Creating a Chord Progression to Fit Your melody

Here’s a set of steps that can keep your chord choices from sounding randomly picked.

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GuitaristA few posts back I encouraged readers to start the songwriting process by working out the melody first. It’s not easy, especially if you’re a chords-first writer, but it gets easier with time.

And generally, it happens that as you create melodies, you become aware that you’re also imagining the kinds of chords that might go with that melody. That’s a skill that also gets easier with time.

So let’s say that you’ve developed a melody, but you want to now add chords to it, and you’re stuck at that stage. What can you do?

First, here’s a list of facts about chords, melodies and songs you need to know:

  1. Most songs in the pop genres tend to be in 4/4 time (4 beats per bar. A new bar starts after you’ve tapped your toe 4 times).
  2. Every bar of music in 4/4 time gives you alternating strong and weak beats, where the 1st and 3rd beats are strong ones, and the 2nd and 4th beats are weak: STRONG-weak-strong-weak.
  3. Chords usually change on the 1st beat of a bar — the strongest of the two strong beats in every bar.
  4. If a chord changes every 2 beats, those changes will usually happen on beats 1 and 3. How often a chord changes is called the song’s harmonic rhythm.
  5. Every chord in a song should fit the melody note that happens at that moment, plus most of the notes that follow until the next chord change.
  6. Most chord progressions, especially in pop music, target the tonic chord as an important focus. That means that if your song is in the key of C major, the C chord often features prominently as the beginning and/or end of most of the progressions.

Regarding that 6th point above, that’s why the circle-of-fifths progression (C-Am-Dm-G-C, for example) is so popular. It’s a progression that always keeps the C chord as an anchor. By the time you get to Dm in that progression, you can hear that it wants to move back to C. That’s what we mean by targeting the tonic chord.

When it comes to adding chords to the melody you’ve created, try the following:

  1. Sing your melody over and over, unaccompanied. Tap your foot as you sing it, and try to get a sense of the strong beat – weak beat pattern. If you find this to be difficult, practice with a song you already know.
  2. Try to get an idea of the key of your song. Often (not always, though), a melody will naturally end on the tonic note, so you can frequently use the final note of your melody as the indicator of the key.
  3. Write down the chords from that key. For example, if you think your song is in C major, write: C Dm Em F G Am Bdim.
  4. Circle the chords you’re most likely to use: I (C), ii (Dm), IV (F), V (G) and vi (Am). The iii-chord (Em) and the vii-chord (Bdim) are least used.
  5. Play the tonic chord and see if it fits the first note of your melody. If it doesn’t, the other chords to try are: the dominant (5th), or the subdominant (4th).
  6. As you strum the tonic chord, start singing your melody. Your musical instincts should let you know when it’s time to change your chord, and you’ll notice that it’s either every 2 beats or every 4.
  7. As a starting point, try to keep to a circle-of-fifths pattern if you can. That will keep your chords from sounding random or patternless.

As you work ahead in your melody, keep the most important thing in mind: every time you change a chord, the melody note of that moment should be a note you’d find in the chord. And many or most of the notes that follow should also fit, until the next chord change.

Fitting chords with your melody will likely require a good deal of experimenting at first, and so don’t be afraid to change your chord choices. Nothing’s set in stone with this kind of musical activity, so be prepared to keep modifying what you come up with until you get something you’re happy with.

______________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.“)

How to Reverse Engineer a Song, and Why You’d Do That

If you want to be the best, it sometimes requires you to pull the best songs apart to see the parts separately. That’s reverse engineering.

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Songwriter at pianoReverse engineering means to take a finished product and break it down to its constituent parts. Usually it’s done to try to figure out what the designer(s) did in the first place to create the product.

Anyone who makes anything at all usually engages in a bit of reverse engineering at some point. In the world of technology, those who work to understand devices such as an iPhone might do some reverse engineering to understand its parts and software.

In music, any songwriter that’s serious about becoming better needs to reverse engineer successful songs to figure out what that writer did to make the song sound so good — to “get under the hood”, so to speak.

There are differences, however, between reverse engineering a song and doing the same thing to a computer device. The main difference is that each musical element loses some of its potency when considered apart from the other musical elements with which it partners.

In other words, in a bid to understand why a song’s climactic moment is so effective, for example, you’ll isolate the melody from everything else, but in so doing lose some of the melody’s power. You notice that the climactic moment in the melody is made even more effective by the chord underneath it, the instrumental backing of the moment, and the chords that support it.

In that sense, you might say that it makes reverse engineering, as a musical activity, all the more important. That’s because by pulling the melody out and experiencing it on its own, you then discover how important the chord of the moment is to the success of the melody.

In that regard, here are some ideas for how to reverse engineer a song, to learn from it:

  1. Choose a song that you love, and that seems to be generally regarded by other musicians as a great song. It might be useful to browse through The Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” to get ideas.
  2. Sing the melody unaccompanied. Get a feel for its general shape and rhythm, especially as it relates to the various parts of the song (verse, pre-chorus, chorus, etc.)
  3. Write down and play the chord progression. Do this without reference to the melody. Try changing the way the chords are played in the song: maybe try a different time signature, a different harmonic rhythm (i.e., how long you hold each chord before moving on), and different backing rhythm.
  4. Write down and recite the lyric. Read the lyric melodramatically, with your voice moving up and down, and try to ignore the melody to which it was originally paired. What melodic shapes pop into your mind as you read the lyric this way?
  5. Find your favourite moments in the song, and determine precisely what’s going on at those times. Consider all the components of the song, and try to identify how melody, chords, lyric and instrumentation all combine to produce that wonderful moment.

Writing successful songs depends in large part on how you understand your favourite music. It starts with basic curiosity, and then on how much you really understand what makes music successful.

I firmly believe that there is no one who is doing well in this business that doesn’t spend a good deal of time asking themselves why this or that song is so good. Reverse engineering them can help you identify the source of that success, and makes it possible to apply the ideas to your own music.

______________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.“)

Describing Your Emotions Rarely Works Without a Background Story

A good lyric will cause a listener to create their own emotional response to what the verse has described.

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Singer & MicrophoneThis is a Part 2 to the post I did on May 20th, about making a connection to your audience through your lyrics. Take a look at great love songs, and you’ll notice that the writer spends little time at all describing emotions. Yes, you’ll always have songs that say something to the effect of “You make me feel so…” or “I feel like…”, but think about how ineffective those kinds of lines usually are in actually generating emotion from a listener.

Those kinds of “I feel” lines belong in a  chorus, but they tend to be ineffective unless set up carefully in the verse that precedes it.

A listener finds it hard to generate an emotional response when all they’re hearing is a description of the songwriter’s feelings. The truth is, as a songwriter you can write an effective lyric that powerfully connects to the heart of the listener without even once explicitly describing your own feelings.

That’s certainly not to say that relating how you’re feeling to your audience is wrong, and I’ll talk more about that shortly. But when it’s done in the hope of generating an emotional response, and there’s little else offered in the lyric, it rarely works. A listener relates to the circumstances that occur (usually in verses), and then they’re ready for emotional outpourings that come afterward (usually in choruses).

Some classic examples of great love songs where the lyricist only implies how they feel:

  1. My Love” (Paul & Linda McCartney)
  2. Love of My Life” (Freddie Mercury)
  3. Rolling in the Deep” (Adele, Paul Epworth)
  4. All of Me” (John Stephens (Legend), Toby Gad)
  5. Us” (Regina Spektor)

But how do you account for the success of a song like Alicia Keys’ “Fallin‘”, where the bulk of the lyric is describing feelings:

I keep on fallin’
In and out of love
With you
Sometimes I love ya
Sometimes you make me blue
Sometimes I feel good
At times I feel used
Lovin you darlin’
Makes me so confused

The difference here, and the reason why the lyric works so well, is that the wishy-washiness of her emotions is actually the topic of the song. There’s little else you can do when you’re trying to describe how erratic your emotions are, except to describe them.

Describing your own emotions in a song will do little to make those emotions relevant to the listener. The only way you hope to pull a tear from the eye of your audience is to set up a situation in your verse that allows your listeners to empathize — allows them to generate their own emotions.

When you do it right, a chorus needs to do little more than exclaim “You know I love you”, and the listener has an entire verse or two of background to allow the audience to also have an emotional reaction.

That background we get from the verse should describe people, circumstances and situations, and those are usually things to which your listeners can relate. Once they start getting that “I-can-imagine-that” feeling, they’re all ready for the chorus!

______________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 Reasons Why Melody-First Is Better Than Chords-First Songwriting

It takes getting used to, but starting songs by working out the melody has some vital benefits.

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Microphone - Writing a melodyDon’t get me wrong – there’s nothing particularly wrong with strumming through some chord progressions as a first step to writing your next song. Many do it, and it can help stimulate your musical imagination.

But when you strum through chord progressions, what are you actually doing? What’s the reason for listening to chords? Most of the time, it’s to try to create a melody — or at least a fragment of a tune.

It may be time to try a different approach: improvising melodies as a first step in the songwriting process, then create chords that fit what you’ve come up with.

There are at least 5 reasons why starting with a melody is better than starting with chords:

  1. It allows you to focus on the melody, uncluttered by other musical elements. Listening to a melody without having to deal with lyrics or chords is a great way to examine its shape and overall effect. The best melodies will usually work well as an unaccompanied tune.
  2. You feel freer to experiment with chords once you’ve got a melody working. By starting the songwriting process with the creation of a melody, you’ve got the opportunity to try many alternative progressions. Starting with chords tends to lock you in to whatever you came up with, and experimenting feels difficult.
  3. You focus in on the thing that people remember the most: the tune. A catchy chord progression is great, but a catchy melody will take a song much further.
  4. You’re more likely to create interesting melodic shapes in melody-first songwriting. You can almost always tell the songs that started with chords: the melodies tend to sit around one or two notes as the chords change underneath. By focusing first on melody, you are more likely to imagine more interesting melodic shapes, including leaps, a climactic high point, and a better use of vocal range.
  5. You’re more likely to experiment with rhythm, tempo and time signatures. Chords-first songwriting tends to make you feel locked in to a basic beat, tempo and rhythmic treatment. Because you’re simply improvising a melody, you’re more likely to feel free to imagine different treatments — different ways of arranging that melody.

If you’re willing to try starting your next song by improvising melodic ideas first before moving to your guitar or keyboard, it may feel a bit daunting. There are lots of ways to improvise melodic ideas, but if you’re feeling stuck, here’s one set of steps that might help:

  1. Sit quietly for a few minutes, and try to clear your mind of the clutter of your day.
  2. Sing a note (hum or sing “la”) in the middle of your vocal range. Hold the note for several seconds.
  3. Sing your chosen note, and then add a note higher or lower.
  4. Sing the two notes over and over. Try varying the way you sing them. Try them in quick succession, or slowly, or hold the first one for a few seconds, then the second note shorter… you get the idea.
  5. Sing your two notes, and add a 3rd note, and improvise melodic ideas that use all 3 notes. Try to settle on a rhythmic, hooky kind of treatment, something that sounds good when repeated over and over.
  6. Improvise other melodic ideas, and then alternate them with your short, 3-note hook.

Do as much of this as you can simply by ear. You will likely want to record yourself so that you can go back and listen more carefully to the ideas you’ve been creating.

Eventually, something will jump out at you. And you will probably surprise yourself when you discover that not only have you been creating melodies, but you’ve also been imagining chords to accompany them.

The most powerful benefit of working in this way is that you start the creative process by composing that thing that people hear and remember the most: a melodic shape. And as long as that melody is working, it will only get better as you add your chords and lyrics.

______________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.“)

It’s Magic, Isn’t It?

Your audience can afford to believe that your music is magical. You can’t.

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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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A psychologist could probably tell us why we love magic so much.We love when an expert magician stuns us with something that seems impossible. It almost seems Magiciancontradictory to our natural desire to understand everything around us. We like when we see something that seems to have no explanation, and at those times it bursts a bubble if we see how it’s done.

There are many similarities between doing a magic trick and creating a piece of music. Some songs almost seem magical, the way they transport us, fascinate us, entertain us, and connect with us.

But as with a well-executed magic trick, there’s actually no real magic involved. There are real reasons for why good music works, even if you can’t accurately calculate the effect of all the factors that work together to produce those amazing songs.

And that’s the real difference between magic that a magician does, and the kind of magic we call a great song. For the magician, every step is carefully and precisely calculated and performed. As long as the steps are followed, and the physical movements of the magician are smooth, you should get the same result. You can, for all intents and purposes, calculate the reaction of your audience.

Because music involves so many factors: melody, chords, lyrics, rhythm, tempo, key — and then all the performance-related factors in which every performance of the song is slightly different — it’s possible to have one person love your song and another one hate it. The effect of your song is predictable, but only to a certain extent. You can’t, for example, account for everyone’s personal taste in music.

It can make you feel as though there’s no real reason to study songwriting. Since it’s practically impossible to predict the end result of the interactions of so many musical and extra-musical factors, does it make sense to ever do more than use your instincts?

The answer is yes, it makes complete sense to study songwriting, if by “study” we mean to pull a good song apart, look at its constituent parts, and then compare those parts to similar structures in other songs. The best songwriters in the world do it, and you need to study as well.

When we don’t have a solid and obvious explanation for something, we call it magic. It’s hard to look at a song that’s become an iconic hit, like “Lean On Me” (number 1 for 3 weeks in 1972), “Another Brick in the Wall” (number 1 for 5 weeks in 1980), or any countless hundreds of others that have become classics in our culture, and not think of them as “magical.”

But practically every magic trick performed by any magician has similarities, whether that trick uses cards, ice picks, saws, or ping pong balls. They all require smooth gestures, distraction techniques, showmanship, and timing. And the best magicians will study the best from the previous generations to get those four factors working to the best of their abilities.

The best songwriters working today can list off the masters from previous generations that they’ve idolized and followed. No one is working in an artistic vacuum.

If you want your songs to be powerful and effective, you need to analyze songs from past decades, take note of their melodies, their chords, the way they’re put together, and then the way they’re performed.

You may never get to figure out the entire “magic trick” involved that propelled those songs to their number 1 status — the formula is very complex — but you’ll have done the most important thing you can do to make it possible for your own songs to succeed.

Always remember: the audience can afford to believe that your music is magic. You can’t. There really is no magic, no matter how it seems. Everything is calculable, and the more you study, experience and think, the better you become.

______________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 That Make a Powerful Connection to Your Audience

At a minimum, a song lyric is working if it connects to the listener on an emotional level.

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Guitar and paper - SongwritingEvery song communicates something to an audience, and not everyone will necessarily pick up the same message. For example, you may hear a song where the lyric is all about a cat attacking a dog. Your friend may think it’s a metaphor for the songwriter’s complex relationship with his mother. You, however, may feel it’s simply a light-hearted song about the songwriter’s pets.

The truth may be neither of those, and the fact that different people pick up something different is not usually a failure of the lyric. That’s what makes music interesting to us. We love trying to dig down into words and phrases, find possible hidden meanings, and then try to decide if those hidden meanings are relevant to the larger message.

At a minimum, a song lyric is successful if it connects to the listener, usually on some emotional level. That connection is the ultimate aim of any good lyric; so a lyric has succeeded, even if two listeners pick up entirely different meanings in what they’re hearing — as long as there was an emotional connection to the lyric.

In addition to making an emotional connection, a good lyric does all or most of the following:

  1. Uses imagery to communicate the message or story (i.e., evokes thoughts, emotions and images by using metaphor, simile, and other poetic devices.)
  2. Is enjoyable to listen to (i.e., it compels the listener to keep listening by the entertaining way it’s put together.)
  3. Is structured to move back and forth between less-emotional descriptions followed by emotional responses to those descriptions.
  4. Uses a conversational tone (i.e., often works better when read (sung) aloud.)
  5. Is supported and enhanced by other musical elements (e.g., instrumentation, chords, melody, etc.)

You’ll notice that I didn’t include “needs to be an interesting topic” in the list, because the topic itself can be very ordinary — even mundane — and it can still work very well. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog posting the song “Got My Mind Set On You,” written by Rudy Clark and most famously recorded by George Harrison. The topic and lyrics are uninteresting on their own, but it’s the instrumental setting, the melodies, the chords, and the excellent performance that bring it to life, and help it connect to the listener.

Not every song will use all five of the features listed above. If you doubt the quality of your song’s lyrics, the most important questions to ask yourself are:

  • Am I making an emotional connection with the listener?
  • Is my lyric moving back and forth between a narrative-style description and then an emotional response, as we typically see in verse-chorus songs?
  • Is my lyric using common, everyday words, put together in ways that sound natural?
  • Am I describing something that has the potential to be understood and felt as a universal situation or truth to which most listeners can relate?

Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’ve succeeded until you hear the lyrics along with everything else. Remember that the effect of lyrics can be either enhanced or compromised by the melody that delivers them to the listener.

When all is said and done, getting that partnership of lyrics, melody and chords right is what songwriting is. Every song you write is a new opportunity to fine-tune your abilities in that regard, so don’t get bogged down in one song. Make some serious attempts to get a lyric right, but move on to your next project sooner rather than later.

______________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 Things To Do When a Chorus Falls Flat

Your chorus is arguably the most important part of your song. Here are some ideas to be sure it gets the job done.

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Meghan Trainor - Kevin KadishEver get the feeling that your song chorus is just not popping? A chorus serves as a centrepiece for your song in practically every way:

  1. It provides the listeners with the most memorable melodies and hooks.
  2. It sums up the message of the story.
  3. It displays the complete instrumentation that your song will offer.

Even people who have no musical training can tell when the song has reached the chorus. There’s just something about it that clicks with the audience and announces its arrival.

But when a chorus fails to get attention for itself, it can be hard to pinpoint the causes. Here are five causes of a chorus that falls flat, along with some solutions.

  1. It doesn’t have a distinctive, attractive, memorable melodic bit (i.e., a hook). SOLUTION: Compose a short, 1- or 2-bar melodic/rhythmic idea that works well when repeated. Example: “Got My Mind Set On You” (Rudy Clark, recorded by George Harrison), “All About That Bass” (Meghan Trainor-Kevin Kadish).
  2. The melody in general doesn’t jump out. Most of the time, a problem with an unremarkable melody can be traced to its basic range: it sits too low in pitch. Most song choruses, in order to differentiate from the verse, need to sit higher in pitch. In addition, chorus melodies will fall flat if they use the same verse pitches rearranged. SOLUTION: Choruses need to be distinctive from the verse in practically every way. Be sure at least some of your chorus is a 4th higher than the verse.
  3. The chord progression wanders too much. A chord progression for a chorus shouldn’t use too many chords, and should target the tonic chord as being the most important one. SOLUTION: If your chorus progression contains more than 6 or 7 chords, you may need to start again, but focus on the tonic chord more, and limit your chorus to 4 or 5 chords.
  4. There’s nothing about the chorus instrumentation that stands out. SOLUTION: Make sure your chorus is offering the fullest instrumentation that you’ll audience will hear. The only exception to this is the possibility of a bigger moment somewhere in your song bridge. Most of the time, however, you should create something full and engaging for the chorus, and then scale it back for the verse.
  5. It doesn’t get an audience emotionally involved. A song’s lyric needs to pull the audience into the situation, with the most emotional part reserved for the chorus. If your song lyric tries too hard to emote in the verse, it leaves the chorus with nothing to do. To get an audience emotionally involved means that you should limit you verse lyric to describing people and situations, and then open up emotionally in the chorus.

That last point is, in particular, an important one. Properly structuring the emotional layers of your song will ensure that by the time the chorus happens, you’ve got the audience in the palm of your hand.

______________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.“)

Keeping Your Spirits Up in a Songwriter’s World

Making a to-do list is a good way of organizing your day and making songwriting a bit easier to get to.

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Beating Songwriter's Block - Jump Start Your Words and MusicThere’s nothing worse than trying to write music, but feeling so disorganized with your non-musical life that you can’t get to it. Additionally, writing songs can be stressful enough without worrying about the fact your English essay is due, or you’ve forgotten some other important thing.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4, “Thinking Like a Songwriter”, from “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, published by Backbeat Books. It offers suggestions for getting organized and staying positive about songwriting.

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It’s a good idea to clear your schedule of chores before sitting down to an evening of songwriting. A to-do list is an easy way to get organized and stay organized, and there is nothing new in the suggestion to make one. But if you are the kind of person who gets easily discouraged by the difficulty of checking off items on a list, here is an idea that may help you feel a greater sense of accomplishment: put things on your list that are likely to get done even without effort on your part. For example, when listing the chores that need to be accomplished during your day, include things like, “Eat breakfast,” “Go to work,” “Take a 15-minute break,” and so on. Once you’ve completed those items, draw a line through them. There is a psychological boost that comes from crossing something off a list, even if it is an event that requires practically no effort or time. That boost encourages you to tackle the items that do take more time and effort. You will be able to clear that list in no time, and songwriting is often easier when there is nothing else weighing on your mind.

Like drawing a line through an item on a to-do list, attending to your songwriting duties for the day will give you a feeling of achievement and even victory. But if that’s not happening for you, don’t automatically conclude that your songwriting schedule (see Chapter Two) is to blame. Even though your normal routine makes, let’s say, 7pm to 8pm the logical time to write, you may discover that that is not your most productive time. In that case, you may find that your schedule needs a bit of tweaking. Remember that a songwriting schedule needs to fit easily into your day, and not place unreasonable demands on your time; that would cause stress and ultimately be counterproductive. It also needs to work well with others in your living situation. So balance is key. Nonetheless, if you find that a scheduling decision has led to one day of the week being consistently more unproductive than others, take some time to come up with something that feels better. Ultimately, of course, success will be measured by your ability to write songs, not your ability to follow a schedule.

Another crucial aspect of staying positive and feeling organized is feeling rested. Never underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep in the complex formula of songwriting success. The effects of sleep deprivation on the cognitive processes of the brain are well documented. If you can’t seem to organize your musical thoughts, have you considered that you may simply be too tired to write? Are you getting enough sleep? Songwriters can spend a lot of time looking for reasons for their block, ignoring the more common possibilities, such as sleep deprivation. Start keeping a journal of your sleeping habits, and you should seea pattern emerging within a week. If you’re getting six hours or less of sleep on most nights, you are likely not getting enough, and your creative brain is suffering for it.

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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.“)

Why Songwriting Deadlines Work, and Why They’re A Crucial Part of Getting Better

Writing to a deadline gives you your best shot at moving into the professional world of music composition.

______________ “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle

Take 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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The word “deadline” probably conjures up negative connotations for most people. Why? Mainly because:

  1. a deadline gives you the impression that the work involved is unpleasant;
  2. a deadline implies that you don’t have the discipline to get the work done otherwise; and
  3. a deadline implies that once you’re done, the work will be “good enough”, but not necessarily your best work.

There is, however, a better aspect of deadline to think about: We associate deadlines with professional work. Amateurs don’t usually talk about deadlines that need to be met.

I would argue that if you’re a songwriter who is trying to make music a successful career choice, setting deadlines, and then tenaciously sticking to them, is a vital part of moving from amateur to professional.

And there’s a good reason for that. Think back to your first attempts at songwriting. There was an excitement that came with the completion of every new song, but there was probably also a sense of disappointment: it’s normal to see the flaws in your music. Dissatisfaction with your songs is an important part of getting better.

Disappointment has a way of weeding out the weak and leaving the strong. That’s because the writers that have the potential to go the distance are the ones that can see past disappointments, and keep going. Those that are truly headed for professional status use disappointment to better themselves.

If you find that dissatisfaction with your songs is causing you to want to give up, you need to start setting deadlines. Sometimes the music you write is a form of songwriting exercise, and you don’t necessarily need deadlines for that. But nothing gets your creative juices flowing more than setting a deadline.

Here are some ideas for how to work deadlines into your songwriting routine in a way that makes you feel productive and positive about your work:

  1. Develop a songwriting idea first before setting a deadline. This is because once you’ve got those original ideas formed, you know the kind of song it’s going to be. Some songs, you can tell, are the ones that might take a week or longer, while others are lighter and can be completed in 2 or 3 days. Be reasonable when setting a deadline; not too short, not too long.
  2. Treat a deadline like a work commitment. Don’t adjust completion dates. Set the day you need the song finished, and commit to that date.
  3. Don’t allow your opinion of your song to change your commitment to the deadline. In other words, as you work on your song, if you think it’s a bad song, or weak in some way, keep going. The result may disappoint you, but to reiterate a previous point, dissatisfaction with your songs is an important part of improving.
  4. Don’t necessarily set a deadline for every song you write. There are some songs that you want the luxury of taking your time. Remember, a song that takes a year to complete is not an indication that you’ve done something wrong. Deadlines will solve your problem of abandoning songs. Long songwriting projects can be works of love.
  5. Keep a songwriting journal. A journal will allow you to analyze your songwriting process. It offers a way to make note of how you responded to each deadline, and how to make improvements to your songwriting method.

And writing to a deadline gives you the feeling of being professional. It make songwriting feel like a commitment, something you view as important. And it gives you your best shot at dealing with writer’s block, and moving into the professional world of musical composition.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer (Follow on Twitter)

Gary Ewer is the author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle, which will show you every aspect of how good music works. It includes a 9-lesson course, chord progression collections, and a complete manual for how to add chords to melodies. He is also the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, published by Backbeat Books.

10 Reasons Your Songs Aren’t Working (Which Songwriting Sins Are You Committing?)

Not building an audience base? The reason is likely within this list.

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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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Here’s the scenario: You write song after song, and you can do that with relative ease. But quantity should never be a measure of quality. And when it comes right down to it, you have to admit it: you aren’t building an audience base.

It’s time to put a magnifying glass on what you’re writing and discover the reasons your songs are failing. Which one of the following songwriting mistakes are you committing?

1. Your Lyrics Aren’t Clever, Imaginative or Awe-Inspiring.

LyricsNot every song lyric you write needs to be to the level of a Dylan or Cohen. But if you haven’t written anything quotable in your past 10 songs, you’ve missed 10 opportunities to connect in a powerful way to your audience. Good lyrics won’t automatically make your songs winners, but they give you your best shot at communicating your ideas. Writing good lyrics takes practice. Check these “4 Fun Games to Hone Your Lyric-Writing Abilities” to improve.

2. Your Lyrics Lack Structure.

Song lyricsA verse lyric is not a chorus lyric. If you start you song by moaning about your latest love-life failure, you’re coming across as high-maintenance, and chasing your audience away. Use your verse to describe situations, people and circumstances, and save emoting for the chorus. If you need more help with this, this article should help: “How Verse, Chorus and Bridge Lyrics Differ From Each Other

3. Your Songs Are Boring Because They Lack Contrast.

A song without contrast means that there is an annoying quality of sameness throughout the entire tune. The guitar1instrumentation is the same, the chords all sound the same, the melody wallows up and down in the same basic vocal range – you get the idea. So it’s time to change things up, because that’s not going to work for you. Develop different instrumentations for your chorus, something that beefs-up the sound. Create melodies with contour, and add altered chords to your verse progressions. In short, take your listeners on an interesting musical journey.

4. Your Chord Progressions Wander About With No Sense of Direction.

Synthesizer-Keyboard playerIn the world of chord progressions, aimless wandering usually refers to progressions that don’t sound as though they’ve got a harmonic goal in mind. In most songs, your progressions should sound like they’re targeting the tonic chord. Dm7-G-C does the trick; Bbm7-E-G is trickier. If you need a primer on how chords work, read this article, “How to Make a Chord Progression Work Every Time.

5. Your Songs’ Energy Is a Random Up-and-Down Mess.

When we talk about a song’s energy, we’re talking about at least two different qualities. One is the general quality of Song energy mapattractiveness: energy keeps people wondering what will happen next. But the quality we want to talk about here is basic musical excitement. If you listen to the beginning of your song, and then scroll to the last minute or so, you should hear an obvious difference. The last chorus repeats should be louder, higher, more energetic and compelling than the beginning. If your song does that in a random way throughout, it just confuses the listener. Keep energy building in a more-or-less upward direction.

6. Your Song is Missing an Important Hook.

Music - Song HookThe hook is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal for giving the audience something to remember. If there’s no distinctive, catchy hook, you’ve given your audience nothing to take away, and nothing to hum to themselves until the next time they hear your song. There are many different kinds of hooks, so give this article a read if you need help with that: “3 Great Song Hook Types, and How to Write Them.

7. You Don’t Realize that Good Music Is a Combination of Fragile and Strong Moments.

We use the terms “fragile” and “strong” mostly when talking about chord progressions, but in fact it applies to almost Rock Concertevery element of songwriting. In chord progressions, a fragile set of chords is one that doesn’t overtly target the tonic chord. You want to keep these kinds to a minimum, but they can be beautifully used in verse progressions. Generally speaking, a verse will tolerate more “fragility” than a chorus. So use rhythmic syncopations, creative imagery, transparent instrumentations, and so on, in a verse. When you get to the chorus, “strong” becomes the order of the day. Keep your chorus progressions short and focused on the tonic chord, make lyrics clear and emotional, use strong on-the-beat rhythms instead of syncopations… that sort of thing.

8. Your Song Melodies Are Too Random and Patternless.

Singer and microphoneThe best song melodies are the ones that use repetition, either exact (like “Born in the U.S.A.“) or approximate (like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Repetition of a catchy bit of melody makes a tune more memorable. So look for something that’s beautiful or otherwise memorable, and string that short idea together into something longer, something suitable for a verse or chorus. Use a song like Imogen Heap’s “First Train Home” as a model. Notice the many ways she uses repetition in the structuring of the melodies. Sometimes it happens on the note-level, and sometimes it’s one phrase that sound almost the same as the next one, and then moves in a new direction.

9. Each Section of Your Song Is Too Different.

You want contrast, of course, but when it sounds as though each section is too dissimilar, you’ve got problems. So if you’re Rock Singertempted to change key at the chorus, and then completely switch instrumentation, tempo, time signature and everything else, you make your song too confusing for you audience, and they get bored. The lesson here is that there is contrast, and then there’s excessive contrast. Always keep some thread that moves through your song, staying more-or-less the same, that gives your listeners the comfort of musical glue. Usually that means that the tempo stays the same, and that instrumentation is added to the chorus, rather than completely change.

10. You’ve Got Nothing Interesting To Say.

The Thinking SongwriterBob Dylan once remarked that he wondered why people who interviewed him asked him his opinion on politics or other issues. He felt that his political opinion was no more important than anyone else’s. But the thing is, he’s always been able to state his views in such a powerfully imaginative way that it sounds as if he is a social scientist par excellence. He’s got opinions, but more to the point, he can offer those opinions in ways that keep people listening. It’s time to look at your entire songwriting catalogue, and ask yourself, “Do I have anything interesting to say?” If you feel tempted to keep singing “I love you” in hundreds of different ways, it may be time to put your pencil down and think. THINK HARD. What do you want people to know about you – about the kinds of things you think about, the kinds of things that really matter to you? What affects you? You don’t have to be heavy in every song you write, but if you have nothing interesting to say, just stop saying it, put your pencil down, and think.

______________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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