Moving a Chorus Melody Higher For a Shot of Energy

Moving a chorus higher will solve many a boring song.

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Michael Jackson - Dirty DianaWhen we talk about melodic range we’re talking about the number of notes between the lowest and highest notes. Some songs use a large range:

  • ballads
  • story songs
  • other melody-rich, slower songs.

Songs with a constricted range tend to be:

  • faster
  • more rhythmically energetic.
  • songs with lyrics that express a strong opinion or attitude.

Even if you write songs guided mainly by your musical instincts, you’ll notice that your song choruses tend to be higher in pitch than your verse melodies. And if that’s not the case — in other words, if your verse and chorus tend to sit in the same basic range — you may find that your songs sound flat, lethargic, and uninteresting.

Comparing verse and chorus range is the first item on the list to check if you’re struggling to generate musical excitement with your songs. There doesn’t need to be a significant difference, but it generally needs to be there.

One of the benefits of using higher notes in a chorus is the impression of creating a climactic moment within your song. Take a look at the following line diagram of a typical song in verse-chorus format:

Verse-Chorus Melodic Range

You’ll see that the verse sits lower in pitch, rises to meet the chorus, and then often descends slightly at the end. The highest notes often occur either at the start of the chorus, or (as in this diagram), nearer the end of the chorus melody. This plan describes a song like, for example, “Dirty Diana” (Michael Jackson)

That higher moment or two in the chorus creates what can be thought of as a climactic moment, a kind of musical “bull’s eye” that serves as a focus for the entire melodic design from verse to chorus. The listener feels energy increasing as the melody moves upward, and the highest note signals a kind of apex, down from which energy then dissipates, in time for the next verse.

Songwriters often look in the wrong direction when trying to solve the problem of boring songs. Sometimes the problem is with weak instrumentation (and weak playing), overly-repetitive melodic ideas or lyrics, or songs that don’t tap into any kind of universal message.

But more often than not, the biggest problems arise when melodies all sit in the same basic range, with no noticeable contour or design. Almost always, those kinds of problems can be solved by edging your chorus melody higher.

______________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.“)

Songwriting: Getting a 2-Part Verse Working

Writing a song with a 2-part verse means creating a short musical journey that moves away from – then back toward – the tonic chord.

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The BeatlesA 2-part verse simply means that you’re writing an 8- or 16-bar verse that sounds to be clearly in two distinct sections. Think of The Beatles’ “In My Life” as a good example of this. The first 4 (or 8) bars are solidly in A major. The next 4 (or 8) bars make a short (very short) journey that visits other chords, including an altered chord on Flat-VII, before quickly sitting strongly back in A major.

Most songs in this format, therefore, follow this kind of plan:

Typical 2-Part Verse Structure

Since most songs are very short (“In My Life” is only 2-and-a-half minutes in length), giving the impression of having taken a musical journey is tricky. But it’s done with a combination of music, and of course the right lyric.

The verse of “In My Life” (key of A major) is followed with an instrumental bridge, and it’s certain that you’ll have to follow it with something, or your song will be either too short or too repetitious. By changing key at the end of the second verse, it’s possible to get the “freshness” required to do a 3rd and 4th verse without needing a bridge. Your ears will tell you if it’s working.

If you take “In My Life” apart and look at it from a chord progression point of view, you get this:

VERSE, PART 1:

A  F#m  A7  D  Dm  A

DESCRIPTION: A nice little journey around the A-major neighbourhood. The Dm is a so-called modal mixture chord, and in this context it tends to add a touch of melancholy to the music.

VERSE, PART 2:

F#m  Bm  G  A | F#m  B  D  Dm  A

DESCRIPTION: This progression is a bit longer than the one for Part 1. The inclusion of the B chord gives the feeling that the music has modulated (changed key) to F# dorian. The B chord makes it relatively easy to get to D, and the verse then ends the way that Part 1 ends, which gives a nice sense of symmetry.

And not just symmetry: it makes for a really nice, short, musical journey.

If you’re working on improving your abilities to write a good, captivating verse-without-chorus structure, here are the things to consider:

  1. Part 1 should be a short, self-contained melody that’s 4- or 8-bars in length. “Self-contained” means that it sounds largely musically complete, often starting and ending on the tonic chord with only 1 or perhaps 2 other chords. It’s often desirable to avoid overuse of the tonic note in the melody.
  2. Part 2 should feature a few more chords where the musical journey takes flight, moving away from the obviousness of the tonic chord. This section is often where you’ll find the song’s highest notes. It should end with a tonic chord, making Parts 1 and 2 a complete verse.

Once you’ve got that much, you then need to think about how you’re going to extend the song, since 2 verses isn’t much, and simply repeating the verses can get repetitive and boring. So you’ll then want to consider:

  1. An instrumental bridge.
  2. A sung bridge.
  3. An instrumental solo.
  4. A repeated verse in a higher key.

If you find it hard to work out the chords that might serve this kind of form well, here are a few to experiment with:

Part 1: C  F  Am  G|| Part 2: Am  Bb  F  Bb |Am  Bb  F  C

Part 1: C  Dm  Bb  C || Part 2: Dm  Em  D7  G  |Am  F  G  C

Part 1: C  G  Am  C || Part 2: Em  F  C  D  |Em  Dm  F  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.“)

A Verse, a Chorus… And Then What?

Written by Gary Ewer, author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-ebook Bundle.

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Piano player singer-songwriterOnce you’ve got a great idea for a song (which often means that you’ve got a great idea for a chorus), you’ll find that the next big challenge is to create a verse that partners well with it. If you’ve read my last blog post, you’ll know the characteristics of a good verse.

And so now you’ve got a verse and a chorus. For many songwriters, it’s what happens next that’s the tricky part. Do you often get stuck at this point? How do you proceed beyond verse 1?

For most, it’s dealing with the lyrics that presents the biggest problem when trying to extend your song idea beyond that initial verse-chorus partnership. This is especially tricky if your lyric isn’t specifically a story, but really more of a “this is the way things are for me right now” kind of song. What do you do about verse 2?

For developing a verse 2 lyric, here are some suggestions:

For songs that mainly tell a story (Example: “The Boxer”, Paul Simon)

Verse 2 is relatively easy, because you’ll want to simply keep telling the story. In doing so, try to find some way (through word choice, imagery and description of situations) to slightly heighten the emotional content of your lyric.

For songs that mainly describe relationship issues (Example: “Single Ladies”, Beyoncé, and others)

Verse 2 becomes tricky for these kinds of songs, because you’ll likely have the feeling that you’ve already done this in verse 1. To write a successful verse 2, describe other aspects of the relationship that heighten the emotional level of the song. If verse 1 spoke about how things used to be good, but aren’t so good anymore, use verse 2 to become more specific. Dig down into the situation to find words and phrases that pull the listeners into your situation. The key to a good verse 2 is intensifying the emotion.

For songs that mainly address social justice issues  (Example: “Peace Train”, Cat Stevens)

This is a type of song that you’ll want to work to get listeners feeling the way you do. That’s often best done by using verse 1 to describe what you’re talking about, using the chorus to express your overall emotions about that, and then using verse 2 to perhaps describe what’s going to happen if we don’t all fix this situation.

For songs that mainly describe emotions (Example: “Happy”, Pharrell Williams)

The trickiest part about a song for which the topic is an emotion is: how to contour the emotional content of your song in a typical verse-chorus format, where verses are less emotional than the chorus. In Pharrell’s song “Happy”, he uses verse 1 to describe how happy he is. The chorus is simply an ode to the word “happy.” Verse 2 changes the focus and targets negativity, explaining that it doesn’t matter how negative the people around him are, he plans to be… happy! As with any other song, it’s a matter of increasing the emotional content of the lyric as the song progresses from verse 1 to verse 2.

As you scan through the different kinds of song lyrics you can write, you start to see a commonality: emotional content needs to increase in verse 2. This goes hand in hand with the songwriting principle that says that basic song energy needs to increase as well.

That means that you’ll want to be sure that instrumentation builds when you compare verses 1 and 2. You may also want to consider adding some backing vocals, a busier percussion layer, and possibly move instrumental voicings higher in order to give the lyrics a boost.

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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.“)

Checklist: Is Your Verse Helping Or Hurting Your Song?

If you verse is dying and you can’t figure out why, try this checklist.

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Song Melody ChecklistIt’s easier to tell if a chorus is working well than if a verse is working well. That’s because most good choruses are based on a strong, catchy hook, and so to evaluate a chorus is usually a matter of making sure that the hook is doing its job.

But verses are trickier because they have a different — you could even say  more complicated — structure. Because they’re telling a story or describing a situation, a verse melody can meander and wander about more than a chorus melody usually does. And then that often means that it will tolerate a longer, more complex chord progression than what you’d normally find in a chorus.

What follows is a checklist you can use to evaluate the verse of your latest song. Use it only if you have concerns about it; some verses work really well, even though it may seemingly be “breaking the rules.”

If you find that your verse sounds boring, or is just not clicking somehow, check the following list. If you find that many or most of the statements don’t apply to your verse, it may be time to do some reworking.

VERSE CHECKLIST (You want the following statements to be generally true):

MELODY

  • The melody is generally lower in pitch than the chorus that follows it.
  • There is a nice sense of repetition in the melody: short melodic ideas that get exactly or approximately repeated.
  • The melody is comprised of mainly stepwise (one note to its adjacent one) motion, with a few leaps.
  • The melody tends to move higher as it moves toward the chorus.
  • If the melody is short, you may have included a pre-chorus to make for a better attachment to the chorus.

CHORD PROGRESSION

  • There is a nice mix of strong progressions and fragile ones — ones that wander a bit and avoid the tonic chord.
  • The tonic chord becomes more obvious as you approach the chorus.
  • There is a good sense of harmonic rhythm — a recognizable pattern to how frequently chords change (every 4 or 8 beats, for example).

LYRICS

  • The lyrics describe situations and people, and leave strong emotional responses for the chorus.
  • The lyrics present a compelling storyline that requires the listener to wonder, and to look for answers (either literally or metaphorically) that will be found in the chorus or bridge.
  • The lyrics use a good mix of various literary devices: metaphors, similes, imagery, alliteration, etc.
  • The rhythm of the verse lyrics tend to be busier than what you’d find in a chorus, and make more use of syncopation and other rhythmic complexities.
  •  The rhythms of the lyric fit the natural pulse of the words.

Remember to use this checklist (or any song checklist) only if you perceive problems with your song. Some songs succeed in spite of doing things that are not the norm in the chosen genre, and that’s to be expected in any art form.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer – Follow Gary on Twitter 

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Improvising Melodic Ideas By Changing the Starting Note

When trying to write a song that differs from your last one, don’t forget the importance of a new starting note.

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Singer - SongwriterIf you find that all of your song melodies sound uncomfortably similar, the problem is likely rooted in how you start them. If you get melodic ideas by improvising tunes over a chord progression, but everything comes up sounding like the song you’d just written last week, you’re likely doing one of the following:

  1. You’re using similar chord progressions from song to song. You might find yourself always resorting to a I-vi-ii-V-I (C-Am-Dm-G-C) progression, or something similar.
  2. You’re starting all your melodies on the same scale degree. For example, you might find that you tend to start your melodies on the 3rd note of the tonic chord.
  3. You’re using similar rhythmic ideas from song to song. In other words, you may find that you like to start melodies by lingering on the first note, then following it with rapid notes that move upward.
  4. You’re writing all your songs using a similar tempo.

The obvious solution here is to be sure to change your approach as much as possible from one song to the next. Use progressions that don’t bear much resemblance to the last song you wrote, develop a different backing rhythm, feel and tempo.

And don’t forget the importance of starting your new melody on a different first note from your previous song.

The best analogy here is to think about going for a walk. If you start all your walks from the same location, at least part of your walk will look the same. The best way to take a walk in which you see new things is to start from a new location.

It helps to come up with a chord progression that doesn’t simply mimic what you did in last week’s song. One great idea is to try starting on a non-tonic chord, something like: ii-V-I-vi-IV-V-I-V (Dm-G-C-Am-F-G-C-G), then try this:

  1. PLAY IT! Play through the progression several times to get familiar with it.
  2. CHANGE VOICINGS. Try playing through the progression using different chord voicings, both high and low. By moving the chords higher and lower, you’ll start to hear melodic ideas being implied by the upper notes of your voicings.
  3. HUM A STARTING NOTE. This should be either the 1st, 3rd or 5th note of your first chord. Play through your progression several times, improvising melodic shapes and ideas.
  4. IMPROVISE. Start the progression again, and improvise melodic shapes starting on a different note. Keep playing through your progression, improvising new ideas.

It’s important to record what you’re singing here. Don’t necessarily try to create entire melodies at this point. You’re simply trying to get a hooky idea that serves as a starting point for something that can grow into a larger melody.

And of course, the point here is that you’re trying to create something that doesn’t bear much resemblance to your most recent songs.

It can sometimes help, in this method, to concentrate on purposely trying to create something that goes in an entirely new direction. The obvious benefit to this is that you avoid being labeled. Everything you write has a new sound, a new feel, a new approach and a new mood.

And it can often start by simply determining to begin with a new note.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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6 Steps to a Good, Healthy Fan Base

It takes more than good music to build a fan base; it takes personality.

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Singer-SongwriterOne thing that technology has done for the songwriter is made it easier to create great music in the comfort of your own house. While big studios have all the bells and whistles you’ll ever need to get the job done, it’s amazing what you can do these days, the quality you can attain, and then the ease with which you can distribute your songs to the world, literally from your bedroom.

Creating great music from your bedroom can accentuate a problem, though: causing you to neglect the need of a good, healthy fan base. There you are, providing great tunes via your website, really nicely recorded, but no one’s buying.

If you look at any successful singer-songwriter/band, you’re looking at a person or group that’s:

  1. likeable, and
  2. good at what they do.

…And preferably in that order.

The best musicians out there started their careers by building up a following of people that didn’t just love their music — they loved them. Using humour, opinions, style and of course music, the world’s best musicians create a community of fans that love everything they do. You can’t do that without some good music, of course. But those first successes need to be used primarily to build your fan base.

Once you’ve got those fans loving you, your music becomes magical. They look for any information they can possibly find out about you. They want to see every interview, go to your concerts, hear more of your music, and then get others on board.

You might think that the likability of a musician is directly related to the quality of their music, and that writing and recording great music will naturally lead to a bigger fan base. But it is vital to remember that people connect emotionally to people, and rarely to music.

So if you’re wondering why the world hasn’t noticed the quality of your songs (both the writing and the recordings), you need to ask yourself what you’ve done lately to build your audience base.

Here’s what you need to do to be sure that your audience is growing daily:

  1. Make it easy for people to find and hear your music. Whether you do it professionally or on your own, the point is the same: be sure that others can hear your music. That’s going to involve social media and streaming.
  2. Develop your personality. Good music on its own has little longterm power to build an audience base. But partner it up with your face and your voice by way of online interviews, videos of you talking directly to fans, plus videos of you interacting with other people and musicians, and you’ll start to see the benefits that come from having a personality.
  3. Perform live music. Getting your music out and in front of people is one more way to show your personality to the world, and it’s such an important part of success.
  4. Improve your performance chops. Weak performances won’t impress. Work daily on getting your own instrumental abilities to shine, and then rehearse regularly with your band to get everything to click.
  5. Get professional advice on how to develop an online presence. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay a lot of money. But a weak web presence that looks as though it was thrown together by an amateur can kill your attempts to build your audience.
  6. Write and record songs regularly. Don’t sit on your laurels. Let your latest success be yesterday’s news, and get working on your next project.

______________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.“)

5 Ways to Know If You’ve Accidentally Plagiarized Someone Else’s Song

Here’s a list of 5 easy things to try if you think you may have mistakenly copied someone else’s song.

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Accidental plagiarismYou’d think that plagiarizing would happen a lot more than it does. You’d think that with a limited number of notes that we’d be hearing about accidentally copying someone else’s tune all the time. But there are more than enough notes, chords, rhythms and melodies that await discovery. It’s not usually a concern.

But you may find that some songs come together so easily for you that you worry that you’ve accidentally plagiarized someone else’s song. Surely you can’t have thought up that song so easily!

If you’ve written a song and you have that nagging feeling that you’ve heard it somewhere before, there are things you can do that will confirm either that you’re the real author, or that you’ve innocently taken another writer’s song that’s been sitting on the back burner of your brain:

  1. Play the song for someone else. Hum the song with a simple guitar or keyboard backing. Humming allows the listener to judge the music without being distracted by the lyrics.
  2. Try the song at different tempos. You may have inadvertently “borrowed” someone else’s song, and changing the tempo to something faster or slower may reveal a bit more of the original song.
  3. Move the song’s key higher, and then lower. A song can sound dramatically different as you move it upward or downward in pitch (key). That’s because vocal energy changes the way the song comes across. In moving it around, you may eventually discover a different song suddenly popping into your mind.
  4. Try the song with a different time signature. Most of the time, pop songwriters will use 4/4 time, a time signature comprised of alternating strong and weak beats. If your song sounds uncomfortably familiar to you, you might try trying to fit it into a 3/4 time signature, which is usually a strong beat followed by two weak beats. (For example, here’s “Hey Jude“, reworked into 3/4 time.)
  5. Put the song away and take it out a few days later. Sometimes we get so close to the music we write that we can’t really “hear it” anymore. Putting a song away is a great idea not just to solve authorship issues like this, but can also help you come up with good alternate chords, fix a bit of lyric that’s not working, and to come up with new instrumental ideas. By putting the song away for a week or so, and then giving it another listen, you have the advantage of hearing it with fresh ears. Often, if accidental plagiarizing has happened, hearing your song again after a week-long absence may prod your memory.

Once you’ve done those things, if you still can’t identify a song that you fear you’ve accidentally copied, relax and claim it! You’ve probably written it, and it’s just a simple matter of the ease with which it came together was making you nervous.

Once you’ve performed the song a few times, if no one claims to have heard it before, you’re probably free and clear to do with it whatever you’d like.

______________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.“)

Composing Ideas Instead of Songs Can Get You Through a Creative Block

If writer’s block has you in its grip, reduce the pressure by focusing on writing ideas instead of songs.

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One of the most common causes of moderate or severe writer’s block is the fear of failure. It usually begins this way: you start creating song ideas (bits of melody,Songwriting by candlelight chords, lyrics), and then you try but fail to make those ideas grow into something bigger.

That’s normal for every songwriter; writing music is a back-and-forth process of creating ideas, then creating new ones to attach to the original ones, tossing the ones that don’t go anywhere, creating new ideas… and so on. The new ideas stimulate your imagination, and you create even more ideas, glue them together and eventually wind up with a finished song.

But fear starts to creep in if you find that most of what you’re creating isn’t working. A little voice in the back of your mind sticks its nose into the process, saying, “What if you never finish this?”

That sense of doubt is also normal, and all composers of music deal with it. But just like a batter who starts to doubt his abilities, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fear of failing at your latest attempt has a way of freezing your creative mind until you seem unable to do anything.

If you find that you are prone to this sort of negative thought pattern, why not change the way you think about what you’re doing when you write songs. Instead of labelling what you’re doing songwriting, why not simply think of it as composing ideas.

Since all songs are a chain of musical ideas, all partnering together to produce a coherent musical journey, you can do a lot to lessen the stress and fear that causes writer’s block simply by taking a break from writing songs, and focus instead on writing ideas.

A musical idea can exist in many forms:

  1. A drum beat/pattern/groove.
  2. A bass line with a rhythmic pattern.
  3. A small melodic idea.
  4. A short 2- or 3-chord progression with a rhythmic pattern.
  5. A line or two of lyric.

I strongly believe in working through a creative block. In other words, don’t let fear get the best of you. But there is a way of keeping frustration to a minimum. Here’s a process I’d strongly recommend when you feel frustration interrupting your songwriting sessions:

  1. Set a daily writing schedule. Set aside time every day (or almost every day) that is your time to write. That should be a standard procedure for all writers.
  2. For the purposes of getting writer’s block under control, split your writing time into two sessions. It’s best if you’re able to have at least a half hour or so between sessions. So if you normally write for an hour, create two half hour sessions, with a good amount of “head-clearing time” between each session.
  3. Use the first session to work on short ideas. Don’t sit down to write a song. That’s what’s been frustrating you. Simply come up with short ideas with no commitment to working them into a song. You’ll love the sense of freedom and musical relaxation this gives you.
  4. Use the second session to work on songs. You’ll have a treasure trove of short musical ideas from your first session that you’re able to use as material, if you’d like.
  5. If frustration or fear takes over, switch back to composing ideas.

The benefit to this way of working is that it becomes easier to keep your moderate or severe block under control. You’ll love the shot of confidence you get by simply committing to writing short ideas. It frees you from wondering how to finish your latest song.

And the release from fear will usually allow the creative process to strengthen, and y you’ll be back to writing freely in no time.

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Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music” (Gary Ewer) is a hardcover book available from Amazon, Backbeat Books, or any other online bookseller.

______________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 Song Lyrics With a Double Meaning

Creating double meaning lyrics usually means finding a first, superficial topic, and then a deeper, more profound one to partner with it.

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Don McLean - American PieRock music is rife with examples of song lyrics that have a double meaning. There’s the obvious, superficial meaning, and then there’s the deeper “I-wonder-if-that’s-what-they’re-singing-about?” meaning.

 

Don McLean’s “American Pie” is full of descriptions and plot lines that represent other things, all loosely woven together to form an abstract narrative about music in general, and specifically “the day that music died.” The images are metaphorical, and the mystical, innovative way that the story unfolds is what indicates to listeners that they are encountering a song with a double meaning.

Some songwriters will write songs that are relatively straightforward, and then spend most of their careers denying that there’s anything more than what you see at the outset. A great example of this is Lennon & McCartney’s “Yellow Submarine,” which was thought by some to be a kind of social or political commentary. In fact, it really was a children’s song with largely nonsense lyrics about a submarine.

For many songwriters, creating lyrics with a double meaning is enticing, because it compels the audience to spend time trying to figure it all out, and there’s nothing quite as exciting as knowing that people are poring over your words, debating and arguing with others regarding what you really mean. The end result is that your lyrics get a deeper scrutiny and fuller discussion, and that’s not usually a bad thing.

There are lots of ways to approach the creating of lyrics with double meaning, so if you’re interested in trying, give the following method a try. It involves creating a first, superficial topic, then a deeper one. And then as a 3rd step, you create a line of lyric that comes close to exposing the double meaning.

  1. Create a first “superficial” topic. The superficial topic works best if it’s a toss-off, “who’d-ever-write-a-song-about-that?” kind of topic. This is the song topic that the listener will notice first and foremost, such as a song about:
    1. the colour of your house;
    2. you got a new hair style;
    3. you bought a new fish for your aquarium; and/or so on…
  2. Choose a second deeper, more powerful and profound topic that represents what you really are writing about. This is the topic that you tease your audience with. It might be a topic that you don’t want to display in an overt way (60s rockers often chose drugs or sex as their “real” topic.) Or it might be the death of a loved one, your view about religion or politics, or some other topic that reflects life’s deeper concerns.
  3. Brainstorm some lines of lyric that pertain directly to your first topic, but could be construed as a possible comment on your second topic. This is where– theoretically anyway — the fun begins. It’s best if you can pull together some sort of a story line or coherent commentary.

Try the following exercise. Take a look at the two topics, and try to create a line of lyric that comes close to exposing the double meaning. I’ve given an example:

  • FIRST Topic: A stop-over at a hotel
  • SECOND Topic: The drug/celebrity culture of California
  • Line of lyric that pulls them together: “‘Relax,’ said the night man, ‘We are programmed to receive./’You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.'” Hotel California, (Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley).

Now you give it a try:

  • FIRST Topic: Taking an ocean cruise
  • SECOND Topic: A lifelong friendship that’s coming to a painful end.
  • Line of lyric that pulls them together:
  • FIRST topic: Walking through a park
  • SECOND Topic: Walking past a homeless person
  • Line of lyric that pulls them together:
  • FIRST Topic: Studying for a test
  • SECOND Topic: Falling in love
  • Line of lyric that pulls them together:

For the line of lyric that pulls them together, remember that this doesn’t have to be the final line of the song, as is the case with “Hotel California.” It simply needs to be a line that comes close to exposing the double meaning without crossing the line – without necessarily admitting the existence of the double meaning. Done well, it can make lyric writing a lot of fun.

______________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.“)

Praise G-sus, and Other Non-chord Tones

Chord suspensions are one way to take a standard progression and add a bit of colour.

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Guitarist - Band concertMany songwriters engage in a seemingly endless search for the so-called killer chord progression. As I’ve stated often on this blog, progressions that are basic, uncomplicated and predictable do not usually have a negative effect on music. You can still write music that challenges your audience’s ears while sticking with simple, diatonic chords.

Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with trying to spice up the harmonic sound of your music with more interesting chords. One way to do this is by adding non-chord tones to standard progressions.

While a chord tone, of course, is a note that belongs to a standard 3-note chord, which we call a triad, a non-chord tone is any note that you might add to that chord which doesn’t usually belong.

For example, a G chord is made up of 3 chord tones, G-B-D. In the key of C major, that G chord likes to move to the C chord, like this:

Cadence in C majorLISTEN (Opens in new tab or window)

 

It’s a standard authentic cadence in C major. You play the C chord, you follow it with a G. Once you’ve played that G chord, you can hear that the next chord “wants” to be C. That’s the so-called dominant function in music. The G chord makes us want to hear a C chord again.

You can replace that B in the G chord with a C. In that case, you’ve changed the G-chord into something else: Gsus (or Gsus4):

Gsus4

 

LISTEN

You can hear that when you play a suspension, like this Gsus4, that it usually “resolves” first to its pure triad form (G-B-D) before moving on to the C chord, like this:

Suspension resolving properly

LISTEN

There are quite a few different kinds of non-chord tones that you can play around with in your music, but certainly the most common type is the 4-3 suspension I’ve just described. You can add suspensions to almost any progression, but keep in mind that you’ll get most musical satisfaction out of them by allowing the chord to resolve to its basic form first before continuing with the progression.

Also keep in mind that a suspension can make music sound a bit trite or corny if they’re used too often. But in the right balance they can be a way to take a standard progression and add a few nice colours.

Two example that demonstrate sus4 chords, both on the V-chord and the I-chord:

  • John Lennon: “Woman” (Intro: Ebsus4  Eb  Fm7/Eb  Eb ||Verse: Eb Fm Gm Fm |Eb Cm Fm Bbsus4 Bb…)
  • Tom Petty: “Free Fallin‘” (Intro: F Fsus F C…)

And you can try sus4 on practically any chord within a standard progression. Here are some to experiment with:

  • C  Em(sus4)  Em  F  C (LISTEN)
  • C  Dm(sus4)  Dm  C/E  F  C (LISTEN)
  • C  Am(sus4)  Am Fmaj7  Gsus4  G  C (LISTEN)

The other tone that’s fun to try is the sus2 (or suss):

C  Fsus2  F  G  C

The Fsus2 chord uses the following notes: F-G-A-C. Like the sus4 chord, it’s typically followed by the pure triad version of the chord before moving on.

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