A Visual Comparison of Verse and Chorus Song Melodies

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Rush "Clockwork Angels": "Halo Effect"It’s relatively easy to hear the difference between verse and chorus chord progressions. Mainly, chorus progressions are shorter and less harmonically venturous. They tend to stick closer to the tonic chord, and therefore contain features that keep that tonic chord front and centre.

Like everything in music, that’s not always true. On Rush’s album “Clockwork Angels”, the song “Halo Effect” features a verse with a rather straightforward progression: C  G/B  Em  D  C  G/B  C. The chorus is where the tonality becomes a bit more ambiguous: D5(no3)  C  Dm  C  Bb  G.

But what about differences between verse and chorus melodies? What sorts of things should you keep in mind as you write your next song? The two most important ones, features I’ve mentioned often on this blog, are:

  1. Tonic focus. A chorus melody, like chords, tends to focus on the tonic note. So if your song is in G major, you’ll want to create melodic shapes that move in and around G. It’s common to see that a chorus melody will start on the tonic note, move away and then quickly back to that note, creating hook-like shapes that are easy for the audience to remember, and easy to sing.
  2. Repetitive ideas. A chorus melody will often be comprised of short ideas that get sung a lot.

To compare the two visually, this is what we’re talking about:

Verse Melody Structure

As you can see, the tonic note happens in passing, not often on strong beats or at the beginning or end of melodic fragments. In most cases, repetition can be an important feature of verses, and that’s certainly true of simpler, MOR pop songs. But if song melodies feature any kind of wandering characteristic, you’re more likely to find it in a verse, with the chorus tending toward repetition:

Chorus Melodic Structure

 

In a chorus, you’re more likely to hear the tonic note being highlighted, with repetitive ideas constantly moving away from and back toward that note. It gives a sense of closure and finality to the music. That’s one of the reasons that choruses are easy to sing over and over, while verses don’t work that way very often: they usually need the chorus to follow up.

Those differences between verse and chorus melodies are an important part of the contrast principle of musical composition. When an audience hears a verse with a wandering melody and infrequent visiting of the tonic note, they instinctively want to hear those elements in a chorus.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.

5 Lydian-Mode Chord Progressions, and How They Work

A lydian chord progression has a quirky, eccentric way of grabbing attention.

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Twisted Piano KeyboardThe lydian modal scale sounds like a major scale with the 4th note raised by a semitone. So the scale of C lydian uses the notes C-D-E-F#-G-A-B-C [LISTEN]. It has a quirky offbeat sound, and melodies constructed using the lydian scale will sound a bit eccentric, as if it’s purposely missing every time it goes for that 4th note of the scale.

As with all modes, you can create chord progressions that are based on the notes of the lydian scale, and just like the melodies, the progressions can sound pleasantly strange. Chords built on the second note of the scale will be major, and that’s the telltale sound of a lydian progression.

So you’re hearing the effects of using the lydian mode when you hear the progression A  B (both major chords), as you hear at the start of the first verse of Burton Cumming’s 1978 song “Rhapsody.” But in that case, Cummings uses the major II-chord as a sound effect rather than part of a fully lydian progression: the progression then slips easily into basic A major chords.

And that gets to the problem with lydian progressions. Let’s say you’re trying to write a song in C lydian. As soon as  you play the I-chord and follow it with a major II-chord (C moving to D), you feel tempted to follow the D with a G chord, and now your music just sounds like G major, not C lydian. In order for a progression in C lydian to truly sound lydian, the C needs to remain as a kind of “tonic,” the focal point of all the progressions. (I say “kind of tonic” because the term “tonic” really does belong in a discussion about major/minor music, not modes.)

Here are some progressions you can try that might help achieve that. To varying degrees, they keep the C chord in its sights, and allow you to make best use of the odd little twist that occurs on the major II:

  1. C  Am  D  Em  Am  D  C [LISTEN]
  2. C  D/G  C  D  G  F#dim7  G Gmaj7/B  C [LISTEN]
  3. C  F#dim7  Bm  Em  Cmaj9  D  G/D  C [LISTEN]
  4. C  Em  Am  F#dim  Em  D  C  G  C [LISTEN]
  5. C  D/C  G/B  C  Am  Bm/F#  C/G  G  C [LISTEN]

It’s not very easy to make lydian work for an entire song, because it takes a lot of effort to make C sound like the tonal focus. As you can hear, it often sounds as though a lydian progression is simply ending on the IV-chord (G, in this case).

Sometimes, the best use of lydian is to allow the major II-chord to operate as a kind of sound effect. So try that: create diatonic progressions (ones that sit strongly in a key) in C major, and then try turning any Dm chords to D, and see if you like the effect.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Are You a Perfectionist, or Just Constantly Unhappy?

A never-ending feeling of musical inadequacy should not be confused with perfectionism.

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Singer-songwriter-guitaristThere is a common notion that a perfectionist is someone who is not satisfied until it’s “right”. Did you ever notice, however, that the term perfectionist is often used as much with a negative connotation as it is with a positive one? That’s usually because we often associate perfectionism with people who search for perfection in vain, and not necessarily with the eventual achievement of it.

As a teacher, both at secondary school and university level, I’ve frequently come across students who are considered to be perfectionists. And I usually pity them, at least to a certain extent. Those who are labeled as perfectionists are often people who are displeased with everything they do. Even when their music, or musical performance, is reaching astoundingly wonderful levels, they still seem dissatisfied with their achievement. They are looking for perfection.

Or are they?

I’ve started to realize that most of the people we call perfectionists are simply people who have been taught, probably from their earliest years, to believe that everything they do is somehow lacking, no matter how good it is. Despite that negative spin, perfectionism spurs them on to great achievements, and that’s good, but many never feel that sense of satisfaction that should come from a job well done, and that’s bad.

And because they find it hard to leave a task when they think it’s not been completed to perfection, their output is small.

If you find that you are constantly rewriting the same song, forever working and reworking sections to get them right, rarely feeling satisfied, you might be a perfectionist, but in fact it’s more likely that you suffer from a general lack of self-esteem.

So maybe we need a different term for people who are rarely satisfied with what they do. The thing is, it’s hard for anyone to recognize when a new song is done. A light doesn’t turn on when you finally finish it. It’s possible to take any song and rework it forever. So it can be tricky to figure out when it’s time to move on.

Here are some thoughts on the inability to move on to your next song:

  1. There is always time to go back to rework a song. It can be more beneficial to get your next one started sooner rather than later. Moving on is not abandonment.
  2. Going back to rework an old song is a good way to deal with the writer’s block you’re encountering with your present song.
  3. You will learn more about your own creative process by starting ten songs than you will by reworking one.
  4. Instead of fixating on why does this part sound horrible, think instead about why other parts of your song sound so good. Let the good parts be a model for how the bad parts could sound. It at least gets you thinking positively.
  5. A song left unfinished is not a failure. Even if you never return to it, your musical brain has learned lessons from having worked on it, lessons that will improve your future music.

It’s not possible to say how many songs a songwriter should write every week or month. It’s very much dependent on who you are, and how you think. But no matter what you consider to be “normal” with regard to songwriting output, more songwriters suffer from an inability to move on than from writing too much.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Mo Kenney: “Wind Will Blow” Melodic Study

What you do with a song’s melody will often affect how the listener processes your lyrics.

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Mo Kenney - In My DreamsMo Kenney’s new release, “In My Dreams,” is grittier and edgier than her first self-titled album, something she describes as an “anti-love record.” Everything she does is fantastic, but her lyrical prowess in particular will impress you. You can stream and purchase the album at her Bandcamp site, and I hope you take the time to give it all a listen.

Because her lyrics are so enticingly thought-provoking, it’s almost easy to miss just how strong her melodies are. Well thought-out and constructed, they pair up beautifully with each song’s lyric. The second-last song on the album, “Wind Will Blow”, is a case in point. In songs in a simple verse-chorus design, it’s amazing how the smallest design features will powerfully impact the overall sound.

The design feature I’m talking about with “Wind Will Blow” is the simple matter of melodic direction. In the verse melody, which consists of a 2-bar melodic shape that repeats with slight variations, you get a definite feeling that though the tune moves up and down, it’s the downward motion that leaves its strongest impression:

Mo Kenney - "Wind Will Blow" melodic sample 1

Moving on the short chorus melody, while you’re still aware of both upward and downward motion, it’s the upward motion that seems to be most important:

Mo Kenney - "Wind Will Blow" melodic sample 2

The subtle reversal of the melodic line works so well, particularly once you’ve heard the entire song. It’s easy to hear and sense hope tinged with resignation in the verse lyric, and the downward-moving melodic cells enhance that sentiment. The sudden optimism of the chorus lyric is all the more empowered by the new melodic direction.

And it’s not just melodic direction that brings the lyric alive. The verse melody uses the notes C and A as important structural endpoints (and often C moving down to A); the chorus shifts upward to E, always being approached from below.

Musical instinct is what usually creates these magical pairings, but as a songwriter it’s quite possible for you to go back to a song you’ve written and take a look at how (or if) your lyric is strengthened by your melodies. In particular, consider the following:

  1. Melodic direction can play an important role in the listener’s understanding of your lyric.
  2. Melodic shape can enhance meaning and subtext in a lyric.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle. From how to use chords, melodies, and lyrics, to how to protect your music and receive royalties. And you’ll receive a 7th ebook – a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.”

How to Move From Fragile to Strong in Popular Songwriting

Moving from fragile elements to strong ones is an important contributor to the contrast principle of songwriting.

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Guitarist - Band concertMost songwriters are at least somewhat acquainted with the concept of verses being where we hear the basics of a song’s story, and then choruses being where we hear the emotional reaction to that story. You should also know that when it comes to chords, you’ll get the more interesting “fragile” progressions accompanying the verse, and then the stronger ones appearing in the chorus.

That moving from “fragile” to “strong” is a concept that applies to all elements in a song, not just the chords and lyrics.

To call something “fragile” in music is not a criticism. It’s an important structural characteristic. An element is considered fragile if it is in any way ambiguous in nature. In the arts, ambiguity is usually a positive attribute, something that stimulates our imagination and gets our attention.

In most cases (not just music, by the way – all the arts are like this), it’s usually most satisfying to start with the ambiguities up front, and then move to stronger, move obvious and less ambiguous structures.

In songs that are in verse-chorus format (including optional sections like the pre-chorus and bridge), you’ll usually find that the verse is the fragile element, and the chorus is the strong one. In songs that are in one of the many verse-only designs, the start of a verse will be fragile, and the end will strengthen.

Here’s a closer look at various components of a song, and how fragility and strength happens.

  1. Chord Progressions: A fragile chord progression will be any sequence of chords that, on its own, sounds interesting even if it doesn’t point in an obvious way to the key of the song. A strong progression will make the key much more obvious. An example of a fragile progression from C major: Dm  Em  Am  F  Dm  Em  F  Am… An example of a strong progression from C major:  C  F  Dm  G  Am  F  G  C.
  2. Lyrics: A fragile lyric simply means that the story could go in almost any direction, and we’re willing to get pulled along with that story line. Every line of lyric adds to the situation. A strong lyric tends to centre in on our emotional response to the story. So a chorus lyric doesn’t add much, if anything, to the story. It prompts an emotional reaction, and the strong chord progressions that go along with it aid in that concept.
  3. Melody: A fragile melody, like a fragile chord progression, will consist of shapes and ideas that move in a wandering kind of way. The melody will move up and down as the lyric and situations dictate. And like our reaction to a good lyric, we love being pulled around by that captivating melody. A strong melody will tighten up, use more repetition, and its structure will simplify, which means we’ll find it easier to sing and easier to remember.
  4. Instrumentation. A fragile instrumentation simply refers to its transparency. A verse’s instrumentation will often be lighter than what you’d find in the chorus. A strong instrumentation will give you close to everything the song is going to give you. Often the arrangement will add something to the final chorus repeats, but you get the idea: instrumentation generally moves from lighter to fuller as a song moves from verse to chorus.

Moving from fragile to strong and then back again is a crucial feature of music, even if the differences are subtle. But even subtle changes are an important contributor to the contrast principle of music, and a very important part of what makes music interesting and memorable.

 

How Imagery Empowers Song Lyrics

Properly applied, imagery will make your lyrics more powerful and more memorable. Here’s how.

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Singer Lyrical imageryImagery means to use words and phrases that appeal to, and perhaps stimulate, our physical senses. Imagery, when used correctly in the writing of song lyrics, has several immediate benefits, each one of which naturally progresses to the next benefit:

  1. It clarifies and deepens meaning by partnering meaning with emotional relevance.
  2. It then intensifies emotions.
  3. It then makes lyrics (and by extension, songs) more easily remembered.

Imagery is often thought of as a synonym for metaphor and simile, but it is more all-encompassing than that (though it does include metaphor and simile). In its most basic usage, imagery means creating whatever words and phrases necessary to stimulate a response from our physical senses.

It’s an important part of writing good lyrics, because imagery allows you to hear the voices of the song’s characters more clearly, and feel the emotional content of what they’re saying more intensely. Imagery allows the listener to place him/herself inside the song: to see the picture, hear the sounds, feel their effects, and so on.

Sometimes, imagery intensifies emotions by using a simple metaphor, as in the third line of this Cole Porter classic, “So In Love“:

Strange, dear, but true, dear,
When I’m close to you dear,
The stars fill the sky,
So in love with you am I.

 In that lyric, even though it’s the third line that provides a clear picture for the listener to relate to, you can also pick up other aspects of the style of writing that qualify as imagery. In particular, the constant use of the word “dear”, which offers a feeling of tenderness and warmth.

Sometimes, lyricists will attempt to intensify emotion even though the specific meaning of what they’re writing is left up for debate. In other words, powerful imagery can deepen the emotional power of a song, while leaving the meaning ambiguous. A great example of powerful imagery used in this way is the Lennon-McCartney tune “Come Together” from the Abbey Road album:

Here come old flattop, he come grooving up slowly
He got joo-joo eyeball, he one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
Got to be a joker he just do what he please

We’re not sure who he’s writing about, or why (and by Lennon’s admission, it’s “gobbledygook”), but there is no denying the effect of the words. The emotional power of the images is clear, even if (paradoxically) the meaning isn’t.

Imagery is not something you want to consider an afterthought in the writing of lyrics. They need to be considered at the front end of the creation of your song’s text. Try this:

  1. Write your song topic across the top of a page.
  2. Write a brief paragraph that centres in on the point of your song: what is it really all about?
  3. Create two lists of words: one which contains words and phrases that pertain directly to your topic, the other which contains words and phrases that describe emotional reactions/feelings pertaining to your topic.
  4. In both lists, create words and phrases that conjure up images and otherwise stimulate the senses. They may apply directly or indirectly to your song topic.

That final step taps into imagery, and gives you a vocabulary of interesting combinations of words that will empower your lyric. If, for example your song topic is: Helping the Homeless, you might create a paragraph of how a homeless person ended up being the person who somehow helped you, giving you a dollar when you were digging for change at the bus stop.

Next, your first word list might include words like: homeless, rags, staring, sitting, sleeping, tatters… Your emotional word list might include: angry, sneering, look away, pity, helpless, why, hope…

For your imagery list, you might come up with phrases like “dirty life”, “fallen between the cracks”, “daughter of despair,” “cloudy eyes” “would do anything for change”, “wind-swept gaze”. Keep in mind that you won’t use all of these phrases, but it’s good to have a vocabulary of ideas that can stimulate your imagination, and get you creating better, more powerful lyrics.

It’s amazing how much simple imagery can empower your writing style, and make your lyrics a thing of beauty. It doesn’t take much, and results in your audience feeling what you’re writing in the most poignant way possible.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

How Working Backwards Through a Song Strengthens Its Structure

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Songwriting music paperWhen you plan a traveling vacation for yourself, it’s normal to think first of what your trip’s most significant event or day or city is going to be. From there, you plan out the rest of the trip, both forward and backward in time, using that significant event as a focal point. In particular, you’ll probably think about how you’re going to get to that city — what’s going to lead up to it.

By establishing the climactic moment of your trip first, you can make it even more eventful, even if it’s just one memorable happening in a trip-full of memorable happenings. Once you know, for example, that viewing the Eiffel Tower is your dream, you can now plan the days that lead up to it, making that day all the more special.

Songs are not much different. Most of them will have a climactic moment, and most of the time, that moment will be somewhere in the chorus. So now you know why many songwriters start the process by creating a chorus hook, something that represents the song’s catchiest moment. From there, it’s possible to create all the moments that lead up to it, and that strengthens its structure.

In that way, you work backwards, and then test how things sound by checking forwards. Here are some specific suggestions:

Lyrics: A chorus lyric will tell the world exactly what the song is about, because identifying the emotion of the moment (something a chorus does quite naturally) identifies exactly why a listener is going to engage with your song. Once you know that much, you can create a verse lyric that builds properly, making the chorus lyric more poignant and powerful. You have an opportunity to write a verse that knows already exactly where it’s going.

Melody: Part of what makes a climactic moment powerful is that it is usually the highest note of your melody. So once you know where that is, you can construct melodic shapes that lead into it from below. It will set up the climactic moment in the chorus perfectly.

Chord Progressions: The sense of randomness that comes from many weak chord progressions is often made worse by the feeling that the progression has no specific aim: no obvious tonic chord. This can work to your advantage in a verse, but if you really want a chorus progression that works well, try working backwards. Play the tonic chord (the one representing the key of your song), then add a chord in front of it. Once you’ve got two that sound good, place another in front, and so on. By working backwards, then checking forwards, you create strong progressions that work really well in a chorus.

Good songwriting is often a case of working backwards and checking forwards. When it’s done well, the listener never gets any idea that many of the song’s important elements were composed specifically to make a later event sound better. As far as the audience is concerned, songs only work in a forward direction. But that shouldn’t prevent you from exploring the benefits of working backwards.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Pairing Up a Minor Verse With a Major Chorus

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Piano keyboardYou’re likely aware that moving from a minor key verse to a major key chorus is a very popular characteristic of pop music. A classic example is James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, for which the verse is F minor, then switching to Ab major for the chorus. In music theory terms, that’s called moving from minor to the relative major. That term, “relative”, tells us that the two keys (F minor and Ab major) are related by virtue of the fact that they use the same key signature.

That minor-to-relative-major feature works well because it has a way of brightening the overall musical sound. And because both keys are “related”, they both use the same set of chords; it’s just the sense of tonic that shifts:

F minor: Fm Gdim Ab Bbm Cm Db Eb

Ab major: Ab Bbm Cm Db Eb Fm Gdim

So the two keys move back and forth quite easily, and rarely startles the listener to do so. Listen to Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” for another example of a song that moves from minor to relative major between the verse and chorus.

But there are other ways to move from minor to major. Try this:

  1. Build the chord list for C major: C Dm Em F G Am Bdim
  2. Now create a chord progression that focuses on the ii-chord (Dm) as a kind of tonic. This will work well as a verse progression (Example: Dm  Am7  G  Dm  Am7  G |F  Am  Dm  C/E  F  G) [LISTEN]
  3. Now using the same list of seven chords, create a progression that focuses on the I-chord as a tonic. This will pair up well as a chorus (Example: C  F  G  C  F  G  Am  Em  F  C  Dm  F  G) [LISTEN]

As you can see, in this kind of plan, it’s fine to use major chords in a primarily minor progression, and vice versa. That’s why you’ll see G, F and so on, in your verse progression, and Am and Em in your chorus.

The end of the chorus example (G) will move well into another verse progression: Dm Am7… etc.

You get the same kind of benefits by focusing on the ii-chord for the verse as you would if you focused on the more common vi-chord relative minor: mainly that same brightening effect as you move from verse to chorus.

You can also try using the iii-chord as your tonal focus, with something like this for a verse:  Em  F  Dm  Em, etc.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Deliberately Sounding Like Your Songwriting Hero

Always afraid you’re copying other songwriters? Why not try it as a songwriting technique?

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Singer-SongwriterBack when I was a composition student, my favourite composers were Maurice Ravel and Charles Ives. Many are familiar with Ravel’s music, with Bolero probably being his most popular piece. You may not have ever encountered the amazing music of American Charles Ives, but I found his compositions beyond incredible, decades ahead of his time. His “The Unanswered Question” was composed in 1906, only a little more than a decade after the death of Tchaikovsky, but their music sounds a century apart.

One day, at my weekly composition lesson, my prof laughed as he listened to the piece I was currently working on, and said that it sounded a bit like a mixture of Ravel and Ives. I was a bit horrified, because I really just wanted to sound like myself, and I wondered if I was inadvertently plagiarizing something Ravel and/or Ives had composed, something I had heard before.

My prof put my mind at ease, and said that no, he wasn’t accusing me of anything, but that I had created my own unique blend of their compositional techniques.

What about you? Do you ever fear that you are accidentally plagiarizing the music of your favourite songwriters? The good news is that you likely aren’t. Unless you purposely try to copy melodic or lyrical bits you’ve heard, you’re probably not in danger of being accused of plagiarizing. It does happen accidentally, but not as often as you might think.

And in fact, I might suggest copying your favourite songwriter’s style deliberately, as a songwriting technique. Yes,  intentionally try to sound like your musical hero, whoever he/she may be.

The suggestion isn’t as daft as you might think. In fact, most great artists have spent a great deal of time as students of their genre, copying the works of great masters. There’s something powerfully instructional about watching your own “Mona Lisa” appear beneath your paintbrush. In a sense, it’s like learning as an apprentice might.

In much the same way, writing a song in the style of Springsteen is like using him as your own master, with you as the willing student. You aren’t copying an already-existing Springsteen tune, of course, but it forces you to think like him, and make the kind of decisions you think he’d make. The Beatles made no secret about the fact that they tried to copy the sound and style of Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and other influential contemporaries.

In the end, you’ll finish up with a song that will most likely sound uniquely yours, and not like your hero at all. That’s because when it comes down to it, only Springsteen sounds like Springsteen.

It’s not easy to say specifically what deliberately copying a songwriter’s style does for you. It may look like a simple matter of trying to copy the success of a greater musician, but there’s more than that happening. Trying to sound like your hero encourages you to think constantly of the end product. You’ll find that that skill will transfer to all the music you try writing – where you constantly think of the end product.

So if you live in constant fear of sounding too much like other writers, why not try doing it purposely as a songwriting technique. You’ll know if you’ve come too close for comfort, but even if you do, the benefits to your own songwriting technique make it a worthwhile exercise.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Song Intros: Making them Relevant and Enticing

Your song’s intro might be a wasted opportunity to build an audience for your song.

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“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleGet the songwriting ebook package that thousands of songwriters are now using to take their music to its highest level of excellence. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle comes with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro“. Read more..

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Band - Song introThe job of a song intro is a pretty simple and obvious one: introduce the song. Don’t confuse the simplicity of the job with the level of importance, however. A good song intro does a lot more than say, “I’m about to start a song.” It often gets left to the recording stage to come up with something good, but there is no reason that an intro can’t be composed and honed as part of the songwriting process itself.

A song intro does several things:

  1. Establish the tempo and basic rhythmic structure.
  2. Establish the key.
  3. Establish the mood.

Beyond those three, intros can optionally do other things: set up an intro hook, introduce the full instrumentation that the listener can expect, and offer a melody that differs from the verse and chorus, also acting as a connector that brings a chorus back to the next verse.

What makes an intro especially important is that it’s the first thing a listener encounters when they hear your song, and so making it both relevant and enticing is crucial. In a very real way, an intro can be as important as a hook, and so it’s important to get it right.

An intro that doesn’t entice your listener means that within seconds they can be clicking or tapping their way to some other song that isn’t yours, and that’s a problem. Your intro allows your song to stand up and demand attention.

Here are three basic ideas for what your intro can be doing for you:

  1. Give the listener the expectation that something great is about to happen. It’s why many song intros are based on an enticing rhythm, and why often a simple strummed chord can work. That rhythmic groove gets the listeners’ musical imagination working. The danger of a simple strum is that listeners will dismiss its musical value pretty quickly, so don’t let a strummed guitar chord go on for more than 10 seconds, tops.
  2. Make the intro relevant to the rest of the song. There needs to be something about that intro that sounds material to the main sound and message of the song. In Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” from his “So” album, the intro is about 40 seconds long, long enough to give most producers a few sleepless nights. But it works because it’s interesting, rhythmically captivating, with a fascinating instrumentation. And, most importantly, it’s relevant to the sound and mood of the rest of the song.
  3. Consider an intro melody. By this I mean a melody that differs from the verse and chorus melodies, but is interesting in its own right. This melody can then be used to help take the end of a chorus to the beginning of the next verse, or serve as an outro. (Chicago does this with their 1970s hit “Call On Me”).

I can’t think of any song for which I thought the intro was too short, but there are many songs that suffer from an intro that’s too long. Songs with no intro at all can be exciting, as the main message of the song starts to get communicated to the listener immediately. No intro can definitely be an attention-grabber.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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