Replacing Major Chords With Minor: Modal Mixtures

"From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro"Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, along with a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Seven ebooks in PDF format that will show you every aspect of music as it applies to the world of songwriting. Take your songwriting talents to a new level of excellence! Read more..

_____________

black & white guitarWe know that when music is in a key, there are seven chords that exist naturally in that key. All other chords you might use come under the general heading called altered chords.

If your song is in C major, the vast majority of the chords you’ll wind up using will come from the following list:

  • C (I)
  • Dm (ii)
  • Em (iii)
  • F (IV)
  • G (V)
  • Am (vi)
  • Bdim (vii-dim)

We get those chords by taking a C major scale and building chords above each note. As you can see, three of the chords, C, F and G, are major chords. Three of them, Dm, Em and Am, are minor. The chord built on the 7th note is diminished.

And that’s true, of course, no matter what major key you consider. For minor keys, you get a different list:

  • Cm (i)
  • Ddim (ii-dim)
  • Eb (III)
  • Fm (iv)
  • Gm (v) or G (V)
  • Ab (VI)
  • Bb (VII)

In minor keys, three of the chords, Cm, Fm and Gm, are minor. There are four major chords: Eb, Ab, Bb, and then G, which is often made to be major in songs that are truly in a minor key. That leaves the second chord, Ddim, as a diminished chord. (There are other possibilities, depending on the type of minor scale you build your chords on, but let’s leave it that way for now.)

There is a category of chords you may want to consider that does something really interesting: it mixes the two lists, allowing you to “borrow” chords that belong to the opposite list. Such chords are called borrowed chords, or modal mixture chords. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you’ve been working out a song in C major, and you come up with the following progression: C  Am  F  C (I  vi  IV  I). The third chord in the progression, F, can be switched with its minor key equivalent, Fm. Your progression is now:  C  Am  Fm  C. It gives the progression a slightly different, almost melancholy sound.

You can also opt to keep the F, then follow it quickly with Fm before continuing on to C. Play the following progression with each chord being held for four beats, except play the F and Fm for two beats each, and you’ll see how this works: C  Am  F  Fm  C.

The Fm is called a modal mixture. Keep in mind that substituting F for Fm will only work if the melody note at that moment isn’t an A. That’s because to turn F into Fm requires you to turn the A from the F chord into an Ab. So modal mixtures will work as long as you make sure they’ll accommodate your melody note.

Here’s a few other progressions you might want to try. They all use modal mixtures, shown in bold.

Major Keys

  • C  F  Ddim  G  C
  • C  Am  Bb  F  C
  • C  Eb  F  G  Fm  Bb  C
  • C  F  Ddim  G  Ab  F  C
  • C  G  F  Eb  F  G  C

Minor Keys

  • Cm  Fm  G  Ab  Bb  Bdim  Cm
  • Cm  G  Dm  G  Ab  Fm  Cm
  • Cm  Eb  F  G  Ddim  G  Cm

______________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleWritten 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.“)

5 Ways to Enhance Your Songwriting Imagination

Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, and take an important first step to building a fan base for your music.

_____________

Gary EwerIn the writing of my latest book, “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music,” I did considerable research into the concept of creativity. After all, everyone knows that if you’re going through a period of finding songwriting difficult, it’s your sense of creativity that takes a hit.

In fact, I discovered that that’s not exactly true; it’s more complex than that. My research led me to comparing the terms “imagination” and “creativity,” and the surprise for me was that those two terms were not synonymous. Specifically, it’s quite possible to be imaginative without being creative.

For you as a songwriter, the imagination comes into play when you try to conjure up musical ideas. As you then imagine several ideas and try to blend them together into a piece of music, you move from the imagination stage to a creative stage.

There are lots of reasons that writer’s block kicks in, and most of those reasons are psychology-based, rooted in fear. But the fear comes from someplace, not the result of a simple lack of inspiration. Sometimes the block occurs at the creation stage, where you just can’t put things together properly. But that’s not common; it typically happens even earlier. The most common root of a creative block is the low quality of ideas being imagined in the first place.

So that begs the question: how do you enhance your songwriter’s imagination? How do you make sure that the ideas you’re producing in the first place are good quality ideas that can lead to good music? Here are some tips:

  1. Listen to lots of music from many different genres. This opens your mind and deepens the well of ideas from which you can create music.
  2. Structure your songwriting time. Develop a schedule that makes sense in your busy life, one that allows you to write while feeling rested and musically alert.
  3. Work on playing as much as on writing. Playing an instrument helps you imagine musical ideas you might otherwise miss.
  4. Develop your abilities to think your music. If songwriting for you means sitting at a piano, or strumming a guitar, try imagining musical ideas before hunting for them at your piano. Not easy at first, but it’s a great exercise.
  5. Do songwriting exercises. I’ve listed some elsewhere in this blog, here and here, for example. The great thing about exercises is that it reduces the stress we put on ourselves to create fully-fledged songs. Working quickly means that our brain must generate ideas without second-guessing, and that enhances the imagination.

____________

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter 

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook BundleGet “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-e-Book Bundle today, and polish your songwriting technique. Readable on your laptop/desktop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, or any other PDF-reading device. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more..

Gary is also the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, published in hardcopy by Backbeat Books, and available from Amazon and most other online booksellers.

Unless.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleDiscover the 11 secrets that pro songwriters have known for decades. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle is being used by thousands of songwriters to take their music to a new level of excellence. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more…
______________

Musician dreamingIf you’re hoping to make the writing of music a career choice, it’s not going to be even a remote possibility for you unless…

  1. unless you are writing excellent songs, and doing it consistently;
  2. unless you are practicing your songwriting craft, and improving daily as a songwriter;
  3. unless you are energetically building a fan base for your music;
  4. unless you play your music regularly for others, live and in-person;
  5. unless you have a polished, professional-looking website with current information;
  6. unless you have an easy way to allow new listeners to hear your music (streamed online, usually);
  7. unless you’re able to listen to your own music objectively;
  8. unless you’re listening to lots of music, including songs from genres you normally wouldn’t consider;
  9. unless you work hard to make connections to others in the music industry;
  10. unless you understand how the music industry really works;
  11. unless you are willing to learn from other songwriters and industry personnel;
  12. unless you understand that songwriting is a discipline.

In other words, unless you realize that a career in songwriting requires a level-headed, disciplined, clear-headed approach, you’ll live in that dreamworld where you wait for top industry people to call you tell you that they want to record every song you’ve ever written.

The music world invites dreamers. But there’s an important difference between dreaming and hallucinating. It’s OK to dream as long as you know that the twelve “unlesses” can’t be ignored. Those “unlesses” are simply reality.

To ignore reality means you’re hallucinating, and not on track to making music any sort of career.

Dream big, but get to work.

____________

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter 

Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-e-Book Bundle today, and polish your songwriting technique. Readable on Gary Eweryour laptop/desktop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, or any other PDF-reading device. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more..

Gary is also the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, published in hardcopy by Backbeat Books, and available from Amazon and any other online bookseller.

New Service for Songwriters: Songwriter-Connect.com

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle.

_____________

Songwriter ConnectI was contacted recently by Christian Erhardt, CEO/Founder of a new service for songwriters called Songwriter Connect. It’s new, so obviously there’s no opportunity for researching their effectiveness yet, and until I know more I can’t offer an endorsement. But it’s a unique approach to connecting songwriters with performers, and so I’d encourage you to check out their website.

Briefly, you apply for acceptance to their service by sending them two songs. Applying is free. (I’d remind you that anytime you send music to anyone, you should register the copyright with your country’s copyright office or intellectual property office.)

Your application and two songs are evaluated, and if accepted, you’re authorized to sign up as songwriter or composer. Once you’ve done that, you browse through their listings and bid on an opportunity to work with a “chart-topping” artist.

As I say, I can’t call this an endorsement, because it’s new and untested (as far as I know). And it’s not clear to me what they mean by “bid” on an opportunity. Unless I’m misunderstanding the use of that term, it sounds like songwriters would compete monetarily for the chance to work with an artist. If that’s not the case, perhaps someone from their company will comment below.

Regarding their promise to connect you to chart-topping artists, Christian says on the website:

We don’t promise you that you will write music for Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake or One Direction, but we do promise you to connect you with singers and bands you normally wouldn’t get to write for.

In an email to me, Christian said that as soon as the beta version is launched, which they plan to do once they’ve got a few hundred songwriters signed up, they hope to be able to provide 2-5 recording sessions with an established artist for their songwriters during the beta test phase of about 4-6 months.

So as always, be careful and ask questions. They seem like good people who are keen to help develop opportunities for good songwriters. I’ve written them a couple of times with questions, and they’ve been quick to reply. I do like the fact that they want to evaluate the songwriters and their music before acceptance. It shows that they aren’t promising fame and fortune to anyone who pays a fee.

I’m not connected in any way with their company, so it won’t do much good to ask me questions about this. But they’ve posted their email addresses at the bottom of their website. As I’d recommend to anyone thinking of sending their music anywhere, be sure you do your research and ask all your questions first.

Check out the Songwriter Connect.

______________

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.“)

Writing Song Melodies When Writer’s Block Sets In

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, and take an important first step to building a fan base for your music.

_____________

Songwriter working at a piano keyboardWhen songwriter’s block is setting in, it can make you feel that everything you try to write is garbage. With anything that’s difficult, the best solutions will come from simplifying what you do. Here’s one way to simplify the melody-writing process when ideas are few and far between:

  1. Create a short, 4- or 5-note melodic idea.
  2. Accompany that idea with one or two chords.
  3. Create a longer progression that works well with your melodic idea.
  4. Repeat the melodic idea as you work through your progression.

Using that approach, you can create a reasonably good chorus melody in two minutes or less. Let’s look at each step in a bit of detail. I’ve created some very basic MIDI files that demonstrate how each step might sound.

  1. First, create a short melodic idea. You might come up with something like this: [LISTEN] (Each sample opens in a new browser window or tab).
  2. Next, find a chord that will accompany that idea. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, keep things simple. I used a C chord in my example: [LISTEN]
  3. Now, work out a simple progression, something tonally strong that would work as a chorus progression. The chords I came up with were C  Am  Dm and G: [LISTEN]
  4. Now, add your melody. [LISTEN]
  5. For the 4th run-through of the melodic idea (i.e., as you reach the G chord), change it up and create something different that stays in the spirit of the first idea. Here’s what I came up with: [LISTEN]

As you create your first idea, you can add a line of lyric at that stage, and then work on the lyric as you proceed through the steps.

As I say, you can come up with a passable complete melody in two minutes or so. But better than that, it helps fix the creative block you’re going through by reducing your stress and anxiety. It shows you that even despite feeling the effects of a block, you can create something quickly and easily.

As you can see, for each chord you use, not all the notes of your basic melodic idea won’t necessarily fit. But that’s OK. As you hear, the notes of the melody that are most memorable are the first one (G), the middle one (E), and then the last one (E). Those pitches, G and E, will still sound acceptable for any basic diatonic chord.

And repetition of that idea makes putting it all together very easy. It reinforces the principle that chorus melodies of major hit songs from the past several decades often feature repetition as a crucial organizing element.

____________

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter 

Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-e-Book Bundle today, and polish your songwriting technique. Readable on Gary Eweryour laptop/desktop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, or any other PDF-reading device. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more..

Gary is also the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, published in hardcopy by Backbeat Books, and available from Amazon and any other online bookseller.

7 Chord Progressions With Rising Bass Lines

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleDiscover the 11 secrets that pro songwriters have known for decades. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle is being used by thousands of songwriters to take their music to a new level of excellence. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more…
______________

Songwriting - bass guitarI had some ideas for a few progressions to try, ones that result in a rising bass line. Bass lines that move upward can build musical momentum, so you’ll find them useful in all sorts of situations, including:

  • generating excitement in a pre-chorus;
  • generating excitement in the latter half of a verse;
  • working hand-in-hand with a melodic climactic moment, particularly in a chorus;
  • in the latter half of a bridge as it prepares to move back to the chorus.

There are many progressions you can consider that result in rising bass lines. The first four listed below start on non-tonic chords (i.e., not the I-chord of your key), and those are particularly good for pre-chorus, end of verse, or end of bridge.

Most of them include altered chords, and so will give your music a somewhat unique sound. Feel free to experiment with them to suit your needs. I’d recommend the following:

  1. Start off playing each chord for two beats.
  2. Be as creative as possible: try different time signatures and playing styles.
  3. You’ll find they can work at any tempo, and will suit most genres - with the possible exception (for some of them, anyway) of country. ;)
  4. The ones that start on I-chords you’ll find will suit a chorus quite well.
  5. The key for each progression is C major, but are of course transposable to any key. I’ve included the Roman numeral analysis for those who know how to use it, as it can make transposition easier:

The Progressions

  1. Dm  C/E  F  G  Am  Bb  G/B  C (ii  I6  IV  V  vi  bVII  V6  I)
  2. Eb  F  Gsus4  G  Ab  Bb  C (bIII  IV  V4 – 3  bVI  bVII  I)
  3. Dm  E  Bb/F  F  G  G#dim  Am  Bb  C  (ii  III  bVII6-4  IV  V  viio/vi  vi  bVII  I)
  4. Dm  Em  F  G7  F/A  Gb/Bb  G/B  C  (ii  iii  IV  V7  IV6  bV6  V6  I)
  5. C  Bb/D  Eb  C/E  F  D/F#  G  Am (I  bVII6  bIII  I6  IV  V6/V  V  vi)
  6. C  G/B  Em  Fdim  C/G  Am  G/B  C  (I  V6-4  iii  IVdim  I6-4  vi  V6  I)
  7. C  A/C#  Dm  C/E  F  Em/G  Amsus4  Am  Gm/Bb  G/B  C  (I  V6/ii  ii  I6  IV  iii6  vi4 – 3  v6  V6  I)

That last progression is a long one, and won’t likely work easily by playing straight through. It will suit your purposes better to be creative with how long you hold each chord: sit on some chords longer, play through other ones more quickly, etc.

Another idea for these progressions (and for any progressions, actually): try moving back and forth between two adjacent chords a few times, then move on to the rest of the progression. These aren’t a blueprint – they’re meant to help you with your own creative ideas.

______________

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.“)

Songwriting, and that Nagging Problem of Confirmation Bias

Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, along with a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”. Read more..

_____________

Studio mixerOne of the reasons bands, singer-songwriters and other recording musicians hire producers is because they are able to listen to the music objectively and make decisions that the writer might be unable to make. A producer can tailor your song to be enthusiastically received by as large a cross-section of the listening public as possible, hopefully minimizing the artistic compromises the songwriter must make.

What is it about songwriting — or any artistic endeavour, for that matter — that makes making decisions in a recording studio so hard? It’s not stretching the metaphor too much to compare the creation of music with the creation of babies: it’s in our DNA to unconditionally love our children, and to support and defend them without question. We all think our children are amazing, and that’s as it should be.

Similarly, it’s in our psychological make-up to automatically support and defend our music as we’ve created it. The psychology world knows this as a form of “confirmation bias.” We automatically seek out advice and opinions that appear to support our original beliefs, and reject whatever counters them.

In the music world, confirmation bias means that we’re likely to feel rebellious toward suggestions that would require us to change our music. The best producers, while possibly not being familiar with that psychological term, are experts not just at making musical decisions, but at convincing them to make the modifications necessary to introduce their music to the widest audience possible.

No one will fault you as a songwriter for approaching what you do from an almost purely subjective position, writing what you want to write, ensuring that you get to hear what you want. But once it’s time to record, more objective minds must come into the process.

There is a case to be made for trying to inject some musical objectivity into the songwriting process itself. In other words, if you can successfully incorporate an objective stage that follows the initial subjective flurry of ideas into the songwriting process, you arrive at the studio with something closer to what a producer would be looking for. I’ve already written about this two-stage process before, here.

One of the best ways to ensure that the music you write is already resonating with your target audience is to gig, and to do that a lot. Playing for live audiences allows you to hear audience reactions to your music in their raw, impulsive form.

Then armed with what you know about those reactions, you’ll find that you’re better equipped to write music that zooms in on what your audience is looking for. It still allows you to be creative, imaginative and innovative, hopefully pulling your audience in new and exciting directions.

But gigging must be mixed with good sober second-thought. Screaming fans can be intoxicating to an artist, and can deepen the negative effects of confirmation bias. At some point, to excel as a songwriter, you must approach your craft with a sensible mix of subjective creativity with a more sober, objective rethink. Never underestimate the positives that can and will come from a good recording producer.

______________

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.“)

Making an Energy Chart For Your Song

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleDiscover the 11 secrets that pro songwriters have known for decades. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle is being used by thousands of songwriters to take their music to a new level of excellence. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more…
______________

Song Energy MapSong energy is a subtle quality that’s hard to define. In the end, it comes down to this: song energy is the sense of forward motion in music, whatever keeps the listener engaged and listening. In loud music, musical energy is easy to identify. We notice the energy more as the drums get busier and play louder, and as the singer sings higher.

But musical energy is a vital quality for all music, including songs that are very gentle and quiet. In fact, you could make a case for saying that soft songs need you to consider energy even more, because song energy is always going to be about what keeps a listener listening.

In most cases, here are the things that contribute to a sense of energy in music

  1. increasing volume;
  2. increasing instrumentation;
  3. changing instrumental performance style;
  4. increasing the basic beat (i.e., making the basic beat busier);
  5. raising the general pitch of the voice and accompanying instruments;
  6. increasing harmonic rhythm;
  7. lyrical progression (i.e., how the lyrics change over the course of the song);

The first four of those contributors are items that are usually addressed at the recording stage of the music, and if you’re doing your own recording or creating a demo, you’ll want to give them careful consideration.

The last three in the list are elements of music that you control directly in the songwriting stage. Here’s what you can do about each of them to ensure that song energy is generally moving upward. Keep in mind that no song uses all of these technique, but one or two of them should be noticeable in most songs:

  1. The general pitch of the voice and accompanying instruments. Most of the time, we’re talking about the melody here. From the start of the verse to the end (or at least near the end) of the chorus, the melody should move in an approximately upward direction. But this can also apply to your accompanying instruments and backing vocals as well.
  2. Harmonic rhythm. This term refers to how often the chords change. Most songs, particularly in rock and pop, change chords every four or eight beats. You can generate some energy and create momentum by shortening that time up, switching to a change every two or four beats, especially in the chorus.
  3. Lyrics. Most songs have two or three stages of lyrical development. Verse lyrics will describe or otherwise tell the story. Chorus lyrics make an emotional commentary on that story. If your song has a bridge, a lyric’s emotion intensifies and pulls the listener along in that wave. The up-and-down energy that comes from moving from the end of the chorus back to the next verse, and then considering all the other fluctuations that happen throughout the song, acts as a kind of musical pump that makes music more interesting.

Energy is something that listeners perceive easily, even if they don’t always realize it, or know specifically how it’s being generated. It’s a useful exercise to make an energy chart for your song. There are lots of ways to do this, and I’ve listed one possibility below. Before you make a demo of your song, try this:

  1. Record a simple performance of your music. Even if the end product is going to use a full instrumentation, record a stripped-down one-instrument unplugged version, one that allows you to hear the melody, chords and lyrics unencumbered by production.
  2.  Listen several times as objectively as possible. Imagine that this is the final ready-for-prime-time version.
  3. Write out on a piece of paper the form of the song, like this (opens in a new browser tab or window).
  4. Find the most energetic, exciting moment in the song, give that a 10. (Hint: it’ll likely be in the chorus or the bridge, or at least should be.)
  5. Based on that ’10′ rating, start listening to the song once more, and give approximate values to each of the other sections.

Once you’ve done that, you may want to convert those numbers to something visual, like a line drawing. You’ll be able to see how the sense of energy and momentum change at a glance.

If you find that the values you’re giving for each section seem to be very similar to the one you gave your most energetic moment, you may have identified a problem. It’s time to look more closely and see if any of the following issues are happening:

  1. The verse and chorus melodies sit within the same basic range. Solution: make the verse lower or the chorus higher.
  2. The chords are changing too quickly, or not quickly enough. Solution: experiment by reworking the chord progressions, to see how harmonic rhythm can work for you.
  3. The lyrics aren’t captivating. Solution: Always ensure that the all-important moving from narrative to emotive lyrics is happening. It’s crucial to most music.

______________

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.“)

Curing the Random-Lyric Problem

Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, along with a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”. Read more..

_____________

Writing song lyricsWriting song lyrics is an entirely different beast from writing melodies. In that respect, it shouldn’t surprise you that you might find melodies easy to create, while lyrics might come across as clunky, random utterances. It can be one of the most popular reasons for songwriting partnerships: you can hand lyrical duties over to someone who does it well, leaving you free to write the notes and chords.

The feeling of randomness in the writing of lyrics is a common complaint for those who find it hard. They know what they want to write about, but focusing in on the topic, creating a compelling story, and then finding the right words to convey it all… it’s a creative challenge for many.

The source of the problem is the brevity that’s required of most song lyrics. You don’t get thousands of words to do your job, as you would if you’re writing a novel. You get only dozens, or perhaps a few more. So how do you choose those words?

Here are some tips and ideas that will cure your song lyrics of that annoying sense of randomness, and will help you create a finished product worth singing.

  1. paperWord lists. Creating lyrics should usually start with creating words lists as a way of generating lots of words and phrases for you to choose from. I like the idea of creating two contrasting lists. For example, if your topic concerns the issue of leaving home for the first time, let’s say, you might create a list of positive thoughts and emotions, and a list of negative ones. Or you might choose to create a list of narrative-style “things”, and contrast it with a list of emotive-style observations. Whatever you do, word lists helps to ensure that you’re not going to keep falling back on clichés.
  2. Create a structure. That random feeling in lyrics often happens because you’re writing verse 2, but you don’t really know what you’re supposed to be writing about. So create headings for each song section (Verse 1 – Chorus – Verse 2 – Chorus – Bridge… etc.). Under each heading, describe what you think you want to write about. Don’t worry about the number of words. If it takes a full page to describe the events, take it.
  3. Consider point of view. It’s not unusual for good song lyrics to tell a story by considering different points of view. Sometimes it’s done very clearly, as in Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” but can also be Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Knowmore subtle. Anthem-style songs, for example, have a way of conveying lyrics with a strong sense of “we”, as opposed to “I”, and that pulls listeners in and helps them feel connected. Point of view can change, but there needs to be a sense consistency and purposeful design.
  4. Start easy. Start with the section of the song that seems easiest to write the lyric for. That will help set the tone for the rest of the lyric. If you find the chorus easiest, find those 4 or 8 lines that say exactly what you want to say. Describe the emotions that verse 1 will naturally generate. Now you’ve got a model for your verses.
  5. The bridge. A bridge typically finishes your lyric, but finishing is not its only job. It needs to elaborate on or otherwise contribute to the story set up between verse and chorus. A bridge will often heighten the lyrical and musical emotion: the listener needs to feel a twinge, and strongly empathize with the story and storyteller.Guitarist with headphones

Thinking of that last point, it places a special importance on the end of your lyric, more than on any other part. When you look at what you’ve written in its entirety, you need to be able to look at those last couple of lines and say, “Yeah, they needed to hear that.”

______________

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.“)

The Songwriting Process: Music From a Conveyor Belt

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleHoning your abilities to write great songs means learning how all the different elements of a song work and communicate with each other. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle covers every important aspect of songwriting, from chords to melody-writing to lyrics.  Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more…
______________

Guitar and musicFor composers, it’s an amazing feeling when you imagine all or most of a song all at once. You just pick up your guitar to do a little harmless noodling, and bang… great ideas suddenly appear in your mind and under your fingers, and within minutes you’ve got most of a great song worked out and practically ready.

That doesn’t happen a lot, and you shouldn’t worry if most of your music is the result of hard work over days, weeks, or even months. In fact, that’s the norm in the songwriting world. You may imagine a great hook, but getting the rest of the song happening usually takes work. In songwriters’ terms, “work” usually means “time.” It also means many other ideas tossed out, and very few kept until you’ve got the completed song.

Because “instant songwriting”is rare and exciting, it gets a lot of attention when it happens that way. And it sounds so magical to be able to say that you’ve written a song in less than a half hour. So it can make you nervous that a complete song might (and usually does) take considerably longer to write.

I think speedwriting is a great songwriter’s tool, because it forces your creative mind to get to work, and it also means that your instincts will take over a bit. But you can do even better: combine speedwriting with analytical ability. The best metaphor for this is to think of your musical mind as a kind of conveyor belt.

If speedwriting means thinking of musical ideas on an unstoppable conveyor belt, your analytical ability equates to your ability to stop that conveyor belt and closely examine the ideas you’ve created.

For successful songwriters, the first “unstoppable conveyor belt” step happens with experience. The more music you listen to, the more songwriters you speak with, and the broader your past musical experience, the more your musical brain will have been guided, shaped and honed to create unique musical ideas.

The second “stop the conveyor belt” step happens with your own analytical abilities. Analytical ability comes from all the things listed above that shapes your experience, but it also involves other things, chiefly your understanding of how and why good music works: the nuts and bolts, so to speak.

Knowing why good music works allows you to look at your own music with a good measure of objectivity, allowing you to make modifications to the music based on that understanding. Analytical ability develops every time you read a songwriting text, read an interview with a songwriter, read up on a bit of music theory, and so on. Every one of those experiences increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to listen to your own music with an objective ear.

Every composer will find their own way to combine speedwriting with analytical ability. Here’s one way to do it:

  1. Get your instrument out and try writing a song as quickly as you can. Work out the lyric, create a chord progression and melody, and try to do the whole thing in ten minutes or less. (Or try the insane method described in this post.)
  2. Put that song aside, and work out a second song within 15-30 minutes of the song you just created. The difference with this one: choose a new tempo, new key, and preferably a new performing style. Make it as different from the first one as you can.
  3. If you’re up for it, create a 3rd song. As before, choose a new tempo, new key, etc.

What you’ll have if you’re incredibly lucky is one song that really sounds great, and two others that have lots of problems. What you’ll have if you’re normal is three songs that don’t necessarily work yet, but have some great ideas.

Now it’s time to put your analytical abilities to work. Sit down and start giving the songs you’ve created a good listen. Listen objectively. Toss out what doesn’t work, and fix up bits that can be fixed. Work on one song at a time, or move from song to song if that’s a comfortable way of working for you.

And don’t be surprised if this kind of process takes time. You may work out the skeletal structure of a song in minutes, but it can take weeks or longer to get a final product.

This way of combining speedwriting with analysis produces great music, as great as your imagination combined with analytical skill can muster.

______________________

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
Follow Gary on Twitter

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book bundle will show you how to write great songs, harmonize your melodies, and give you hundreds of chord progressions in the process.

PURCHASE and DOWNLOAD the e-books for  your laptop/desktop, iPad or iPhone

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 972 other followers