Writing Rounds

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I've been away for the week, so no posting comments or songs for me really. While away I had some time to think about something that seems easy to me, but maybe not to everyone, and that's writing rounds. If you're writing lyrics and music together, you can write a round, and honestly, the lyrics are optional. I'm going to take you through a 4 step basic process for writing a round, but of course once you get comfortable with it, you can get fancy and more complicated.

1. The first thing you'll need is some lyrics. To keep things simple, write 4 lines. A lot of rounds are just 4 lines, including Row Your Boat, Liza Jane, and Itsy Bitsy Spider. Your 4 lines don't have to rhyme, but I think it helps. FAR more important than rhyme scheme is meter. You have to make sure each line has the same number of beats. That's non negotiable. I recommend 8 beats for each line. There are only two tricky parts to writing a round and this is one of them. If you are not comfortable with this part, use a nursery rhyme like Jack and Jill OR use use an already existing round, like Row your Boat as scaffolding. Keep the same rhythm, but change the words... "Row Row For your boat" becomes "Live, love, laugh at life," or "Dance, dance, dance a jig," or "climb, climb, climb a tree." You see?

2. Pick your chords. This is the easy part. For your first round, pick one chord. Seriously. Just one. If you want to get ambitious, pick two related chords, like C and F, or Dm and C. For simple rounds, anything more than two ends up sounding really repetitive. If you've picked one chord, you're done with this step. If you've picked 2, create a pattern for your first line of music (like C on Beats 1, and 3, F on beats 5 and 6, and then back to C for 7 and 8... that's what I did in my example.). Whatever pattern you pick for your first line you have to repeat for every line. No exceptions. There you go. Easy. Record your pattern and let it go on for a while. If you want to have variation, change your picking pattern or your strumming pattern, but for your first one, again, keep it simple.

3. Write your melody. This is the other tricky part. Each line should start and end on a chord tone. So for instance, if your first and last chord in each line is C, your choices are C, E or G for tones. If you're not so good with figuring out chord tones, use your ear. Make sure the melody sounds really locked in with your chords, and you should try to not have every line start and end on the same chords. Like they shouldn't all start on E and end on C. Experiment until you have a melody that you like.

4. Record. Over the chords that you've already recorded, record yourself singing the melody a few times in a row. I usually do one verse all together, and then start the round the second time. You can do a 2 part or a 4 part round. If you are doing 2 part, then the 2nd part starts when part 1 gets to line 3. If you're doing 4 part, open 3 extra voice tracks. Each one starts once the first line is sung in the previous part. And that's pretty much it. You're done.

Of course these aren't rules and you can play with this process all you want. I wrote an example as a skirmish. One of the skirmishes was about using numbers, so I just sang the Fibonacci sequence and then wrote a line at the end to have a rhyme and tie it all together. I'll probably write some other rounds this year. If you've written a round, post it here so we can all listen and learn from each other. If you want to try writing your own round and you're still not sure, ask questions. I'll be happy to answer them and offer advice!


A round is something I've not done yet, so it might be high time.....

Thanks, Kat. Bookmarking this to come back to so I can follow the cookbook. I’m excited to try!

I love doing rounds and agree with your points. Two chords is all I have mastered.

Great fun this! Used to this a fair bit with groups, time to drag it back out again thx

Thank you for sharing! I remember learning rounds in school as a kid and loving them. There's a magical quality to this song form. I'll give it a go and post my take

Thanks for this @katpiercemusic! Just a question, "Make sure the melody sounds really locked in with your chords, and you should try to not have every line start and end on the same chords. Like they shouldn't all start on E and end on C." - do you mean try not to have every line start/end on the same chord tones?

Edit: *38228 voila, gave it a go!

This is from 50/90 a couple of years ago. It was probably meant as a children march song - I guess it could easily be sung as a round:


Each time I try, I fail dismally. So I might print out thsi great "how-to" guide and follow it!

@kahlo2013 I think unless you're doing a longer form... like a more complicated canon or a fugue or something, the more chords you use, the more obvious the very short repeating pattern. Fewer chords actually hides the simplicity.

@3tdoan That's exactly what I mean. Rounds sound cool because there's different things happening at once, but if if each part starts and ends each phrase with the same chord tone then it sounds too uniform. I mean you can get away with it sometimes, but I try to avoid it. Now I will go listen to your round!

@lowhum definitely works as a 2 part round. I was singing along.

This is one that I wrote possibly for my first 50/90 and it made it onto my first album. I think it's still my favorite that I ever wrote. The whole thing was recorded live in one take. Rounds are so much more fun when you have someone else to sing them with. http://chanticlaire.bandcamp.com/track/pirates-lullaby

Had so much fun with one, I had to do another Biggrin *38235 Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. A bit different - minor pentatonic, 3/4, no chords. I figure the key lessons from the instructions above are that the harmonies must match, and the line lengths as well. Thanks for opening up a new form to me, @katpiercemusic!

Love the Pirate's lullaby! What a great demonstration of the possibilities of the form.

Here’s a simple 4-part one!


I love that you're doing it! Spreading the joy of rounds! Also, listen to each other's because you're all writing really good stuff and already playing with the directions which is awesome! @3tdoan did a really cool thing by using the pentatonic scale to base her's off of. You really can't go wrong with a pentatonic scale, but there are so many ways to go right with it!

I forget if this was written for a FAWM or a 50/90, but the titular track on my A/B/C single "Bumblebees in Marshmallow Sauce" is a filk round:


It wasn't improvised, but my process leans on improvisation even when I adapt it further. In this case, the tune was improvised and sort of fell out of me in the current form along with the title, but additional verses and the Star Trek references were added during refinement.

@katpiercemusic For my round, that "You have to make sure each line has the same number of beats. That's non negotiable." ... I'm not sure I made my round right. You can just look at the lyrics and see that things do not cleanly map to your recommendations. Maybe it is 6 beats a line? It reminds me that I gave up when I tried to musically transcribe it.

@yam655 each of your lines is 8 beats. That's why you can't count syllables. Some lines have more syllables which is why they don't look like they match. It's also what gives the lines rhythm, so it's better if they don't match syllable wise. Rounds don't work if you don't have the same number of beats, so you would have absolutely known.

Well you could stretch/compress durations here and there invert some intervals, etc. going a bit into canon-fugue territory. What are rules if not for breaking!

Well yes, we could talk diminution, augmentation, and inversions, but that would defeat the purpose of demystifying round writing AND would take us out of rounds and into canons and fugues, as you say... which are different things. But now I'm thinking I haven't written a fugue since college, probably 20 years ago... and that one was awful. I wonder if I could do better now. Hmm...

Looked up how to write a fugue, and lost the will to live Biggrin

Writing one is easy. There are only certain things you can do to the theme... normal, long, short, backwards, upside down, in pieces, or a combination of those things. The trick is to do it and get something people want to listen to.

Trying another round of sorts. They are good for me to try singing which is clearly not my strong suit.

My attempt at a round: http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39135 (Lyrics by @Chandra83.)

I'm loving all of them! Keep going!

written for International Strange Music Day. I am not sure if this counts as a round http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39364

I tried to follow the tutorial, but there was too much math :). I guess I don't really "think" music. I hear a melody or I don't. I did a round of sorts, though it became a little ovoid at times. http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/39291