I’m leading a workshop this morning at Wintergrass in Bellevue Washington. “How to Write a Ballad.” We’ll explore the ones I’ve written and, if y’all ask really good questions, I’ll learn something too.
Modern usage of the word ‘ballad’ is non-specific, and sometimes means mellow love songs. But ballads used to be a specific form: a narrative poem or song in simple verse. No chorus. No bridge.
Ballads fell out of favor in the 20th century except mostly as a device to write a song that sounded older than it was. Early Country Music, Old-Time, and Bluegrass writers used the ballad form to write songs that had an old-fashioned sound and still made publishing income for the original work.
A ballad is built on a strong melody, because that’s all you’ve got. It’s really hard to find a popular contemporary example of a ballad, but if we go back fifty years, they were still selling millions of records.
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot
Ode to Billy Joe - Bobby Gentry
Girl From the North Country - Bob Dylan
A Case of You - Joni Mitchell
I’ve written a bunch. I find the ballad form fascinating and demanding. How can you hold a listeners attention in the age of information with such a simple form?
Let’s talk about that. How about today in the Maple Room, 2rd Floor Olympic Tower, Hyatt Regency Bellevue?
Here‘s a Spotify playlist, a handful of ballads I’ve written and/or recorded that you can listen to if you’re unfamiliar with my work. They are each more or less ballad-ish. In what ways do they break form? In what ways do they honor the form? You don’t have to come to the workshop- leave a comment or ask a question. Your fan, JByrd
I Was an Oak Tree
On the Edge