Songwriters On Songwriting
Paul Zollo

Da Capo Press
1997 Expanded edition
ISBN 0-306-80777-7
642 pp, paperback, 23 x 15 cm

Includes a 13-page interview with Frank Zappa (1987). The same interview was published in SongTalk magazine.

Do you generally approach a composition from a rhythmic viewpoint rather than a melodic one?

Frank Zappa: It depends on what kind of song it is. If it's a song where the text is important, the first job is to make sure that the setting is doing something for the lyric.

Sometimes it's like a difference tone. That's where you have a note and a note and the combination of these two notes gives you a third note, which is a difference tone. You get a theoretical difference tone from lyrics which are set ironically. The sum total of the package is more than just these words, this chord. You get the third concept, which is that these two things don't belong together but somebody put them there. And so you get the extra message there.

The other thing that you have to keep in mind, when writing a song, is who is going to perform it. When I write for myself, since I can't really sing at all (I have a very difficult time holding a pitch, can't hold long notes, can't do any ornamentation), the melody lines tend to be simpler in terms of how wide the leaps are, how long the notes have to be, and the orchestrational texture tends to be more complicated to compensate for the lack of interest that is in the vocal line. (read more)