Making Clear Differences Between Your Verse and Chorus

Contrast plays a crucial role in keeping listeners interested in your music. Here’s how.

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Kelly Clarkson - Heartbeat SongThere’s been a principle in musical composition that has existed quite literally for centuries: making a clear difference between adjacent sections within a song. Called the contrast principle, it is so important that you see it in all genres: classical, pop, jazz, country, folk, or any other performance genre you can name.

Using the contrast principle means finding ways to make clear differences between adjoining sections, and in most music of the pop genres, that means making sure that there is something obviously dissimilar when comparing your verse and chorus.

The tricky bit about the contrast principle is that a verse and chorus also need to exhibit a sense of similarity as well. That’s the tightrope that every composer of songs deals with: getting the balance between similarity and dissimilarity right.

The reason for finding similarities is obvious: your verse and chorus both need to sound like they come from the same song. But why the need for dissimilarity? Why does the success of music depend, at least in part, on how well you contrast song sections?

The answer lies in the nature of the listener. Their minds get quickly bored with a musical idea, and within 30 seconds or so, listeners usually need to hear things changing within the structure of the song. That means that we need to offer a new melody, a new lyric, new chords, and so on. And in the context of music, “new” means “contrasting”, or suitably different enough to intrigue us.

If you find that your latest song seems to lack that critical something that makes it exciting and/or interesting, it could be a lack of contrast, especially between the verse and chorus.

Here’s a short list of the musical elements that usually benefit from the incorporation of contrast between verse and chorus. Not every song will use all of them, so it’s not a checklist. But if your song is lacking all of them, it’s time to rethink:

  1. Chord Progressions. It is possible to use the same progression for your verse and chorus as long as other elements show enough contrast. But you’ll find that contrasting your verse and chorus progressions does much to make a song interesting. So try a minor verse contrasted with a major chorus. Or try a verse progression with lots of altered chords (i.e., chords that don’t belong naturally to your chosen key), switching to a short, tonally strong progression for the chorus.
  2. Vocal rhythm. Generally speaking, a chorus melody should use notes of longer rhythmic values. This works brilliantly if it’s contrasted with a verse that uses quicker, more active rhythms. (Listen to John Lennon’s “Woman” from his “Double Fantasy” album to hear the power of this effect.)
  3. Instrumental rhythm. Find ways to make a difference between the kind of beat and rhythm you use in your backing instruments between verse and chorus. For example, in Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song” (Mitch Allan, Kara DioGuardi, Jason Evigan and Audra Mae) from her new album “Piece by Piece”, you’ll hear a fast verse drumbeat (approx. 148 bpm) that then switches to a halftime feel at the chorus.
  4. Lyrics. This is standard enough to be intuitive: contrast your verse and chorus by making your verse lyrics mainly observational (narrative) in character, switching to words and phrases that are more emotional in the chorus.
  5. Melody. Find ways to contrast verse and chorus melodies by looking first at their basic ranges. A verse melody should sit lower in pitch than a chorus melody. In addition, a chorus melody should be tighter, more hook-like, and use a more constricted melodic range.

In addition to the points above, try to keep any one section of your song from getting overly long. Song intros of 4-minute pop songs typically work best if they are less than 20 seconds in length, and you should be getting to the chorus usually before the 1-minute mark.

______________Gary Ewer

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

Goal-Oriented Chord Progressions: A Description, With 7 Examples

With songs in most of the pop music genres, you usually can’t go wrong with a solid, goal-oriented progression in the chorus.

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Keyboard & GuitarWhen something is goal-oriented, it means that the end or target of the job is clear and obvious at the outset. And it’s actually a bit more than that. A goal-oriented person is someone who not only sees what the completion of a job looks like even as they begin, but they also see the importance of being able to view the target clearly before even starting.

In chord progressions, a goal-oriented progression is one where a listener can tell where the chords are headed once they’re one or two chords into the progression. Most of the time, a goal-oriented progression is targeting the tonic chord – the chord representing the key of the song.

These kinds of progressions are typically found in song choruses. I like pointing to the verse of Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” as the epitome of the opposite of a goal-oriented progression. It meanders seemingly aimlessly, travelling through various key centres. It’s wonderfully creative, but not the sort of progression you’d typically want in a chorus.

The quintessential model for the goal-oriented progression is: C F G C (I-IV-V-I). But you may be looking for something more creative. Keeping in mind that goal-oriented progressions should be short, here are some examples that might help stimulate your imagination a bit more than the standard I-IV-V-I progression:

  1. C  Bb  Ab  G (I-bVII-bVI-V)
  2. C  Eb  F  G  (I-bIII-IV-V)
  3. C  F  D7  G  (I-IV-V7/V-V)
  4. C  Gm  F  Bb  (I-v-IV-bVII)
  5. C  Am  Bb  Eb  (I-vi-bVII-bIII)
  6. C  F  Bb  Dm7  (I-IV-bVII-ii7)
  7. C  Am  Bsus4  B  (I  vi  VIIsus4  VII)

There’s no reason, of course, that these or any other goal-oriented progressions couldn’t or wouldn’t work in a verse. You can almost never go wrong with writing music that presents a strong verse that leads to a similarly strong chorus.

But goal-oriented progressions in a chorus have the benefit of making your chorus sound a bit more “hooky”, being supported by a progression that is pleasantly repetitive and predictable.

______________Gary Ewer

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

Sufjan Stevens: “Death With Dignity” – Why It Works

“Death With Dignity” has several features that allow it to serve as a model for how great songs are written.

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Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & LowellSufjan Stevens has just released a new album, “Carrie & Lowell,” and I’ve been enjoying giving the entire album a thorough listen, and in particular the first track, “Death With Dignity.”

Stevens is a master of mood, delicately placing veils of emotions and sentiments using exquisitely transparent musical layers. Without a doubt, Stevens will be seen in years to come (if he isn’t already) as one of this century’s musical geniuses. His music will be analyzed and parsed for decades to come.

Stevens’ music has a way of making you not care why it sounds so good. It just does, and you want to put your analytical mind away for a while and just listen and experience the sounds and words.

But if you’re a composer of music, something in your creative mind suddenly kicks in, and you ask yourself typical songwriter questions: How is he able to captivate me with such sparsly quiet musical effects? What is it that keeps me wanting to listen? And what can I do to my music that makes my audience feel the same way?

All music can be analyzed, and with time, you can find answers. With a song like “Death With Dignity”, for example, you’ll find that solid songwriting technique hides beneath the surface, making you believe that your emotional attraction to the music is simply magical.

But it’s important to put your songwriter hat on from time to time, and see what we can learn. If you want to know what it is about “Death With Dignity” that works so well, try these thoughts for starters:

  1. The lyric is loaded with imagery, and can’t be easily parsed in a few (or even many) listens. Every time you listen, you hear something new. It may simply be that a different phrase grabs your interest each time, but nonetheless, there is something new to hear every time. A lyric that can’t be completely absorbed in one listen is a typical feature of great songs.
  2. The melodies are mainly diatonic (i.e., mainly avoiding notes from outside the song’s key), and feature beautifully distinct contours. Melodies with a recognizable shape that can be easily traced with a pencil (both figuratively and literally) are ones that listeners usually find attractive, singable, and easy to remember.
  3. The melodies move back and forth from easy syncopations to simple, on-the-beat rhythms. Syncopations tend to build melodic energy, and you find that with the opening line, “Spirit of my silence…” Relaxation comes when the melodies shift to a mainly on-the-beat presentation, “…hear you“.
  4. The chord progressions are by-and-large simple, constantly targeting the tonic chord. Harmonic complexity has a place, and I love music that occasionally takes me on bizarre journeys. But most of the time Stevens creates his music using simple progressions that serve as a rolling landscape rather than a mind-blowing feature. (Emaj7 – A – Emaj7 – F#m – E/G# – A – F#m – E/G#…)
  5. The ending is intriguing. In several posts I’ve done on this blog, I’ve mentioned that your music, to set itself apart from other music, needs something distinctive. It’s not enough to be good; you’ve got to offer something creatively, beautifully different, or else you become one more bit of noise added to the noise we call today’s music. Many of the songs on “Carrie & Lowell” end with what sounds like a contemplative soundscape, and it’s distinctive without being pretentious.
  6.  The song uses repetition on many levels and in many different ways. Repetition is an important part of what makes music pleasing. Stevens uses the kind of repetition you expect from any song: repetitious rhythmic elements in the backing instruments, repeated verses, repeated lines of lyrics, and so on. But his most clever use is the way he uses repetition in the melodic lines, both exact (“I don’t know where to begin“) and approximate (“I can hear you” – “..afraid to be near you“). Repetition is a vital part of musical form, and works to hold music together.
  7. The instrumentation is pleasantly transparent. A thin instrumentation usually stands the test of time. The cleaner, more acoustic sounds of this album will work well into the future.

“Carrie & Lowell” is a stunningly attractive album that will hook you, relentless in its ability to keep you listening from beginning to end. Every song provides lessons that you can apply to your own music as you seek to improve your own songwriting technique.

______________Gary Ewer

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

The Role of Technology in the Writing of a Good Lyric

Technology has a way of making us think that thinking for longer than 10 seconds is an indication of a problem.

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Songwriting and technologyThe 21st century is definitely the age of technology. Few of us can imagine going through the day without checking our phone for something: making a phone call, checking the weather, texting, and countless other now-common activities.

Technology has taken over the arts as well. For songwriters and others that work with text, you’ve got many free online services that can help make your life easier:

And if you just can’t face writing a lyric for your new song, why not let the Song Lyrics Generator do it for you?!

Call me old school, but I bemoan the fact that we so readily ask a computer to do the things that arguably should be done by our brains. Sure, a rhyming dictionary can give us ideas within 10 seconds, and yes, it may be possible to have a computer create a lyric for you, but isn’t some of this supposed to be fun to do?

I’m not against tools that help us in our hour of need, but let me recommend something here: don’t let the speed of technology make you believe that spending a week (or a month or even a year) on a lyric is a bad thing.

A computer can come up with an enormous number of words for you to consider in milliseconds, but there is value to letting your own creative brain slow the process down and take its time.

If you’re looking for a way to get creative with words, a way of allowing your own imagination come up with something uniquely you, try the following:

  1. Grab a book off your bookshelf. (OK, you’re really into technology, aren’t you? So load up a random book in your Kindle).
  2. Open to any page and point to the first word you see.
  3. Now flip to a new page, and point to the first word you see.
  4. Within the next 5-10 seconds, write a line of lyric that starts with the first word you chose, and ends with the second one.

I just tried this myself, and chose the words “minutes” and “reached,” and created the line “Minutes later my arms reached.”

Using this method, you’ll come up with tons of lyrical lines you’ll probably never use, and one that says something surprisingly cogent and imaginative. And you’ll take pleasure in knowing that whatever you create is something you generated, not your smartphone.

I don’t have a problem with technology helping us when it makes sense, but I do have a problem with resorting to technology simply because thinking for 10 seconds didn’t give you an answer.

In music, the best solutions will sometimes come slowly. And when you finally create something that you love, the fact that it took weeks will make it all the more valuable to you.

______________Gary Ewer

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

Verse Melodies: Choose Your Starting Note Carefully

Starting verses on the dominant (5th) note can help entice audiences to keep listening.

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“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleTake your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Buy “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. And get a 7th eBook FREE, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Time to become the best songwriter you can be! Read more..

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Thad KopecLeonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” is a great example of a song with a simple melody that has a powerful ability to keep you listening. The lulling, captivating feature comes in large part from the fact that the first part of the verse dwells on the dominant (i.e., 5th) note of the key: B in the key of E major.

A tonic note is one that represents the key of your song. For example, the tonic note of G major is G. Starting a verse melody on a non-tonic note like this is very common in most popular music genres, and starting on the 5th note of the key is a particular favourite of Cohen: “Hallelujah” (G in the key of C major); “Closing Time” (D in the key of G major); “Take This Waltz” (F# in the key of B major); and countless others.

The benefit to starting your verse on a note other than the tonic note is that it immediately generates momentum and musical energy. In music, you can define energy by its main quality: anything that provides an incentive to keep listening. A non-tonic note feels pleasantly unstable, making the listener feel that the solid, stable sound of the tonic note will eventually happen. The lack of a tonic note in the melody results in coercing listeners to want to wait for it.

You’ll find that writing a verse melody that dwells on the dominant note often allows you the option of moving up or down from there with relative ease, and indeed Cohen’s music undulates tantalizingly first above and then below that starting note in most of his dominant note starts.

Other songwriters love the mesmerizing quality that comes from “sitting on the dominant.” Give Thad Kopec’s “You Will Know Who I Am” a listen, and you’ll hear the enticing quality of a melody that references the dominant note as an important source of musical energy.

And you can also hear the musical satisfaction that comes from hearing that verse melody eventually move down and cadence on the tonic note. It’s a gorgeous tune, and hope that we hear a lot more from Kopec in the future.

I’ve mentioned mainly verse melodies in this post, because it’s the verse that needs a good amount of momentum and enticement to keep audiences listening until the chorus. You’ll find that chorus melodies feature the tonic note a lot more, particularly toward the latter half of chorus melodies. The tonic note gives a kind of musical release that’s a common feature of choruses.

Offering too much tonic note in the verse can compromise musical energy. So in your verse melodies, look for ways of avoiding too much tonic note. You should find what you’re looking for by starting verses on either the 5th or 3rd note of your chosen key.

______________Gary Ewer

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

Borrowing Musical Ideas from Other Songs

Here’s a way to take pre-existing songs and borrow melodic ideas (without anyone knowing).

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Songwriting music paperEver have one of those days when you really feel like writing a new song, but your creative mind is letting you down? When that happens, it’s frustrating.

Here’s an idea that can help. The following ideas come from Chapter 3 of my book, “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music.” It involves borrowing some melodic ideas from existing songs. Don’t worry, this is not a lesson in how to plagiarize. What it does is takes some melodic fragments from a song you know, and then reorganizing the notes to come up with something completely new.

Here’s a step-by-step procedure:

  1. Choose a song chorus with a relatively small tone set (i.e., using few distinct pitches). Some examples: ‘Hound Dog’ (Leiber & Stoller), ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ (Bruce Springsteen), ‘One More Night’ (Maroon 5), or ‘Alejandro’ (Lady Gaga).
  2. With your guitar or keyboard instrument, identify the individual pitches that comprise the main part of the melody. For example, ‘Hound Dog’ uses the notes G-A-C-D-D#-E, listed from low to high.
  3. Play the list of notes in various ways, from low to high, high to low, and in random order.
  4. Try to put the originating song out of your mind, and begin to construct a new song melody. It is best to choose a performing style and tempo as different as possible from the originating song. It is not necessary to use all the pitches.
  5. As you work out fragments of melody, develop a chord progression to accompany it.

There are several ways to vary this exercise.

  1. Try playing the original melody backwards.
  2. See if you get good results by inverting the original melody (Start on the same note, but move in an opposite direction, keeping the same intervals: i.e., if the original melody moves up one tone from D to E, move down one tone from D to C.)

______________Gary Ewer

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

Creating That All-Important Distinction Between Your Songs and Everyone Else’s

Are your songs innovative and fresh enough to grab attention? How you respond to these 5 questions will determine that answer.

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“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleTake your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Buy “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. And get a 7th eBook FREE, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Time to become the best songwriter you can be! Read more..

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Success in music is like walking a tightrope. It’s a precarious wobble between sounding innovative, but also sounding enough like everyone else that you build a fan base rather than scare new listeners away. And it’s not easy. The Beatles did it by writing and performing tunes that were more predictable than innovative at first (“She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, etc.) Once they had built a huge following, it was then possible for them to pull that considerable following along to a new and innovative world: “I Am the Walrus”, “A Day In the Life”, etc.) But for The Beatles, even their early music had elements that seemed fresh, exciting and forward-looking. Every song had something to thrill the listener, even if it was just the “Yeah, yeah yeah!” of “She Loves You.” And that’s the point. If you want to set yourself apart from everyone else’s music, you’ve got to give the audience something – anything – that makes your music even just that little bit different. The innovation that I’m talking about may actually go beyond being a songwriting issue, and be more one of musical arranging and production. Being different from everyone else doesn’t guarantee you an audience that’s willing to come along with you. Uniqueness for uniqueness’s sake can actually speed up the demise of a promising musical career. But uniqueness that serves the music, that enhances the structure of your songs — that’s something worth exploring. If you’ve been building your own catalogue of songs over the past few years, and you’ve got some or most of it recorded, take some time to listen to those recordings, one after the other, and after each song ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What’s this song’s most exciting moment?
  2. What is innovative in this song? (What sets it apart from everyone else’s music in this genre?)
  3. What happens in the first 15 seconds that makes someone want to keep listening?
  4. Why would someone want to listen again to this song?
  5. Does each song in my catalogue offer my audience a unique and exciting musical experience?

The best singer-songwriters or groups in the music business — the ones that have stood the test of time and have built a huge following for themselves — are the ones that provide a unique and diverse musical experience for their listenership with every new tune they release. In that sense, providing a unique experience for your listeners with each song becomes a hallmark of what you do. Your listeners learn to “expect the unexpected,” and at least in the music business, that’s an exciting life for both you and your audience.

______________Gary Ewer

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

When and How to Use Altered Chords in Your Progressions

Altered chords can help add a bit of creativity to an otherwise mundane progression. Here’s how.

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GuitarAn altered chord is one that doesn’t naturally exist in your chosen key. If your song is in C major, the chords that naturally exist are: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim. That’s because the roots of those chords (i.e., the letter names) are the ones that come from a C major scale.

You can add tones to those chords to enhance those ones (G7, for example), but even with added tones, they are still considered to be the naturally-occurring ones. Any other chord is considered to be an altered chord.

You can write a lot of music using just the naturally-occurring ones, but it’s quite common to mix in a few altered chords. The questions are: 1) Are there any rules about when you might use those altered chords, and 2) How do you use them?

Altered chords are best used to either pull progressions momentarily out of a strong sense of key, or to provide interesting colour to an otherwise mundane progression.

Here’s an example of an altered chord that achieves the first circumstance: pulling the progression away from a key. (The altered chords are in bold):

EX 1: C  F  D7  G  Am  Bb  C.

The D7 is an altered chord — a type of secondary dominant — because the kind of chord that normally uses D as a root in this key is Dm. The Bb is an altered chord because the note Bb does not naturally occur in the key of C major.

Here’s an example of a progression that achieves the second circumstance: adding interesting colour to the progression:

EX 2: C  F  Fm  C/G  G  C

The Fm is a type of modal mixture chord, which simply means that it normally belongs to the key of C minor.

How to Use Altered Chords

If you find it confusing when to consider using altered chords, think about what your progression would actually be if you used the naturally-occurring (i.e., diatonic) version of the chord. In the Example 1 progression, it may not have occurred to you to use D7. Perhaps your original thought was to use Dm. And Bb may not have occurred to you; you may have originally thought that a simple G chord was going to be your choice to move easily back to C.

There are lots of situations that might easily allow for altered chords. Here’s a short list of the three most common situations, and how to add them in:

  1. Considering modal mixture chords. The most common modal mixture chord is changing the major IV-chord to a minor one (i.e., changing F to Fm). But you can also change a minor ii-chord to a diminished ii (Dm to Ddim), or a major I-chord to a minor i (C to Cm). Examples: C  F  Ddim  G  C; or C  Dm  Cm/Eb  Dm  C.
  2. Considering a secondary dominant chord. For this type, try changing a minor chord to a major one (Dm to D or D7). This works especially well if the chord that follows it has a root that’s 4 notes higher. So changing Dm to D7 works well if the next chord is based on G. Examples: C  G  E7  Am  G  C; or C  F  Dm  A7  D7  C.
  3. Considering a Flat-III, Flat-VI, or Flat-VII. These chords are actually types of modal mixtures, but they sound quite different because the notes they’re based on don’t actually exist in the chosen key. Like a secondary dominant, they often work well to pull the music in a slightly different direction regarding key. Examples: C  Eb  F  G  C; or C  G  Ab  Eb  F  G  C.

As with all alterations you might consider for your music, keep in mind that spicing up chord progressions should always be done carefully, realizing that changing the kinds of chords you use can have a very strong impact on how your music is perceived. Always let your ears (and personal taste) be your guide.

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

With Songwriting, Basic Curiosity Is an Essential Ingredient

No good musician works in a vacuum. Here’s how to let curiosity guide your songwriting career.

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“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleTake your songwriting to a new level of excellence. Buy “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. And get a 7th eBook FREE, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Read more..

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Curious musicianIn my years of teaching, whether that’s been conducting bands or orchestras, teaching music composition, or giving songwriting tutorials, I’ve noticed one important attribute that all good musicians have: curiosity.

The best musicians are the ones that constantly ask why or what. Why something sounds good to them, why it seems to work, and then what they can do to integrate those ideas when creating their own music.

The best musicians I’ve encountered over the years have been the ones bringing new recordings to my attention, and telling me what they like about them. Or they would play something for me and say, “What’s that chord?” or “Tell me what’s going on there…”

No good musician works in a vacuum. Anyone who has succeeded in this business has done so because they’re reacting to something that someone else has already written. They’re curious about everything.

If you aren’t a curious sort of person, there’s not much that anyone can do to change that. But the good news is that if you aren’t curious, you likely aren’t worried about it, and you probably aren’t reading this blog, or any other material that relates to songwriting.

If you are curious, then I hope you are allowing your curiosity to guide you, and to make you a better songwriter. How do you do that?

  1. Listen to good music. If you don’t know what you should be listening to, it can be a good start to google “Best [insert genre] songwriters today.” And get listening.
  2. If applicable, buy/listen to entire albums. You get a good sense of how a singer-songwriter thinks if you listen to an entire album of their music. These days, singles dominate the listening experience (sadly), but there are still artists presenting their work as entire albums or at least EPs.
  3. Read interviews with good songwriters. Again, Google can be your friend with this. There are lots of interviews that describe the songwriting process, and you’d be amazed how much good information you can pick up that way.
  4. Make notes on what you listen to. Keep a songwriter’s journal, and write down what you like and why you like it. Putting your thoughts down in writing makes it easier for you to sort your thoughts out, and more likely that your own music will be positively influenced.
  5. Present your songs in song circles and other musical gatherings. Songwriting circles are usually great places to get honest, respectful feedback. Be a good listener, and take any criticism in the spirit with which it’s given.

About point #1 above, your curiosity needs to be leading you further afield than the basic Top-40 offerings from the Billboard Hot 100. The music world is a large and diverse place, and if you aren’t digging down to find more exciting, innovative music than the Hot 100, your own songwriting skills are going to be stunted.

______________Gary Ewer

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

Writing Songs, and Making People Listen

How do you get and then keep an audience’s attention?

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Rock concertSimply choosing a compelling song topic is not usually enough when it comes to grabbing an audience’s attention. The fact is, it’s all about how you bring lyrics, melody and chords together that will build your audience base.

Choosing a song topic is merely the first step, and you could argue that it’s not the most important one, either, since many great songs barely rise above “I love you”. But it’s what they do to transmit that message that makes or breaks a song.

In the best sense of the word, you want to force people listen. And then you want to make it easy for them to keep listening once they’ve started. There is no one best way to achieve that. It comes down to how the various elements in your song work together that counts.

That partnership is different for every song you’ll ever write. In some songs, audiences will be captivated by how you work interesting altered chords into your progression. For others, the chords may be simple and unassuming, leaving the job of grabbing listener interest to the lyric. For other songs, the undulating melody and how it partners with the lyric may be the important aspect.

Here are some basic tips to keep in mind as you work to keep audiences hooked on your song.

  1. In most of the pop genres, the quality of your lyrics is always an important consideration. What you’re saying, and how you say it, is going to make or break that all-important connection to your listeners. It’s well worth the time spent to work and rework your lyrics until they flow easily and effortlessly.
  2. Use conversational, everyday words in your lyric. A lyric, though written, works best when it sounds like someone would say those words.
  3. Let the natural up-and-down flow of your spoken lyric inform your melody. In other words, as you speak your lyric, take note of where your voice naturally rises and falls, and let that be a guide as you create your melodies.
  4. Complex chord progressions still need to make sense on some level. Most of the time, a simple progression that makes use of 4 or 5 chords in various ways will be all you need to properly convey musical meaning to your audience. As with most musical elements, simplicity almost always trumps complexity.
  5. It almost always sounds better when create chords to support a melody, rather than creating a melody to support the chords. People tend to remember catchy bits of melody more so than a chord progression. You will often notice that if you think of melodic ideas, you can imagine the chords underneath them, and it’s a very natural and strong way to work.
  6. Try starting with the chorus. Get a chorus working first by thinking of something hooky and memorable, with an emotional lyric. Then move back into the verse, and find the words, melodic shapes and chords that lead naturally to that chorus. Working this way creates a powerful link between verse and chorus that keeps a listener’s mind from straying.

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Gary Ewer

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

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