The Main Difference Between Good Lyrics and Good Poetry

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Gary EwerSometimes a poem will make a good song lyric, but don’t be surprised to find that your lyric makes a bad poem. It all has to do with the difference between words that are meant to be spoken (or sung) and words meant to be read.

In fact, the website Omniglot, “the online encyclopedia of writing systems & languages”, offers seven main differences between written and spoken English, four of which you’ll find to be accurate representations of the differences between song lyrics and poetry.

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To paraphrase Omniglot’s description of the differences and apply them to poetry and song lyrics:

  1. Poetry uses complex wordings and representations, while song lyrics makes more use of repetitions, incomplete sentences, and other devices to make the language come across as more natural and relaxed.
  2. Writers of published poetry don’t receive immediate feedback from their audiences, while a song lyric’s strength is its ability to immediately affect the listener and partner with other song components.
  3. Poems can make use of layout, colour and other graphic-based techniques to inject further meaning to their words. While lyricists can also do this, listeners to lyrics are often unaware of the graphical layout.
  4. Most poems will make use of the rules proper grammar, only using slang for effect. Song lyrics will tend to use words and phrases that include a mix of improper grammar, slang, and other things that make the lyric appear casual and familiar.

For songwriters that are known for their poetic lyrics, such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and others, you’ll find that their lyrics are thought-provoking and stimulating. But you will also find:

  1. Their lyrics use mainly common, everyday words that a 6th grader would likely know.
  2. Their lyrics rely on the immediacy of the effect of those words. There’s generally no need to go back over the words (even though doing so can yield deeper secrets).
  3.  Their lyrics will usually alternate between observational, narrative-style words and emotional words, even without the song being in a standard verse-chorus format.

Most problems with song lyrics can be solved by simply reading the lyric aloud, making sure that each line sounds effortless to read and shows a common sense approach to the pattern of pulses and rhythms. Forcing rhymes and being negligent of a word’s inherent inner rhythm will also be problems to avoid.

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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 Analysis: Chicago’s “More Will Be Revealed”

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Robert Lamm - ChicagoFor up-&-coming songwriters, it’s a great idea to check out what veteran songwriters are doing these days. Their years of experience and musical know-how make practically every song they write a songwriter’s workshop. Master songwriter Robert Lamm, one of the founding members of Chicago, has co-written (with Phil Galdston) a really great song, “More Will Be Revealed“. You’ll find it on their latest studio album, ‘”Now”: Chicago XXXVI.’

The elements of “More Will Be Revealed” that are really worth examining are: melodic structure, lyrics, harmonic design, and musical arrangement. And no matter what genre you call your own, the compositional techniques employed in this tune can be applied to practically any musical style.

FORM

First, let’s take a look at the formal design:

  1. Intro: 0’00”
  2. Verse 1: 0’41”
  3. Chorus: 1’19”
  4. Verse 2: 1’53”
  5. Chorus: 2’31”
  6. Bridge (Vocal): 3’15”
  7. Bridge (Instrumental): 3’39”
  8. Chorus: 3’58”
  9. Coda: 4’36”

It’s a standard verse-chorus-bridge design with extra time on the intro (really interesting rhythmic layering with some intriguing sax and brass writing), and a double-length bridge that features a 3-part-vocal and guitar solo.

MELODIC STRUCTURE

Melodies will capture a listener if they feature contrast, contour, and a climactic moment. The verse melody displays the kind of contrast that’s common in pop/rock genres: a downward moving motif to start, contrasted with an upward moving answer:

Melodic contrast, "More Will Be Revealed"

As you’d expect, melodies move up through the verse to connect to the generally higher range of the chorus; a higher voice entices listeners because emotion is more easily heard. The climactic moment happens right at the end of the chorus melody. There’s more to say about melody in this tune, but requires us to look closer at the lyric.

LYRIC

Melody and lyric act as exceptional partners throughout the entire song. The very first word “So” is a curious way to begin, but not unlike Paul McCartney’s choice of “And” in “And I Love Her.” In McCartney’s case, he said that by starting with the word “And,” the listener was “up to speed” right away.

By starting with “So”, not only is the listener up to speed, but there’s also a sense of emotional exhaustion in that word, an almost “are we still talking about this” feeling that gets transmitted right away. With that one word “So”, we get a complete picture of the emotional situation that would normally take an entire verse to explain.

The lyrics reveal a complicated relationship between two individuals: “she” wants and needs things to get moving, while “he’s” still filled with doubt and feeling a bit pressured. The compelling moment in their relationship happens at the end of verse 2, when her mood finally becomes more conciliatory: “There are lives and miles between us/ And a sacrifice or two…” He finally feels free to say what he really feels: “Right now I just want you.” So as is so common in great lyrics, subtlety speaks volumes.

HARMONIC DESIGN

In the pop/rock genres, you’ll often find that verses use complex, “fragile” progressions that wander a bit, sometimes not feeling settled in any particular key. At the arrival of the chorus, chords tighten up and the key becomes clear, serving as a perfect vehicle for the opening up of emotions.

In this song, you get a verse that feels like E minor, but using mainly chords from C major: unable to commit:

Em  D  F  Am  C | Em  D  Am  Fmaj9

The Am and F chords are reversed in the second half of the verse, making a stronger connection to C major, the key of the chorus:

C(add9)  Am  Dm  G11 (repeat) Fmaj9

The chords of the chorus are, as you expect, tonally strong, clearly pointing to C as the tonic chord. It’s a beautiful contrast to the verse, and partners well with melody and lyric. With the chorus chords, you hear and feel the singer’s disposition changing from confusion to a happier “just give me a chance” attitude.

MUSICAL ARRANGEMENT

What makes the song’s arrangement so interesting is, in part, the decision to highlight the background syncopations before settling in to the song’s main groove. So we hear the mainly dotted-8th keyboard, which gives a “false” impression of the tempo:

More Will Be Revealed - Syncopated keyboard

Then added to that, finger clicks on the offbeat, sounding a bit like someone trying to find the beat. It’s perfect. You get two competing elements, and (not to read too much into this, but) it’s not hard to imagine two people trying to get together, but struggling to find common ground.

That unsettled feeling continues with the sharper edges of the open fifths (both in the keyboard and the guitar’s power chords). The chorus arrangement becomes much warmer, with fuller triads and a more settled groove. It’s really nicely done.

LESSONS FOR SONGWRITERS

I’ve always believed that the best new songwriters emerging today are the ones who spend a good deal of time studying great songs from every era and many genres. But there’s more than that: songwriters who’ve been around for decades who are still writing (Lamm, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, etc.) are still showing us today that writing great music isn’t an accident of sounds. There is always a reason why good music is good, and the best newcomers are the ones who take the time to study and analyze great music.

From “More Will Be Revealed”, you can learn the following:

  1. Great music is a partnership of elements. No one song component stands on its own. Lyrics need a great melody, melodies need great chords, songs need to be designed well, etc. When done well, great songs are better than the sum of their parts.
  2. Great melodies usually exhibit a strong sense of contour, purposeful design, and a climactic moment. Most songs will have several climactic moments, with the most important one occurring in the chorus.
  3. Lyrics need to progress as much as chords do. Verse lyrics need to set up situations, describe circumstances and ask questions. Choruses need to reveal the emotions that get generated by those situations, and pull the audience along in that wave of emotion.
  4. Verse chords can wander, but chorus chords need to tighten up. As the story gets described, it’s good to allow chords to move in ambiguous ways, portraying the complexities of the storyline. But the chorus works best if the chords become less ambiguous, and point more strongly to one chord as the tonic.

The entire album, ‘”Now”: Chicago XXXVI,’ is available for sale on Chicago’s website. I believe that it’s one of the strongest albums they’ve put out in years. They are veteran musicians that play and write with incredibly imaginative prowess. It’s so great to hear something of this kind of quality still being produced by this legendary band.

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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.“)

Run Your Songs Through the “Songwriter’s Checklist”

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle covers every aspect of songwriting, from chords to melodies to lyrics. Includes sound files and a complete glossary of musical terms. Also, receive a free eBook “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Read more

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Songwriter's Checklist by Gary EwerFrom time to time, I repost my free “Songwriter’s Checklist“, a list of items that describes the main characteristics of successful songs from the past 5 to 6 decades. It’s meant to be applied to songs that you’ve just written, as a way of trying to sort out potential problems.

This kind of checklist shouldn’t be used for songs that are working well. That’s because some songs sound great even though they might defy conventional wisdom. But if you find that your latest song just seems to be lacking something but you can’t put your finger on the cause, this checklist might help.

Before you use the Checklist, you might play your song for others, particularly for other songwriters; they can often identify problems that you might be unable to see, due to their objectivity.

And remember: no good song will exhibit every one of the characteristics mentioned in this checklist. But you will find that the good ones will often show a solid majority of them.

Click here to download your free copy of the Songwriter’s Checklist (PDF).

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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.

Songwriting Exercise: Verse and Chorus Melody Writing

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Singer guitarist songwriterIt’s common to hear songwriters say that they’re good at one or another aspect of songwriting, and bad at others. It’s OK to acknowledge your weaknesses, as long as it’s not meant to imply that your talents are set, with no ability or expectation to improve.

But like sports, your abilities can be honed and refined. This happens through experience, but it also happens from practice. Even excellent home run sluggers will do batting practice to polish their skills.

Similarly, melody writing can be improved by studying the structure of good melodies, and then practicing.

What follows is a set of steps that can help you work out the ins and outs of composing good melodies, and especially help you focus on the chief differences between verses and choruses.

As you hopefully know, a good chord progression can almost always make a good verse progression (though not always the other way around), so let’s use the following strong progression as our practice progression:

C  F  Dm  F  C

Play through the progression several times, in different ways and performance styles to get it firmly in your mind. Now follow the steps:

  1. Sing an E, the one above Middle C.
  2. Start improvising a VERSE melody that moves back and forth between the E and the C below it. You’ll find that as you switch chords, that either the C, D or E pitches should work well.
  3. Now, because you’re inventing verse melodies here, let the melodies you create wander around a bit. Remember to keep them relatively low in pitch. Explore the notes below middle C, and see if you can repeat some ideas occasionally as you move to the next chord in the progression. Also remember that verse melodies often avoid the tonic (C) note from being over-used.
  4. Now start improvising some potential CHORUS melodies. Start on the G above middle C, moving upward from that note. Chorus melodies use a lot more repetition, and move generally higher than verse melodies. So explore the upper ranges of your voice, and try to find a hooky, catchy fragment that will work with all or most of the chords.
  5. In working out chorus melodies, try to make the tonic note more significant than you did in the verse. Let melodies end and/or start on the tonic note, as if that note is a beacon that keeps pulling the music back.

Each time you work through the progression, start again with some new melodic ideas. Record the process, because you never know when you’ll come across something that catches your attention, something you might be able to use in a song.

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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.“)

Creating Chord Progression Sequences

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting Bundle “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle covers every aspect of songwriting, from chords to melodies to lyrics. Includes sound files and a complete glossary of musical terms. Also, receive a free eBook “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Read more

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Train: 50 Ways to Say GoodbyeIn music, “sequencing” something has a specific definition. It means to take a melody or a chord progression, and repeat it with all notes shifted upward or downward. It’s a favourite technique of Classical composers, because it does much to strengthen the musical structure.

I’ve written before about Train’s hit song, “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” as a good recent example of melodic sequencing. The first musical phrase is repeated lower, then again before breaking out of the pattern.

So sequencing is a kind of repetition, where everything is repeated starting on a different note. Then that pattern is repeated, moving up or down again by the same interval.

To create a chord progression sequence means to create a 2- or 3-chord pattern, then repeat it higher or lower once or twice before doing something to finish it up. A sequence can start on any chord, not just the tonic chord. So let’s say you’ve come up with this as a short 2-chord progression using the chords from the key of C major:

Em  Am

To sequence it, you repeat it again with each chord being one note higher or lower (in this case, lower):

Dm  G

It’s common to then repeat it once more, with each chord shifted by the same interval:

C  F

Now you do something to break out of the pattern and make your way back to the tonic chord:

Dm  G  C

So the whole progression sounds like this:

Em  Am  Dm  G  C  F  Dm  G  C [LISTEN] (Opens in a new browser window.)

You can also create chord sequences that move upward. Here’s a list of progressions for you to experiment with before you try creating your own. Each “leg” of each sequence is bracketed so that you can see it clearly. Remember that notes after a slash are intended to be bass notes:

UPWARD CHORD SEQUENCES

  1. [C  F]  [Dm  G] [Em  Am]  G  C
  2. [Dm  Em]  [Em  F]  [F  G]  [G  Am]
  3. [C/E  G]  [Dm/F  Am]  [Em/G  Bdim]  G  C
  4. [C  F  G]  [Dm  G  Am]  Em  Am  G  C

DOWNWARD CHORD SEQUENCES

  1. [C  Am]  [Bdim  G]  [Am  F]  G  C
  2. [C  G]  [Am  Em]  [F  C]  Dm  G  C
  3. [C  G/B  Am]  [Bdim  F/A  G]  [Am  Em/G  F]  Gsus4  G  C

Sequencing chords, as you probably see by now, also makes it easier to sequence melodies, since you can repeat a melodic fragment that is partnered with the chords. You can hear this clearly demonstrated in the verse of Dusty Springfield’s No. 1 hit, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”

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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.

Songwriting: To Collaborate or Not

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-Book Bundle is being used by thousands of songwriters to solve their songwriting dilemmas. Comes with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.”  Read More..

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Songwriting collaborationCollaboration in the arts is a strange animal; ultimately, it may require you to compromise somewhat on your own musical ideals, and that’s probably something that’s not going to sit well with you. But collaboration may not necessarily mean caving in to someone else’s ideas in order to get a song completed. If approached in the right way, songwriting collaborations can provide tremendous benefits.

First, let’s take a look at the possible negative side of collaborating with others to write songs:

CONS:

  1. Your song idea may go in a direction that differs from what you originally intended. You may bring a song fragment to the table, frustrated that you can’t finish it. It may be exciting that a songwriting partner, or the other members of your band, finish it quickly and come up with something quite good, but it may not be the song you thought it would be.
  2. It may eventually suffer from “too many cooks” syndrome. With several people contributing, a song can sound piecemeal to you once it’s done.
  3. Your songwriting partners may be unreceptive to your ideas, or inflexible with regard to compromising on their own ideas. And that’s something you may not discover until you’re well into the process.

All those three points really mean is that you should know with whom you are collaborating. Partnering with someone in an artistic venture requires you to do your homework, and make sure that your way of working together is compatible.

With that in mind, here are some of the important benefits:

PROS:

  1. You can draw on strengths that aren’t necessarily your own. If you find someone you can work with, you can take advantage of the fact that their strength might be lyrics, while you can craft a beautiful melody.
  2. You can tap into a new audience base. If your songwriting partner already has a fan base, collaborating with that person means quickly building on your own base, and that’s always a good thing.
  3. Your own songwriting style will modify and improve. You’ll find that anytime you do anything creative with someone else, your own way of working will change, usually for the better.

With any collaboration, it’s important to get expectations of the relationship in writing. The kinds of things you will want to specify might include:

  1. Any split on royalties must be agreed to on a song-by-song basis before the song is shopped around or otherwise marketed to publishers or A&R personnel. (Copyright is always equally shared between songwriting partners no matter how much or little each individual has contributed).
  2. Specify clearly that this particular songwriting partnership still allows you to write your own songs outside of this partnership.
  3. Specify that you may choose seek out other songwriting partnerships in addition to this one.

In any case, a songwriting collaboration can and will be a positive experience if all partners are conciliatory in nature, and enjoy the thought of working well together. When it’s done well, I believe the positives usually outweigh the negatives.

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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.“)

Turning Lyrics Into Melody

“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…
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Song lyricsThere are many ways to start the songwriting process, and you’ll find that whichever element of the song you start with — chord progression, melody, lyric, etc. — is the one that will often be its most important and engaging component. Songs that you start by working out the lyric first will often highlight the lyric as its most appealing part.

If you’ve got a lyric, creating a melody for it and adding chords to that melody requires you to become as familiar with the many ways to say your lyric as a first step.

Check out the following set of steps for turning a song lyric into a melody:

  1. Be sure you’ve got the lyric right. Good lyrics should “flow off the tongue”, using common, everyday words. Speak your lyric over and over; it should be easy to read, and should sound like someone could say those words naturally.
  2. Find the natural pulse and rhythm. There’s a natural rhythm in how we say English words. Some syllables are naturally longer than others. For example, say the word “open” several times, and notice that the “o” syllable can be elongated considerably. But elongating the “-pen” syllable sounds forced and unnatural. So speak your lyric, and become familiar with every word’s natural pulse.
  3. Find the natural pitch. English isn’t a tonal language, but it is certainly a language that makes use of higher and lower sounds. Using the word “open” again, notice that the “o” syllable is spoken at a higher pitch than the “-pen” syllable. But try to say the “o” syllable lower in pitch and it sounds unnatural and forced. You’re starting to find the melodic component of your lyric.
  4. Speak your lyric melodramatically. Say each line, allowing your voice to move up and down in an almost exaggerated way. You’re not ultimately going to sing it this way, of course, but it will help you identify the basic direction of the inherent melody.

Now to create the melody. Here are some tips that can guide you:

  1. If you’ve identified that part of your lyric is the chorus, you may want to start there. Getting a good chorus melody can help make the rest of the song a bit easier.
  2. Try playing a few chords over and over, and speak the first line of your lyric, allowing your voice to move up and down as the natural pitch dictates.
  3. Don’t get locked into those few chords. At some point, early on, you need to expand your musical landscape by building longer progressions (especially for the verse), and create a more interesting melody.
  4. Turn the ups and downs of your reading into actual pitches. Remember that repetition of melodic cells (short 3- or 4-note ideas) is common in melody-writing, so try the same short melodic ideas using different lines of lyric.
  5. Remember that memorable melodies have a good deal of contour — an engaging shape — that helps them to be easily remembered.
  6. The toughest part is starting your melody. Once the initial melodic ideas start to come together, you’ll find that other bits of melody become easier.

When you’re done, sing your melody to yourself, and be sure that every word is placed in such a way that its natural pitch, rhythm and pulse are honoured.

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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.“)

Songwriting: Is It OK To Use a Formula?

Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle and take your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Now with a 7th free ebook. Read more..

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Country band concertThe term “songwriting formula” conjures up many negative reactions from songwriters, and most of the time those negative opinions are justified. The truth is, however, that there are many different elements that go together to make a complete song, and most of those components can be the result of independent formulas; there is no one songwriting formula.

You may be surprised to know that songwriting formulas are not always bad. In fact, some formulas are common even amongst the best writers in the business, and most formulas can be good as long as they aren’t used excessively.

A songwriting formula is a set of writing steps, where each individual step predicts what the next one will be. So you can see right away what the downside of a formula could be: your music becomes predictable, and sounds like most of the other songs being written in your chosen genre.

But predictability, as long as it’s not excessive, can be a pleasing attribute in music. For example, a song can be called “country” because it gives you many of the attributes we expect from that genre: the verse-chorus-bridge, formal design, the singing style, the instrumental accompaniment, even the kind of lyrics. All of those are, to a certain extent, the results of at least a bit of formulaic writing.

Here is a list of the components that typically go together to make a song in almost any genre, and how songwriting formulas help or hurt the end product:

  1. Form. (Verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, etc.). A songwriting formula as it pertains to form is a good one to use, and rarely hurts a song. A songwriting formula might determine that a verse should then be followed by a chorus, and so this kind of formula helps by allowing song energy and momentum to move up and down in a natural way. But there is a downside. If you find yourself reluctant to step out of the box and do something creative once in a while, design formulas can wind up being a crutch that will impede creativity. If all of your songs feature a guitar solo after the second chorus, your listeners will get the feeling that they’ve heard it all before.
  2. Chord Progressions. A songwriting formula as it pertains to chords is also often a good one, when used in moderation. Chord formulas usually say something like, “If you play a C and follow it by F, you should then move on to a G… and so on. Chord progression formulas ensure that the harmonic landscape for your song is solid and unobtrusive. The downside is if you opt constantly for predictable chord formulas at the expense of doing something more creative. At least 80% of the time, listeners should find your chords to be at least somewhat predictable; it’s a good thing.
  3. Lyrics. A songwriting formula as it pertains to lyrics can be a dangerous one. Lyrical formulas can govern many aspects of how you put your words together, including the kinds of things you write about, the kinds of words (perhaps clichés) you use, and the general direction of your storyline. A typical “boy-meets-girl, boy-rejects-girl, girl hates boy” kind of thing seems safe, which is the chief benefit of a formula in the first place. But it becomes quickly predictable and uninteresting if you do nothing to vary it.
  4. Melodies. A songwriting formula as it pertains to melody usually appears in the form of melodic range, and this one rarely hurts a song. The fact that your song chorus moves up and sits higher in pitch than a verse melody is a natural part of generating vocal energy that works well.

In the music industry, the term “formula” is often meant to convey something more general than the points above, usually involving all of them to some degree. Industry personnel like predictability more than songwriters normally do, because they know that what has succeeded once will have a good chance of succeeding again, even if it copies another song’s format.

Like most things in the writing and performing of music, songwriting formulas should be used with caution, and only really as a way of providing a sense of comforting familiarity for your listeners. Used well, formulas can help build your fan base and boost your songwriting output.

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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 Melody Enhances a Lyric: “And So I Pray” (Jem)

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-Book Bundle is being used by thousands of songwriters to solve their songwriting dilemmas. Comes with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.”  Read More..

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Jem - And So I PrayWhen you look at the construction of melodies from the past six decades of pop music, you see a common trait: verse melodies often tend to have a rambling, wandering quality, and then things tighten up and become a lot more repetitive and hooky for the chorus.

It’s not always like that, though, and that’s because music can never be quite that predictable. There’s a beautiful little tune by Welsh singer-songwriter Jem (Jemma Griffiths), “And So I Pray,” (co-written by Jem, Viginia Astley and Kevin Beber) that shows the attractive quality that can come from a verse melody that’s somewhat static, and then switching to a chorus that’s suddenly liberated and expressive.

Give the song a few listens; it’s quite short, and its uncomplicated structure makes it a wonderful model for musical simplicity. You’ll find that melody and lyric work together expertly. The lyric describes a situation (love gone wrong?) that for the moment has no good solution.

With this kind of song topic, you’ll often find that avoiding the tonic note in the melody has a particularly powerful effect of making the music feel unsettled. Throughout the entire song, the tonic note only ever appears on a weak beat (i.e., not beat 1 of a bar), or partnered with a non-tonic chord.

But I think the real charm of this song is in comparing the structure of the verse melody with that of the chorus, and how those different melodies enhance the lyric. Even if you don’t read music, just looking at a line drawing approximating the scope of the melodies shows you the contrasting melodic design:

 

Melodic Structure of "And So I Pray" (Jem)

 

For the verse, the singer feels depressed, practically immobilized by a simmering, negative situation. That’s reinforced by the kind of melody we find attached to the words: dwelling on single pitches, encompassing only a 4th.

In the chorus, the singer imagines all of her worries lifting, all her anxieties flying off and leaving her alone. To express it musically, the melody takes flight, moving up and down, covering a full octave within only two bars of music.

A lot of this kind of thing happens on an instinctive level, but students of songwriting need to be aware of the immense power that can come from purposely partnering melody and lyric in this way. A good melody will not only act as a vehicle for your song’s text; it can fully imprint the more important subtextual meaning of what you’re trying to convey.

Try this as an experiment with your latest song: sing through the song, and think about what the shape of your melody is doing either to enhance or inhibit the meaning of your lyric. You may find that just one or two adjustments will go a long way to intensifying that all-important relationship, making a stronger connection to your audience.

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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.“)

Using Instruments to Grab and Keep Listener Interest

Thousands of songwriters are using Gary Ewer’s “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-Book Bundle to solve their songwriting dilemmas. Now with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.”  Read More..

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Rock ConcertMost songs will use at least two distinct melodies, one for the verse and one for the chorus. It’s not always that way, of course. Some songs will use the same melody throughout the song (“Born in the USA”, for example). Others will use a verse and chorus melody that sound quite similar to each other, or a song that’s simply a succession of verse melodies.

The problem with songs that use verse and chorus melodies that sound very similar is this: How do you keep the audience from getting bored from hearing that melody over and over again?

The solutions are usually found in the production/recording stage. You need to do things, usually instrumentally, that keep the audience listening — that keep them interested. When done well, a song with a well-crafted instrumental design will divert the audience’s attention away from the fact that the melodies throughout the tune all sound pretty much the same.

A good example of the dilemma of making a song with a repetitious melody sound interesting is Coldplay’s “A Sky Full Of Stars,” which really has just one main melody over mostly one chord progression.

As the song proceeds, the melody moves up and down, but each rendition bears great resemblance to the one before it. Essentially, before the song is one minute old, you’ve heard everything you’re going to hear.

So the challenge is, what do you do to make the fact that the melody is so repetitious less obvious? Coldplay’s solution is found entirely in the approach to instrumentation. Good song design means that the energy level of the music will rise and fall, but generally over time in an upward direction, not unlike a good stock market chart.

If you give “A Sky Full Of Stars” a few listens, you’ll hear that it fluctuates between a subdued instrumental approach at the beginning, building to the song’s first climactic moment at about the 1’20” mark, back to lower energy by 1’45”, back to full-on power at 2’53.” The song’s most climactic moments happen at 3’25”, after which the power is allowed to diminish to the end.

Here’s a chart that helps you visualize these ups and downs. It’s been colour-coded to let you see it at a glance: moments in the song that are calm are coloured green; as energy builds it goes through yellow, on its way to red to signify the song’s most powerful moments.

Sky Full of Stars

All of this is achieved by:

  1. The number of instruments included in the mix.
  2. The pitch range of the instruments at any given time.
  3. The adding of instruments that access the highest frequency ranges, such as cymbals and other similar instruments.
  4. The dynamics (loudness) of the instruments used.
  5. The adding of extra vocals.

In addition to the instrumental manipulations, you’ll also notice the chords (Ebm  Cb  Gb  Bbm) change ever-so-slightly at the end, finally including the dominant (Db) chord: Cb  Dbsus4(7)  Ebm. There is a lot of power in a dominant chord, as it strongly anticipates the tonic chord — even if the tonic doesn’t appear at the end.

It’s easy to tell when music is boring, but not so easy to tell exactly why. If your song uses melodies of similar structure and design throughout, you often need to turn to the song’s instrumental design to solve the problem.

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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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