply, it is written in a continuous and repetitive verse mode with a small and repetitive chorus ending each verse, which captures the the full intent of this particular song. Repetitive and catchy and…really haunting. Some things to think about.

- How do you use Form to write your songs?

- Is the Form you use interesting enough to hold the listener from start to end?

- Is your song using form in a useful way to make the song really unique?

- What tools can we use to make a song really stand out by inserting different parts to it that could be the difference to having written a good song as opposed to a really good song?

- Is the Blues a type of form, and if it is, have you used this Blues format to write any of your songs? All good things to think about.

I’m going to go round and ask each of you how you could use one different mechanism in your upcoming songs that is different from the way you write songs till today. Instead of just verse/chorus, verse/chorus, what else can you do to a song that will make it yours and uniquely yours? There are numerous ways to make your song really stand out, but it takes courage, confidence and thinking outside the box Here, I’ll go first: - Instead of simply playing or strumming the guitar for 4 or 8 bars as a means of an introduction, start by humming the melody of the song with your guitar playing right from the start. Or even whistling the melody along with your guitar intro. I’d like everyone to take a moment to think about how you would create something new in the way that song you are writing can be manipulated so that the result is adding to the overall form of the song. Good luck and happy writing!

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