The Best Way to Get Inspired to Write Music

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleIt’s fine to say that good songwriters would be writing every day. But what if your songwriting problems are so deep that everything you write just sits there like yesterday’s porridge? “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle can help free up the logjam, and get you back to writing music on a regular basis. More..

 

Guitarist SongwriterIf you’re waiting for inspiration to write your next song, you’re probably wasting a lot of time. Most top-level composers of music of any genre need to be writing pretty much every day. If you were a film score composer, imagine telling the producer that you aren’t feeling inspired enough to write!

There are two kinds of inspiration that come into play with regard to songwriting. One type, the one everyone is familiar with, is the inspiration that comes from an emotional event that touches our lives. The birth of a child, the death of a loved-one, important social events – these are all great sources of excitement and inspiration. We might call these “external” sources of inspiration.

The problem with externally-sourced inspiration is that the excitement that’s generated is usually fleeting. In my book, “Beating Songwriter’s Block“, I compare it to throwing paper on a fire. It will burn brightly and start with great promise. But usually very quickly it dies away. Without something to take its place, externally-sourced inspiration will hardly sustain you even through one song.

The second type – one you might call “internally-sourced” inspiration - comes from within, and it is generated as a natural by-product of the compositional process itself. In other words, the act of writing music creates a sense of excitement, and that excitement causes you to feel momentarily inspired. That little shot of inspiration then creates a desire within you to create something to add to that idea, and a little more inspiration is created.

And so on and so forth. So to put it succinctly, the act of writing creates the very inspiration you’re looking for.

If you’re unable to find the inspiration to get writing, write anyway. A lack of inspiration deceives us into thinking that we’ve got no ability to create viable musical ideas. But in fact, humans have the ability to generate music in any circumstance, even in the complete absence of inspiration.

And once you create and listen to that one small idea, you’ll feel the inspiration that you’ve been lacking. It’s why setting a daily schedule and sticking to it is one of the best cures for writer’s block. A daily schedule ensures that you’re always creating something. Songwriters who stick to a schedule encounter writer’s block to a much lesser degree than those who wait for inspiration.
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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle: $95.70 $37.00 (and get a copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a ProFREE.) High-quality PDF files, readable on desktop, laptop, iPad, iPod, or any other PDF-reading device.

In Songwriting, Rules Stifle the Imagination

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleThere are no fewer than 11 guiding principles that describe how great music works. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle shows you each and every one of those principles, and describes how they’ll make your own songs better. Read more..

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Genesis - No Reply At AllI am a big fan of music theory, and believe that songwriters who have a working knowledge of the nuts and bolts of theory will become better writers. So it may seem strange that someone with that point of view would make the claim that in songwriting, rules stifle the imagination. So let’s clear up that apparent contradiction.

Whenever you apply rules to any creative process, you remove the opportunity for your imagination to take you in weird and wonderful directions, and in the creative arts, that’s a problem. A rule tries to say “in this situation, you must next do that. And no songwriter wants to find themselves in that kind of circumstance.

But fortunately that is not what music theory does, and if you find that music theory’s main job is to provide you with a list of rules to follow, you are misunderstanding its importance and primary use.

Rather than telling you what to do, music theory offers an explanation for why things sound the way they do. Theory also offers musicians a vocabulary for communicating musical ideas to others. For example, one guitarist saying to another, “12-bar blues, Bb major, 4/4 time, with a flat-VI in the 10th bar…” is a very concise and accurate way of giving a musical direction that would otherwise take paragraphs. With that one short sentence, you’ve touched on formal designkey, time signatures, and altered chords.

If you do something enough in the world of music, someone will come up with a theory to describe why it works and why it sounds good. But in that sense, music theory is history. It tells you why something that’s already been written sounds good. But it makes no claim that you should continue to write that way.

And in fact, if you continue to write that way, you simply repeat history, and no composer of new music wants to do that, at least not to any great degree.

However, the best music, the songs that really connect with people, are a clever blend of rules (often predictable musical events) and imagination (often unpredictable musical events). And for most good songs, the balance is very much slanted toward predictable.

It’s far better to consider some basic guiding principles of songwriting rather than stiff rules. Rules offer directives and tell you how things must be, but principles merely tell you how things tend to work, offering guidance rather than commands. In this blog, I write almost daily about those principles: for example, that songs tend to be in one key (that’s not a rule); that chorus melodies tend to be higher than verse melodies (not a rule); that song energy increases as a song proceeds (also not a rule).

Most songs have a chorus melody that sits higher in pitch than the verse, but if that were a rule, you’d never hear a song that has a lower chorus melody, as Genesis’ “No Reply At All” does. The observation that chorus melodies are usually higher is a guiding principle.

But that song is in D major, and theory tells us that. All the chords move in and around D major, using the chords of D major, and again, that’s music theory at work. But how those chords are chosen, the rhythms used by the instruments, how long the verse is, the nature of the melodic shapes… those are all products of the imagination, guided by what musicians believed good music should do.

This is why songwriters who spend a good amount of time listening to the music of other songwriters wind up being the best. They hear ideas from other musicians, and then, using their imagination, they modify those ideas to create something unique.

So music theory tells us why things work the way they do in music, and that’s a good thing. But experience and imagination tells us how to take that information and create something new and innovative. Any time you find yourself asking, “In music, am I allowed to…”, it’s time to rethink how you’re using music theory.
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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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Songwriter’s Tips and Tricks: All About Bridge Sections

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Singer with microphoneA bridge is the optional section of a song that usually happens after the second chorus. It’s main purpose is to take the song in a new direction, at least melodically/harmonically, and to complete a lyric. But since it’s an option – not every song uses a bridge – it’s important to know exactly why we ever use one in the first place.

Of the several to many reasons one might compose a bridge, the top three reasons are:

  1. Incomplete lyric. A bridge lyric will often finish the story, or otherwise bring the song topic to a satisfying conclusion.
  2. Verse and chorus similarity. If the verse and chorus melodies reside within the same basic vocal range, using many of the same notes, a bridge can provide needed variety.
  3. The song is too short. A bridge section, even if it’s just instrumental, can offer a bit of mileage to a song that just feels a bit too short.

So those are reasons why a bridge can be a good idea for your song, but doest necessarily tell us how to compose one. Here are some tips that can help you create something that’s musically satisfying and powerful:

  1. Melody: Bridge melodies represent the third main melody that the listener will hear. Structurally, it will resemble a verse melody in the sense that it can benefit from having a “wandering” quality. Bridge melodies usually work their way upward, and some of the highest notes in a song will occur in the bridge.
  2. Chords: Bridge chord progressions should start on a non-tonic (i.e., non-original-key) chord, and usually opposite to the mode of the chorus. In other words, if your song chorus is in a major key, bridges often start on a minor chord, and focus on that minor chord as a kind of temporary tonic. The second half of a bridge section should see the chords moving from that minor centre back to the original key of the song.
  3. Length: In some circles the bridge is also called the “middle 8″, referring to the number of bars in a typical bridge section. But that nickname came into common usage when song forms were more classically structured and predictable. A bridge doesn’t have to be eight bars long. But having said that, keep in mind that a bridge that’s too long will bore and confuse an audience. Keeping it to eight is a great idea, and you should have a good reason for extending it longer than that.
  4. Hook: If your song is based on a strong chorus hook, use the bridge to let that hook disappear for a while. That makes the return of the hook, once the chorus returns, even more welcome.
  5. Motif: Similar to a hook, a motif is a melodic/rhythmic idea that gets used over and over again. But unlike a hook, a motif will change and develop as a song advances. For that reason, strong motifs are often only noticed subconsciously by the listener, but can be powerful musical elements. In a bridge, a motif can help a section that sounds completely different sound pleasantly related to everything else in the song. The bridge in Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is a great example of this; compare the similarity of the basic rhythms of the verse andthe chorus, and then the bridge section.
  6. Lyrics: A bridge lyric generally will allow the song’s story to feel completed. If anything is left unanswered by the second chorus, use the lyric of the bridge to finish it. So bridge sections will often explain the deeper emotional reasons for whatever is going on in the rest of the song.
  7. Momentum: More often than not, a bridge will build energy, even if it starts with an energy dip. It’s a chance for a song to catch its second wind, making the return of the chorus even more poignant.

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Written by Gary Ewer.
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7 Tips for Becoming a More Prolific Songwriter

The first step to writing more and writing faster is to make sure you’re not just reinforcing the songwriting problems you already have. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle will show you how to learn from popular music’s best and most enduring hits. More.. 

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Folk guitarLooking to increase your songwriting output? Not that you should ever judge the quality of your writing by its quantity, but at least to a certain degree, speeding up the songwriting process can be one step to improving. Not unlike a baseball player having the chance of hitting more home runs if he gets more at-bats.

Here’s seven tips for you to consider:

  1. Schedule your songwriting. If you write when the feeling hits, you’re going to be as successful as the batter who bats when the feeling hits: not very. Set aside time every day (or at least 5 out of every 7 days).Stopwatch
  2. Practice your songwriting. Not everything you do has to be contributing to a finished song. It’s time well-spent to practice your lyrical writing, practice melody writing, and so on. Practicing really does help, and takes the pressure off having to “hit a home run.”
  3. Change your songwriting process. If you’re a chords-first kind of writer, you’ll run out of ideas pretty quickly. So change things up; there are lots of options, including lyrics-first, melody-first, rhythmic hook first, and so on.
  4. Cowboy hatSwitch genres. You may have never thought of yourself as a country songwriter, but why not? You’d be surprised how much it changes your perspective to try a new genre, and we’re only talking about a temporary change anyway. So switch it up and have fun!
  5. Guitar chordSwitch instruments. You don’t need to be a polished guitarist to write a song on guitar. So if keyboards are your instrument of choice, try changing to guitar or any other instrument. You’ll find that the muscle memory from your first-choice instrument doesn’t apply (usually) to a new instrument, and so new ideas should start to flow.
  6. Partner up. Find someone you can write with, even someone who approaches songwriting from a totally different perspective. The infusion of new ideas and ways of thinking should open up the floodgates of musical ideas in a new and exciting way.
  7. Try arranging instead of composing. Arranging a tune means taking an already-existing tune, and dressing it up to sound different from the original. Doing it with a song that’s been written in the last 50-75 years means needing copyright permission, but there are lots of public domain folk songs that can serve as material for a new arrangement.

Becoming more prolific means taking what you do seriously, and making songwriting a daily activity. Yes, even on the days that you don’t feel much like writing, you should be picking up your pencil and getting something down on paper. The more songwriting becomes a daily habit, the better your chances are for hitting it big.

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Gary EwerGary Ewer is the author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, and of the new hard cover book, “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music.”

How Upward and Downward Motion Creates Song Energy

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleUnless you’re making a conscious effort to improve your songwriting skills, you’ve likely already become the best you’re ever going to be. How’s that working for you? It’s time to take things to the next level. Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, and become the writer you’ve always wanted to be. More..

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Rock ConcertIf you have an interest in starting an argument that seems to have no good solution, try asking two people to define what “good music” is. It’s especially entertaining if the two people love different kinds of music – metal and country, say.

It’s understandable that we tend to define good in terms of whatever it is that we happen to like. In my high school days I was totally blown away by the music of Genesis and Yes. So ask my teenage self what “good” is, and I’d probably have been describing prog rock.

But there’s a better (one might say more mature) way of defining that word “good” when it comes to musical composition, and it’s going to involve looking at what good music does, rather than what good music is.

No matter what your favourite genre of music is, a song is good if it takes you on an interesting journey. Like literal journeys, a good song starts, takes you somewhere, and then brings you back home. More specifically, a song:

  1. has to start in a way that holds promise for something great happening, even if on a small scale;
  2. has to generate its own energy, where one interesting thing implies another interesting thing that’s going to happen very soon;
  3. has to finish in a way that feels satisfying, where most of the important questions (literally or figuratively) have been answered.

So far, we’re just talking in metaphors. The first point might be easy to grasp, since we know that a song intro needs to sound interesting enough to compel people to keep listening.

But that second part – generating its own energy – how is that done?

Song energy is not a quantifiable measurement, since some songs sound very calm and “un-energetic”, and succeed very well. Song energy is what we might otherwise call momentum – whatever keeps a song moving forward, and keeps a listener captivated, wanting to hear more. Its a subtle but tremendously important quality. How is it achieved?

Generally speaking, energy is created when ups and downs are juxtaposed in the design of a song. Here’s more about what that means:

  1. Melodic Up and Down: Song verses should be pitched lower than chorus melodies. So when you look at an entire song, you see low moving to high (verse moving to chorus), back to low (2nd verse), back to high (2nd chorus), and so on.
  2. Chord Progression Up and Down: There is a sense of musical tension that comes from chords that are less focused on the tonic chord, wandering about a bit ambiguously. That tends to describe verse progressions. But chorus progressions usually tighten up, becoming shorter, more tonic-chord-focused, and simpler. In that sense, we perceive up and down in harmonic energy.
  3. Lyrical Up and Down: Tension increases as questions are asked but not answered, or if emotional situations are described, requiring some kind of emotional release. That’s the verse’s job. The chorus is where the emotion is finally liberated and flows forth. That tension-and-release approach to lyrics is tremendously important in keeping listeners hooked.
  4. Instrumental Up and Down: As songs move from verse to chorus you hear energy increase as instruments are added, and the rhythmic interplay become busier.

Songwriters often use the verse-chorus format as a natural way to contour song energy, since the up and down of melody, chords, lyrics and instrumentation is part and parcel of that formal design. But there is no rule that says that you can’t control the energy of your song without a standard form. And in fact, the progressive rock composers are experts at showing that verse and chorus is not necessary for generating song energy.

If you find your music is missing something that’s captivating or otherwise exciting your audience, try the following:

  1. Record your song.
  2. Listen several times for specific design issues. Listen the first time while focused only on melody. Listen again focused only on chords, and so on.
  3. Look for a moment later in the song where melody, chords, lyrics and instrumentation all seem to come together to produce a climactic high point for your song.

Remember that we’re not talking about a quantity of energy, but merely that the sense of low to high is present and carefully controlled. The ups and downs of song energy, even if present in only a subtle way, are what keep listeners interested in the musical journey.

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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.“)

Solving Basic Songwriting Problems Before They Start

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Carlos Santana - Rob ThomasThe fact that your music might bore someone should not be automatically taken to mean that something is wrong. Even the best music in the world will bore some people. That speaks to the diversity of musical taste that exists in the species.

But sometimes, boredom is an indicator that you’ve missed the mark. You’ll know that boredom is a problem if, even though you’re releasing new recordings and doing your fair share of concerts, you fail to build a fan base for your music.

When audiences are bored by music, it’s often not easy for them to describe exactly what is causing their boredom. All they know is that the song is uninteresting to them. While it might be difficult for them to verbalize what they’re noticing about your music, it’s important that you give serious thought to what the problem is, and come up with solutions.

Some of the standard problems with audience boredom have to do with the production end of the equation:

  1. An intro that fails to pull the listener in.
  2. Instrumentation that is haphazard or disorganized (i.e., doesn’t “build” in musically logical ways.)
  3. General problems with the band or lead singer performance.

But audience boredom can be the product of issues that are songwriting issues, and solvable before you ever reach the recording stage. Take a look at the following list of problems. They’re subtle, and won’t immediately identify themselves as problems. But solving them as early as possible in the songwriting stage means solving them before they start.

  1. PROBLEM: Not enough repetition. A listener needs repeating elements to help them more fully understand and enjoy what they’re listening to. Some elements within a song feature repetition on a large-scale, such as repeating choruses, repeating verse melodies, a return to the chorus after a bridge – that sort of thing. Repetition is an important organizing feature of melodic construction: repeating melodic cells within a verse melody, for example (think of the melody for “Good People” by Jack Johnson, and how many times you hear things repeat exactly, and how many times you hear approximate repetitions). Others feature repetition on a micro level: the snare drum always hitting on offbeats, for example. Taken together, repetition is a crucial part of making listeners interested, with repeated elements providing a kind of instant gratification.
  2. PROBLEM: Too much repetition. Yes, repetition is good, but (dance genres aside) too much can be dangerous. When melodies or grooves repeat seemingly endlessly with nothing changing — and more importantly, where the repetition seems to contribute nothing to the overall strength of the song or its structure — you fail to excite your audience, and can actually do the opposite: they feel they’ve heard it all, and heard it all too often.
  3. PROBLEM: A missing high point in a melody. The climactic high point in a melody is that moment that operates as its highest point, down from which it will move to its conclusion. It’s important to realize that not every good melody in the songwriting world must feature a climactic high point, but inserting one into a boring melody can be just what your song needs to bring it alive. Most sections in a song will have some highest point, but the climactic high point in a chorus usually serves as the most important one in a song.
  4. PREOBLEM: A haphazard approach to melodic rhythm. Melodic rhythm is, of course, the melody that is created by the words that are being sung at any given moment. But there’s more to it than that. Specifically, the rhythms in a verse melody will use more rhythmic devices such as syncopation, and use quicker (shorter) rhythmic values. In the chorus, the rhythms of the melody should elongate and simplify. A great example is “Smooth” (Carlos Santana/Rob Thomas). Give it a listen and compare the verse and chorus rhythms.
  5. PROBLEM: A missing hook. Like melodic climactic moments, not every song needs that standout fragment that we call a hook. Some songs make greater use of motif – a constantly developing melodic/rhythmic cell. But if you feel that your song is giving you nothing much to listen to and (especially) to remember, it may need a catchy hook to lead the way. Inserting a hook into a completed song may be tricky, and may require you to strip the song down to its bare bones, but you should be able to tell early on if its missing something for the audience to hang on to, and so hopefully you won’t be too deep into the songwriting process so that making changes isn’t too problematic.

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Written by Gary Ewer.
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5 Chord Progression Ideas: Getting From I to IV

“From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro” is an 82-page eBook that’s a must-read if you’re trying to move from amateur to pro songwriter. It comes free with your purchase of  “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle."From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro" Read more..

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black & white guitarIn a standard progression that uses four chords, you’re probably looking at something like: C  Am  F  G  (I  vi  IV  V). That’s a time-honoured progression that’s produced countless hits in the past: “Duke of Earl” (Gene Chandler), “Donna” (Richie Valens), “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King), “Heart and Soul” (Hoagy Carmichael), and so many others.

Do those four chords in a different order, and you’ve got a whole slew of others: “With Or Without You” (U2), “Bad Moon On The Rise” (C.C.R.), “Let It Be” (The Beatles)… You get the idea.

What I’d like to do is to look for a way to modify that standard C-Am-F-G progression so that it sounds a bit more unique, but maintains the tonal strength that makes it so attractive in the first place.

Specifically, let’s look at that second chord (the Am), and replace it with various other ones to produce something that will allow it to stand out a bit. Here are some ideas:

  1. Change Am to C/E, resulting in: C  C/E  F  G. In doing this, you keep the tonic function for two chords, and create a rising bass line. Rising bass lines have a way of creating musical energy that can be useful particularly in song choruses.
  2. Change Am to E, resulting in: C  E  F  G. Because structurally that E chord sounds like a secondary dominant chord that “wants” to move next to Am, the fact that it moves immediately to F will create a bit of a musical surprise.
  3. Change Am to Bb, resulting in C  Bb  F  G. The Bb chord is a flat-VII that functions as a kind of “secondary subdominant”, so to speak, of the F chord. In that sense, it draws attention to the F chord as a kind of tonal focus not unlike a secondary tonic chord.
  4. Change Am to Edim7, resulting in C  Edim7  F  G. The fully diminished Edim7 (which uses the notes E-G-Bb-Db) uses E as a leading tone to F. That diminished chord also works well when followed with Dm (instead of F).
  5. Change Am to E+ (Eaug), resulting in C  E+  F  G. For some, augmented chords are an acquired taste, but the benefit of it is that the note C exists in all three chords C, E+ and F, and that provides a useful kind of musical “glue”.

These are just five ideas from potentially hundreds of others. And the possibilities rise from there when you consider that it’s quite easy to reorder those chords. For example, see what other orderings sound like when you start each progression on the F chord, move to G, then finish up with the first 2 chords (F  G  C  E, for example).

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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.“)

Rethinking Your Approach to Songwriting

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleDo you like to start every song by vamping a few chords and see what happens? It may be time to try something new: isolate the imagination stage from the creation stage. If you aren’t sure what that is, you need to get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, and discover how great songs are assembled. More..

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Synthesizer-Keyboard playerThere are two processes songwriters engage in when writing music. The first stage is the imagination stage, in which you conjure up musical fragments. The second stage is the creation stage, in which you (hopefully) cleverly put those ideas together to form complete songs.

The issue of balance – how much of songwriting is imagination, and how much is the work of assembling ideas – differs from one song to the next. But it’s normal to have the majority of work on a song being the assembling task.

And for some songs, the original musical ideas that comprise most of the song are very, very few in number. A great example of a song from the 70s disco era that seems light on ideas, and is all about assembly, might be “Get Up and Boogie“, by Silver Convention. Very few ideas, lots and lots of repetition, and little to think about.

But even great songs, ones that make us think, are still heavily balanced toward the assembly of ideas, and not filled with unique musical elements. In fact, one of the problems novice songwriters often have to fight against is the inclusion of too many ideas in one short song.

All the discussion here about imagination and creation has a purpose: For songwriters, the job is to write a great song, but the best songs start with the quality of those initial musical fragments. Since (especially in the pop genre) you’re often using standard song forms, like verse-chorus-bridge, the most important step, the one that often makes or breaks a song, is that first conjuring-up-musical-fragments step.

With that in mind, you may want to rethink your approach to songwriting. In other words, it’s a day well-spent if you devote most of your time to creating short, catchy, musical ideas. Don’t worry so much at this early stage how you’re going to use those fragments.

For many of you, that will represent a significant departure from what you normally do when writing songs, which is to vamp a few chords, and start assembling a verse or a chorus from thin air.

Once you’ve started to collect a significant number of ideas, start playing and singing through them. You’ll then notice that some ideas, though created at different times, seem to partner well together. And two or three ideas is often enough to form the backbone of a good song.

So if your approach to songwriting is heavily weighted toward putting ideas together, it may be time to back up a bit and look at the quality of those initial ideas. Getting a stockpile of catchy fragments can make your songwriting more successful, and far less stressful.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle$95.70 $37.00 (and get a copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro“ FREE.) High-quality PDF files, readable on desktop, laptop, iPad, iPod, or any other PDF-reading device.

The Melody-Rhythm Relationships in “Girls Chase Boys”

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook BundleEven some of the most innovative music being written today still sticks to important songwriting principles that have been in existence for decades. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle describes 11 crucial principles every songwriter needs to know. Read more..

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Ingrid Michaelson - Girls Chase BoysIngrid Michaelson’s “Girls Chase Boys“, the first single off her soon-to-be-released album “Lights Out,” is probably going to get more attention for its gender-bending video than it is for its musical structure. But let’s let others parse the social importance of her Robert Palmer-influenced dance routines, and rather look at how the song succeeds by adhering to important principles of musical composition.

“Girls Chase Boys” is a very hooky tune – almost hypnotically addictive. Like many of today’s pop tunes, it uses the same chord progression for both the verse and the chorus:

Ab Db Fm Eb

The most distinctive feature of the song is its chorus hook: the melodic fragment that features a one-octave plunge (click to enlarge):

Girls Chase Boys - Chorus hook

 

And though octave leaps aren’t often the kind of feature that makes a song singable (at least it’s not an ascending octave!), this hook is quite singable, and certainly very memorable.

What’s more important to the success of the song, however, are two melodic principles that have been a feature of successful pop music for at least the past 6 decades:

  1. The verse melody that sits low in the singing voice, moving higher as it approaches the chorus.
  2. The verse rhythms, which feature lots of syncopation (displacement of the rhythm off the beat), moving to mainly unsyncopated and simplified rhythms in the chorus that sit mainly on the beat.

Syncopation is a powerful rhythmic device for songwriters. Though it means that notes have been moved off of the beats (think of how the words “You play me now/ I play you too all happen between foot taps), it is that displacement itself that has a way of making the beat even more obvious.

And the constant verse syncopation has a way of making the largely on-the-beat treatment of lyric in the chorus feel ever-more welcome, and ever-more powerful.

As a songwriter, once you determine to stick to those two important principles of verse-chorus design, you’ll find that using the same chords for both sections is rarely a problem. The formal strength that comes from moving lower to higher, partnered with moving from syncopated to on-the-beat placement of words, helps give each section its own sense of identity, and, more importantly, creates powerful musical momentum.
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Written by Gary Ewer
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Writing in a Vacuum Stunts Your Musical Growth

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleImproving your songwriting technique.. Sometimes that isn’t enough. You also need to be doing the things that will bring your songwriting to a larger fan base. Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, and solve your songwriting problems TODAY. (Contains a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”.)

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The Musical WorldIf you aren’t making serious attempts to connect with others in the music world, your songs are going to suffer from the vacuum that results.

In a sense, pop music is the “Wikipedia” of musical styles, where no one act represents the total sum of experience available to us. So if you tend to immerse yourself in your own music to the complete neglect of whatever else is going on in the ubiquitous world of songwriting, you’re likely going to notice a shrinking fan base.

Even for songwriters and performers that appear to be on the cutting edge, there is a tremendous importance to staying current with what people are listening to today. One of the problems with being innovative in music is that innovation has a way of scaring away potential fans. But The Beatles, for example, were extremely innovative for their time, and no one could make the argument that they suffered from a lack of fans.

But in The Beatles’ case, they wrapped their music, as it were, in some of the sounds that were popular in the day. So the guitar work of The Byrds, the vocal style of Bob Dylan, and other such anomalies popular in their day, all played an important role in why they were able to make such a strong impact on the listening public and grow their fan base.

So The Beatles may have wanted to be innovative, but they pulled listeners in by being familiar with what people were already listening to.

Preventing a musical vacuum means any or all of the following:

  1. Get out to concerts. Listen to live music. It’s often the best way to not just hear music that’s newly written, but to judge audience reaction for what they love.
  2. Play live concerts. For the same reason that you’d go to a concert: it gives you the best way to connect with people and find out what they really like.
  3. Do lots of online listening. Stay current with what is rising to the top of the music world. You won’t like it all, but it can all play an important role in developing your own particular style.
  4. Take part in songwriting circles. Play your music for other like-minded people who are also trying to increase their audience base. There’s nothing like playing your songs for people who are generally respectful and in your corner.
  5. Partner up with someone else occasionally to write songs. By creating songwriting partnerships, you have the potential of tapping into a larger and more diverse musical world. You also can potentially improve your own writing style by allowing your imagination to go in a new direction.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle$95.70 $37.00 (and get a copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro“ FREE.) High-quality PDF files, readable on desktop, laptop, iPad, iPod, or any other PDF-reading device.

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