Under the Hat: Curiosity and Songwriting

Songs in the Desert

As I write, I’m sitting in the Arizona desert surrounded by giant cactus and enormous mountains. For a songwriter from New England, it’s a lot like being in a candy store. The landscape, the people, the food, the music — everywhere I look there are fascinating things to see, touch, taste, smell and hear. Songwriters depend on their senses for inspiration and this year I’ve had more than my fair share of sensory stimulation. From performing in big cities and small villages in Mexico, to touring coast to coast around the United States, I’ve been fortunate to witness an amazing range of people and places… Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Hat: The Journey of Songwriting

Making Songwriting Twice As Fun

I’ve been traveling and performing around the world for many years, but singing my bilingual songs on a big stage in Mexico City or a little mountain village in Guatemala was the most fascinating and rewarding experience I’d had as a touring musician.

I started writing songs long before I learned how to play an instrument. My parents still tell stories about me banging on pots and pans and making up nonsense sounds with melodies before I could speak. You may have a kid like that too. Lots of kids love to experiment with rhythm and sound. It’s all part of the joy of using your imagination and creating something from nothing. It’s not that unusual, after all.

What’s unusual is to find someone who doesn’t love music. There’s a saying that music is the universal language. Over the last few years, I’ve learned some other wonderful lessons that have made me understand how true that old cliché really is. And the best part about the lessons I’ve learned is that they really happened by accident.

Here’s the story: my first CD, Pizza for Breakfast, came out four years ago. I’d been writing and performing for grown-ups for a long time, and I thought it would be fun to make a record for kids. The songs on Pizza for Breakfast were inspired by my former elementary school students at the Smith College Campus School in Northampton, MA. Shortly after the CD was released, my wife (Missus G) and I took a trip to Colombia in South America…

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Under the Hat: Mixing Music is Like Mixing a Cake

Under the Hat: Mixing it Up

Have you ever stopped to think about how music was recorded?  Or what decisions were made along to way to create the music you listen to?

Mister G takes us into his recording studio this month for a behind the scenes tutorial on how to mix music. It turns out that mixing music is a lot like mixing a cake; you have to start with good ingredients and then blend them together carefully.

Focusing on his bilingual song “ABC Fiesta,” we hear how the individual instruments (drums, bass, keyboards, guitars, vocals) sound by themselves, prior to Mister G mixing the various tracks.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine. www.mistergsongs.com

Under the Hat: Learning About Songwriting with Rhymes

Under the Hat: Rhymes

Have you ever wondered why the words to some songs get stuck in your head? In this episode of Under the Hat, Mister G reveals one of his big secrets; songwriters love to use rhymes.

Using examples from his songs “Pizza for Breakfast” and “Colores,” Mister G explains how good rhymes fit together like puzzle pieces to create catchy, memorable rhythms. We learn how songwriters search for the perfect rhymes to help to tell the story of the song.

As always, Mister G encourages kids to write their own songs whether they choose to use rhyming words or not. Featuring a cameo from Silas the Cat.

Next time in Under the Hat: Mixing it up in the studio. It’s a late night session, so you may have to stay up past bedtime for this episode as Mister G takes us into his studio where he’s recording a new CD. You’ll never listen to music the same way after you learn how songs are recorded and mixed.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine. www.mistergsongs.com

Under the Hat: Exploring Tempo in Music

Under the Hat: Tempo

The instant we hear music our bodies start responding to the sounds.

Why is it that some music makes us want to dance and other music makes us want to take a nap? Using examples from his songs “Grilled Cheese” and “Sueños,” Mister G illustrates the role tempo plays in creating mood in music. It’s really not that complicated: fast tempos tend to make the listener want to move fast and slow tempos make the listener want to move more slowly.

He explains how songwriters use tempo as a tool to create different emotions in the listener and encourages listeners to notice the way the speed of music affects their emotions.

As a songwriter, Mister G takes into account the subject for his songs before deciding on a tempo. So, with an exciting topic like “Grilled Cheese,” a fast tempo is in order. And with a gentle lullaby  like “Suenos,” a slow tempo makes sense.

Next month in Under the Hat: What role does rhyme play in songwriting? Playing examples from his songs “Pizza for Breakfast” and “Cocodrilo,” Mister G explains how rhymes are the fundamental building blocks of lyric writing for popular songs.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine. www.mistergsongs.com

Discovering Clave: Afro-Cuban Rhythm

Following the Butterflies through Words and Rhythm

While on tour in Mexico, Mister G talks about how his bilingual song, “Señorita Mariposa” was inspired by the famous migration of the Monarch Butterfly to the state of Michoacan. He emphasizes how close observation of nature can become the jumping off point for new songs. Before performing “Señorita Mariposa,” Mister G demonstrates the traditional Afro-Cuban rhythm known as clave.

Mister G’s song “Senorita Mariposa” was inspired by the famous migration of the Monarch butterflies each winter to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Like Mister G, the butterflies can’t stand freezing weather and so they fly south to a warmer climate. The butterflies return to the exact same tree every year, but they are increasingly in danger as developers cut down the forest in order for human development. To help protect the Monarch butterfly habitat, visit www.michoacanmonarchs.org.

“Senorita Mariposa” is a bilingual song, meaning that some of the lyrics are in Spanish and some are in English.  Mister G uses rhyming words throughout the song, such as “mariposa” and “hermosa.” Mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly. Hermosa means beautiful, which makes good sense as the song is about a beautiful little butterfly. Curious to learn more Spanish words? Go to www.spanishdict.com and type in any English word and the program will instantly translate.

The steady rhythm that plays throughout “Senorita Mariposa” is called clave. The clave rhythm is found in much traditional Afro-Cuban and Latin music and is played on two small pieces of wood called claves. Musicians from around the world have used clave, including the Beatles on their song, “And I Love Her.”

What to look forward to next month:

Next month in Under the Hat: How do tempo and dynamics affect mood in music? More than you might imagine! Playing examples from his songs, “Grilled Cheese” and “Mono en mis Manos” Mister G illustrates how tempo and dynamics are powerful tools used by songwriters to create different moods for the audience.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine. www.mistergsongs.com

Under the Hat: Songwriting Detectives

Under the Hat: Songwriting Detectives

Reporting while on tour from Mexico City, Mister G talks about how songwriters are like detectives who are always on the lookout for clues as to what would make and interesting song. This month’s episode of Under the Hat includes footage from a variety of school concerts from Mexico as Mister G shares a story about how he came to write “Chocolalala,” the title track off of his award-winning bilingual (Spanish/English) CD:

What clues can you start to look for to write your own songs? Here are a few ideas:

  • Draw inspiration in your family. Think about what your brother’s favorite food is, what makes your mother laugh, or something your Uncle collects.
  • Think about something you enjoy, like your favorite dessert, sports you like to play, or your favorite animal.
  • Use your imagination and create a character you’d like to meet or a destination you’d like to visit.

And remember, whether you’re writing songs about banana splits, your Aunt’s collection of ceramic frogs or flying robots, it’s the details that matter the most! Spend time thinking about what makes your subject interesting and special. Then hum or strum a tune to pair with your lyrics and presto….you’re a songwriter!

What to look forward to next month:

While on tour in Mexico, Mister G talks about how his bilingual song, “Señorita Mariposa” was inspired by the famous migration of the Monarch Butterfly to the state of Michoacan. He emphasizes how close observation of nature can become the jumping off point for new songs. Before performing “Señorita Mariposa,” Mister G demonstrates the traditional Afro-Cuban rhythm known as clave.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine. www.mistergsongs.com

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