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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Looking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 6 eBooks (plus 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..

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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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“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleLooking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 6 eBooks (plus 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..

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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.“)

The Worldwide Obsession With the Like Button

These days, we’re obsessed with being “Liked.” Has it always been that way?

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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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Singer-songwriters and the Like buttonThere was a term that was created soon after the start of the children’s television show “Sesame Street” back in the late 60s-early 70s: the “Sesame Street mentality.” That term was used to describe the fact that children had short attention spans, and wanted and needed things to change very quickly.

The term “Sesame Street mentality” was a somewhat derogatory phrase. In fact, Sesame Street, the show, got the credit (shall we say blame?) for changing children in such a way that they no longer could watch or otherwise engage with something for more than 30 seconds. The Sesame Street mentality meant that information had to be doled out in 30-seconds-long chunks, or even shorter.

Of course, the Sesame Street mentality is mostly a myth. The makers of the show simply realized that children have always been that way: they learn best when activities are mentally stimulating, delivered quickly in short chunks of time. It’s DNA, not Sesame Street, that determines how children learn best. It’s simply that the makers of Sesame Street knew that fact, that children need things to change quickly.

There is another phenomenon that we blame on everything but our DNA: the “Like” button. Whether we’re posting something to a blog, to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or any other online service, it seems to be all about the “like” button. The phrase “Like us on Facebook” is one of the most ubiquitous online expressions of our time.

An online friend drew my attention recently to the article “Go Your Own Way”, in April’s “Sound On Sound” magazine, written by Editor In Chief Paul White. He makes a simple but very accurate observation: that in this day and age of technical excellence in the music industry, it’s possible to make your own recordings, to do so excellently, and to distribute them yourself without the need for a publisher, distributor or record company.

But though that may be true, up and coming artists are largely still producing the kind of music they think the listening public want to hear. The ability to craft you own music your own way and then distribute it with relative ease (compared to pre-internet days) isn’t necessarily resulting in more creative pop music.

In short, it’s all about the “Like” button. Many, in fact, are obsessed with it. Imagine if Bob Dylan had been subjected to the power of the “Like” button to raise up or tear down someone’s career. A “Like” button in the days of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Frank Zappa, when you consider how quickly music evolved from the mostly-fluffy 50s to the angst-ridden 60s, might have changed the course of music, and definitely not for the good.

But the thing is, we’ve always been fixated on being liked. Even before there was such thing as a “Like” button, we wanted to be loved. But in pre-internet days, you could make your slow and steady climb up without being confronted with the daily thumbs-up/thumbs-down tally. You could create imaginative music without worrying about who didn’t like your music. You’d be content to build your following slowly. The “Like” button has changed that forever.

Which leads me to offer an unofficial challenge: Can you release a song online, and not worry in the slightest about how many “Likes” it doesn’t get? Going in a new direction almost always means leaving others in the dust, and it’s not usually comfortable for an artist. Innovation usually means starting with more dislikes than likes. Can you do that?

Personally, I never click “Like” buttons when listening to music online, and I never click a “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs down” button either. I’m very opinionated about the music I like, but not so arrogant that I think my opinion should be permitted to sway others before they even get a chance to listen for themselves.

It is going to take courageous and innovative singer-songwriters to have the stamina and confidence to ignore the tally of likes and dislikes. But I encourage it. It’s time to take your music back from the worst that technology as to offer: our obsession with the “Like” button.

______________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.“)

Turning an Idea Into a Song

Once you’ve thought of an idea for a song, how do you develop it into a complete musical journey?

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“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleLooking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 6 eBooks (plus 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..

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How to write a songMost of the time, a song starts with an initial idea: a fragment of a story, or a scene of some sort in your mind’s eye. But how do you take that idea from being just a thought to something like a fully-fledged song?

Here are some tips for taking that good idea you’ve got, and then developing it so that it makes a 3-5 minute song that people will want to sing or hum. It starts by focusing mainly on the lyric.

  1. Develop the initial idea by writing a short story or play. Your initial idea might be something along the lines of a relationship going bad, but that in the end, you realize that you don’t need love to make you strong. But that’s not enough to create a compelling song. You need more. So sit down and write a story.What happens in this story? How does the love between you develop? What eventually happens to break the relationship? These are all bits that your audience is going to need if you want to get them to feel the emotion of your story. Keep your story short: 1-2 pages.
  2. Write a chorus lyric that sums up the emotion of the story. If you want to convey your sense of confidence and inner strength, focus on those emotions as the main focus of you chorus lyric. Example:Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)“.
  3. Write a Verse 1 lyric that justifies the emotional response of the chorus. Think about what’s happened that causes that emotional outburst in the chorus.
  4. Develop a chorus melody and chord progression. A good chorus hook is going to combine a catchy melodic bit with a rhythmic treatment that demands attention. Place the chorus melody high in your vocal range.
  5. Go back and compose a melody for your verse lyric. Remember to start lower than your chorus melody. Think about how to connect your verse chords and melody with your chorus words and melody. Don’t be afraid to change lyrics, melodies and chords to make that verse-chorus connection stronger.
  6. If needed, compose a bridge that allows for a complete story. It’s typical for Verse 1 to explain “the lay of the land,” and then Verse 2 to embellish that story even further, always returning to the chorus to sum up your emotional mindset. If those verses show, for example, how you always felt downtrodden in your relationship, with the chorus showing how strong you ultimately feel, then you need a bridge perhaps to explain where your inner strength ultimately comes from. Be sure that your bridge lyric, melody and chords all connect smoothly to your chorus.

This is just one of many possible ways of working out a song idea that starts with the fragment of a story. No matter how your song starts in your mind, remember that the end result will usually be that your verses tell a story and your chorus displays an emotional response.

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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.“)

An Idea for Moving From a Minor Verse to a Major Chorus

If you convert a minor progression to roman numerals, it’ll often work when you transpose it to a major key.

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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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Taylor Swift - StyleIt’s a common feature of music in pop genres to use a mainly minor key approach for the verse and switch to major for the chorus. The most common way to do this is to consider the entire song to be in a major key, but focus on minor chords from that major key for the verse, switching to mainly major chords for the chorus. Example: “Style” (Taylor Swift). Verse: Bm-G. Chorus: D-G-D-G…

One other way to achieve this is to do the following: create a verse progression that sits solidly in a minor key, then transpose the entire progression up a 3rd so that it sits just as solidly in the relative major key. Here’s how to do that.

  1. Create a list of 7 chords from A minor. That gives you this: i (Am)  ii (Bdim) III (C)  iv (Dm)  (V) (Em) (or E)  VI (F) (VII) G.
  2. Using the same chords, come up with a second list that considers the C chord to be a I-chord. Those will be your major key chords: I (C) ii (Dm) iii (Em) IV (F) V (G) vi (Am) vii (Bdim)
  3. Now create your minor key progression. Something like this will work:  Am  F  Em  F  Dm  Em  F  G (i vi V vi iv v VI VII). This can be repeated as much as you’d like to form your song verse.
  4. Using the same roman numerals, create the equivalent progression in a major key. That gives you this: C  Am  G  Am  F  G  Am  Bdim.
  5. Adjust any chords that don’t suit your taste. For example, the Bdim chord can be a difficult one to use. You might try Bb, or perhaps a G chord that uses a B in the bass: G/B.

The benefit to creating a major progression that uses the same roman numeral sequence as a minor progression is that it creates a strong relationship between the two. They operate as harmonic partners, acting as a kind of musical glue that strengthens the relationship between verse and chorus.

Another idea is to use a minor progression for the first part of your verse, switching to major for the second half.

Here are some other roman numeral progressions (using C major/A minor) that you might want to experiment with:

  1. i  iv  V  VI. (MINOR: Am  Dm  E (or Em)  F; MAJOR: C  F  G  Am)
  2. i  VII  VI  V  (MINOR: Am  G  F  E (or Em); MAJOR: C  G/B  Am  G)
  3. i  V  VI  ii  III  iv  V  i (MINOR: Am  Em  F  Bdim  C  Dm  Em  Am; MAJOR: C  G  Am  Dm  Em  F  G  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.“)

Making Your Song Chorus a Gem

Simplicity is a vital part of making a chorus hook singable and memorable.

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“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleLooking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 6 eBooks (plus 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..

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black and white guitarThe chorus is a great place to start the songwriting process. The main reason for this is because as a song fades from one’s memory, the chorus is hooky and catchy enough to be the part that typically gets remembered. So it’s well worth the time spent to get the chorus right.

In a sense, you can think of a song’s chorus as a gem: a shiny, catchy bit that grabs attention. For most songs, the structure of a chorus will differ somewhat from the structure of the verse, and we talk a lot about that on this blog:

  1. Verses often sit lower in pitch than choruses.
  2. Verse lyrics are observational and narrative in character, contrasting with the chorus lyric which is much more emotive.
  3. Verse chord progressions tend to have a more wandering nature, contrasting with the chorus progressions which are shorter and tonally stronger.

Your chorus has a much better chance of being remembered if you follow those three observations listed above. In addition, your chorus will have great potential if do the following:

  1. Use repetition as an organizing element. Create a short 1- or 2-bar idea that sounds good when you hear it repeated. (i.e., it’s a hook!)
  2. Make your hook singable. It’s not enough for a hook to be interesting to listen to. A connection to your audience will be strong if they can sing it or hum it at work or walking down the street.
  3. Limit the number of notes in your chorus melody. Simplicity is a virtue, especially in song choruses.
  4. Find an intriguing rhythm for your chorus hook. Once you’ve got your bit of lyric that will form the basis of your chorus hook (something like “I love the way you make me feel”, say), try out many different ways to say that line, different ways that use different rhythms. Hold some words longer, some shorter. Experiment. Remember that a hook isn’t just melody, it’s the rhythm as well that makes it catchy.

As I say, it’s time well spent to get your chorus hook shaped and honed to be a shining gem. Once that’s working for you, it makes the job of creating a verse that matches it a lot easier.

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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.“)

The Secret to Writing a Great Song Verse

A good verse is vital to a song’s success. These days, a listener might not wait until the chorus.

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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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Lorde - RoyalsThe tricky thing about pop songs is that they are usually short, so pulling an audience into your song is something you don’t get a lot of time for. By the time the song is a mere 15 seconds old, you’ve got to have given enough to your listeners that they feel compelled to keep listening.

It’s always been that way, of course, but these days it’s so easy to click away from your tune to something else that it becomes even more vital to grab listener interest right away.

And then, once you’ve got them, you’ve got to keep them. That places a special importance on the verse of your song. If by the end of your verse you haven’t done enough to get your audience sufficiently interested, you’re in trouble.

Here’s a list of tips, ideas and thoughts on the special significance of a song verse, and what you might do to ensure that it’s the best it can be:

  1. Make good use of repetition. Finding a short, catchy melodic bit and then repeating it as your opening line can be an important ingredient for a captivating song verse. That repetition doesn’t have to be exact; approximate repetition achieves the same thing. EXAMPLE: “Royals” (Lorde)
  2. Find an important motif. A motif is simply a short musical idea that gets transferred around to different aspects of the song’s verse. It’s a common feature that you’ll find in music from decades ago, as with”Mr. Tambourine Man“, where each musical phrase has a similar downward shape. (That song starts with the chorus, but the verse continues that downward motif, repeating and keeping the audience hooked.) And then in a more recent song, like Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble“, where the repeating opening motif has a similar way of grabbing the audience’s attention.
  3. Start low, move higher. It’s such a commonly-done thing in pop music styles to have, at some point, the vocalist moving to their uppermost notes, that starting a verse low is an important part of keeping people listening. It creates an important sense of musical anticipation.
  4. Use a predictable phrase structure. Most songs will feature 2- or 4-bar phrases, and that predictability is a vital strengthening agent for the structure of a song. Give “Royals” another listen, and you’ll notice that there is what we might call a “fragmentation” of that phrasing idea, where the 2-bar phrases of the start then shorten up (during the lyric “In a torn-up town, no postcode envy“) to become 1-bar phrases. That has a way of subtly increasing musical energy, and keeps people listening to hear where that’s going.
  5. Build instrumentation in the latter half of a verse. This doesn’t happen in every song, but if you find that musical momentum is lagging throughout your verse, try intensifying the instrumentation as the verse melody passes the middle point. Add guitars, more percussion, and fill out chords even more as a way of generating a stronger musical intensity. That should culminate, of course, in an even fuller instrumentation in the chorus.

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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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