Berklee Press 978-0-87639-151-8. 210 pp. $22.99.
(Berklee Online, 1140 Boylston St., MS-855 BM, Boston, MA 02215,

Now, when someone asks, “Which comes first—the melody or the words?” I can reply: Songwriting Strategies by Mark Simos comes first. That is, if what the question is really asking is, “How do I start a song?” or “Is there something I can do to find a way into a song?”

I am naturally skeptical of any one systematic approach to creativity and, thankfully, so is Mark. He has not written Secrets To Selling A Song, of which there are too many books already. Instead, Mark has taken his years of songwriting, teaching, and playing, and has come up with vantage points or perspectives into a song. He calls this a 360° approach, taking the cardinal points of the compass to stand for rhythm, lyrics, melody, and harmony. He discusses each at length, but the real value of the book lies in how he puts it all together in strategies and exercises for the student, and backs it up with examples and ideas that are unique and challenging.

Mark is well known in the bluegrass community through his songs recorded by Alison Krauss, Laurie Lewis, Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, and others. He also teaches at the Berklee College Of Music and is a crazy-good old-time fiddler. That’s all to say that he knows whereof he speaks. Songwriting is often said to be a craft; this is the toolkit you need to practice that craft. But songwriting is also an ineffable art, and Mark never loses sight of that. Highly recommended for anyone interested in what makes a song tick—and aren’t we all?CVS

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