Hank Williams in Hell, 2021

Skip to the bottom

  • @paulhenry  Jan 27

    Please chime in if you were the one who started this challenge a few years back. I keep forgetting who first brought if up. Anyway the idea is (somewhat) simple:

    1. You write a song, any key, with only the I, IV, V chords. (major or minor, 7ths okay)
    2. In each section of the song (Verse, Chorus, etc. however you write) the chord order of each line cannot be repeated. For example:

    I I I I
    I IV I I
    IV IV I I
    V V7 ! !

    I've really enjoyed writing this way. The limitation is liberating. You can always complex-ify it later, but it's a great icebreaker method. Tag it #hankinhell.

  • @alyxanderjames  Jan 27

    I think it was @evinwolverton who started this a couple years ago? It's a great challenge!

  • @evinwolverton  Jan 27

    Yup! That was me. I was thinking of relaunching this today, too. Glad I'm not the only one : )

  • @complexissimple Jan 27

    That's so many combinations you could write a whole album without repeating.

  • @evinwolverton  Jan 27

    @complexissimple you'd think so. wait til you try 1 song : )

  • @siebass  Jan 27

    @drivelmonk this is the challenge I was talking about. This one is a lot of fun; I'm definitely game. Thanks for the idea, @evinwolverton and the re-challenging, @paulhenry. I think I screwed up inadvertently last time, so this time, I may make a spreadsheet and de-duplicate!

  • @mikeskliar  Jan 27

    I understand this in principle, but I may be missing something- so all the 'standard' hank williams songs (and lots of country/blues stuff besides) all fit into this? (ie would say, his song 'you win again', or 'i'm so lonesome i could cry' fit the bill? Not sure of the 'chord order can't be repeated' bit... maybe can you link to an actual song to explain or something?

  • @nancyrost  Jan 27

    I think the "chord order can't be repeated" is the "in hell" part. 😀

  • @nancyrost  Jan 27

    Here's a description Mark Simos gives in an interview.

  • @nancyrost  Jan 27

    You write a verse and chorus starting with a chord progression, using only the plain chords I, IV, and V (1, 4, and 5 as they’d say in Nashville!). You have only straight four-bar phrases to use, and get just one chord per bar—no fancy stuff to make the progression more rhythmically exciting: just the chords tolling along like a beautiful mosaic.

    The “In Hell” rule is simply this: once you’ve used a chord sequence for a line (say, 1 4 5 5 or 1 5 4 1 or 5 4 5 5) you can’t use that sequence again in the song! It seems like such a simple restriction. Yet the process of “thinking through” a progression this way is totally transformative for many new writers. You must write something of a narrative in the progression. If you hold off worrying about lyrics, or melody, or even what the song is going to be “about” or the emotion, until you have a progression you really like, the rest of the song will often come to you in an almost magical way. One student came back and said, “I just wrote the first happy song I ever wrote.”

  • @nancyrost  Jan 27

    And here are links to a couple of songs students wrote to the exercise:

  • @spikedirection  Jan 28

    This fried my brain last year and I gave up on it. It won't beat me twice!!!

  • @quork  Jan 28

    I like this idea/challenge.

  • @evinwolverton  Jan 28

    @nancyrost thank you for sourcing more context!
    @mikeskliar the exercise isn't meant to mimic a Hank Williams songs (most of which repeat their I IV V chord forms frequently), but to write as if you're Hank in hell, bound by this weird rule.

    Here's another example — a song snippet of mine from when we first posed this 2 years ago: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bt2WpWtnzuT/

  • @paulhenry  Jan 28

    Thank you @evinwolverton & @nancyrost ! I was hoping you'd reprint the longer version of the challenge.

    @mikeskliar . It's not that Mr. Williams wrote all his songs this way. It's that he wrote these absolutely iconic tunes and they're very simple. He just got down to the very essence of songwriting, "the shortest distance between your insides and a pencil point."

    I have written a few of these. In some cases, after FAWM, I simplified them even more, and repeated the chords of a verse or chorus.

    Here's one I did, I think, last year or the year before:
    D D D D
    A A A7 A7
    A A G A
    G A7 D D
    G G D D
    D D A A7
    D A G G
    D A D D

  • @ductapeguy  Jan 28

    I'm in. Last time I did it, it turned out kind of well and nobody could tell it was a stunt song.

  • @evinwolverton  Jan 28

    @ductapeguy it's funny — once you've finished the song and worn it in, you'll find a few places to substitute chords, and all of a sudden you've got the opposite of a stunt. Many people have told me the result of this exercise is my best song. They have no idea.

  • @paulhenry  Jan 28

    Okay, well this is part response to @ductapeguy, and part self-aggrandizement. My "stunt" song, the one above, I get some of the best response from. Listen to it here:


  • @complexissimple Jan 28

    Wait, are you telling me the verses all use the same chords? I thought these had to be throughcomposed!

  • @nightwing521  Jan 30

    @paulhenry I'm still not sure I understand ... Your example was

    Verse: I I I I / V V V V / V V IV V / IV V ! !
    Chorus: IV IV I I / I I V V / I V IV IV / I V I I

    Does verse 2 have to be still other different sequences? For example...

    I IV V I / V I IV I / IV IV IV I / IV IV V I

    If that's the case, I'm not sure it would qualify as "verse" and "chorus" 😀

  • @quork  Jan 30

    @paulhenry Hank Williams in Hell or not, that’s a nice song.

  • @evinwolverton  Jan 31

    @nightwing521 @complexissimple
    You can (and likely should?) repeat the format of your verse and chorus. Just don't let your chorus use any 4-bar chord pattern from the verse, and vice versa.

  • @paulhenry  Jan 31

    @nightwing521 , like @evinwolverton says. You make each line of the verse and chorus unique. Verses repeat. Choruses repeat.

  • @stephentanner Feb 2

    My first ever FAWM song and totally inspired by this thread. Thanks for the inspiration. https://fawm.org/songs/111162/

  • @elainedimasi  Feb 3

    This challenge was super useful! Thanks and here is my offering 😀

  • @davidhendricks Feb 3

    I don't think the song police will bother you if you don't follow the rules exactly. The spirit of these challenges is to subvert "regular" songwriting rules, in an effort to spark creativity, rather than just substitute a completely new set of rules for the existing ones. I mean if you start a song using challenge rules, and then it deviates from the challenge but goes in a way you like, then let it go there.

  • @mikehex  Feb 4

    Glad to hear the police might let me off the hook. My adherence to the spirit of this challenge was only so-so, but it got me a song


  • @conorg Feb 8

    Just had a try at this, a very enjoyable challenge, nice one.

  • @kovbleu  Feb 8

    I really want to try this. I say that every year.

  • @nateger Feb 8

    I'm gonna give this a shot! Thanks for the great ideas everyone 😊

  • @paulhenry  Feb 9

    Here's mine. I wanted to try a minor key.

  • @nateger Feb 10

    Here's my tune! https://fawm.org/songs/115795/

  • @mikegtz  Feb 10

    Well, I had to jump in on this bandwagon. And a happy mildly bizarre song was born: https://fawm.org/songs/115912/

  • @ductapeguy  Feb 15

    In 2019, I went and got all mathy on this challenge and figured out all the permutations of 3 chords in 4 bar sets. Here it is:

    Oops-- I have fallen deep into this rabbit hole. Playing with numbers is my thing. I sketched out all the permutations on notepaper, then did it again on a spreadsheet: Permutations 1 4 5 Random Sequence Generator: http://www.dave-reed.com/Nifty/randSeq.html Can be set for any # of repetitions.

    I found that there are 81 permutations that numerically sort into a 9x9 grid that sorts according to the first 2 chords in pattern. Whew.
    1111 1411 1511 4111 4411 4511 5111 5411 5511
    1114 1414 1514 4114 4414 4514 5114 5414 5514
    1115 1415 1515 4115 4415 4515 5115 5415 5515
    1141 1441 1541 4141 4441 4541 5141 5441 5541
    1144 1444 1544 4144 4444 4544 5144 5444 5544
    1145 1445 1545 4145 4445 4545 5145 5445 5545
    1151 1451 1551 4151 4451 4551 5151 5451 5551
    1154 1454 1554 4154 4454 4554 5154 5454 5554
    1155 1455 1555 4155 4455 4555 5155 5455 5555

  • @conorg 7 weeks

    This was my favourite challenge this year! Here's what we came up with:


  • @paulhenry  2 weeks

    @ductapeguy Thanks for all the permutations. Great idea.

Leave a Message. Log in to FAWM or sign up first...