Just because listeners hear your songs from start to finish doesn’t mean you have to (or even should) write them that way.
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It’s surprising that this would need to be said, but there’s no need to write your song in sequence from beginning to end, starting with the intro and ending with the final chorus. Just because it’s the way that your audience will hear it does not in any way mean that you have to compose it that way. And in fact, if you feel compelled to start with the beginning and work systematically toward the end, you’re missing out on opportunities to really craft a fine song: by working in bits, sometimes forward, sometimes backwards.
One the the important and essential secrets of songwriting is knowledge of the fact that all components of a song have an impact on each other. No one element exists in a vacuum. So what you write for a lyric will affect the shape of the melody, the kinds of chords you choose, the dynamics, instrumentation and rhythm, and so on.
With that in mind, it makes sense that with every new line of music you write, everything changes, including things that you’ve already written. So if it feels right, for example, to put a large melodic leap upward in the middle of your melody, it may require you to backtrack a bit and look at what you’ve already written for a lyric, and perhaps change a few words to help that leap make musical sense.
Here’s a short list of ideas for songwriters to help use this out-of-sequence stye of writing to its best effect:
If a fantastic song lyric presents itself in your mind in its entirety, you’re lucky. But if you’re like most people, a good song lyric is something that develops. I’ve always advocated a list-making technique for writing good lyrics. Make lists of words that relate to your topic, and use those lists to craft a lyric. Since chorus lyrics express the emotions that come from the verse lyrics, you may find it beneficial to write a catchy, emotion-filled chorus lyric, and then back-track to write a verse that leads to those emotions.
Verse melodies tend to be lower in pitch than chorus melodies, because the human voice expresses more emotion and tension in its high range. And choruses are where we need that emotion. So instead of automatically writing a verse, and then trying to create a chorus to follow it, it makes sense to start with the chorus, placing it high in the vocal range, and then returning to write a verse that leads into it properly. If you observe that the chorus seems a lot higher than the verse, you might then backtrack and insert a pre-chorus, something that allows the verse melody to rise and meet the chorus. Katy Perry’s “Firework” is a good example, as well as the song “Hurting Each Other“, written by Gary Geld and Peter Udell and made most famous by The Carpenters in 1972.
Many songs, especially these days, uses the same or similar progression in both the verse and the chorus. But it’s often far more effective to progressions that more clearly delineate the various sections of your song. Try developing a good chorus progression in a major key, then move back to the verse and try developing a progression that has its tonal focus on the minor chords from that major key. Read this post for more detail on this.
The main reason for working backwards in this manner is that if you start by working out a good chorus, you get the most memorable part of your song really working well. Then working backwards (i.e., going back to the verse) allows you to set up the chorus and prepare it well. It allows you to identify musical goals, and then create a pathway that leads beautifully to those goals.
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