Inverting Chords to Smooth Out the Bass Line

Chord inversions (“slash chord”) add forward motion and musical energy to a song. Here’s more.

______________

 

“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..

____________

George HarrisonIn The Beatle’s “Something” (George Harrison), Paul McCartney creates a stepwise bass line at the end of the intro, as well as the end of each verse:

Something - George Harrison

[LISTEN]

It’s the G/D chord that creates the smoothed-out bass line. G/D simply means a G chord with the note D in the bass. It’s a type of chord called an inversion, something you may know of as a “slash chord” due to the common way it’s notated: with a slash between the chord name and the bass note.

In pop music genres, the most common reason for using an inversion is exactly for that reason: to smooth out the bass. Without an inversion (i.e., playing all chords in “root position“), the bass in “Something” would have given us the following notes: F-Eb-G-C. With the inverted G chord, the bass creates a stepwise line: F-Eb-D-C.

It’s not necessary to smooth out bass lines; it’s purely a matter of taste. Sometimes it’s a matter of genre. Supergroup Genesis made great use of bass pedal point, a technique of keeping the bass on one note while the chords change above it: the ultimate in smoothing out the bass. “Cinema Show” is a great example. (LISTEN)

To use inversions as a way of smoothing out the bass line, here are some tips:

  1. Make sure that the root-position version of your chord progressions work. Don’t necessarily think of this as a rule, but getting your root position chords sounding good almost always means that you’ve got a better chance of making inversions work.
  2. Don’t use too many inversions in a row. A progression made up of many inversions one after another has the effect of making a progression sound unstable.
  3. When deciding to use inversions, always make sure the bass line makes sense. For example, the following progression will sound disorganized and unstable, mainly due to the bass line that happens: C/E  F/A  G/D  C/G. (LISTEN) That’s certainly not to say you won’t at some point find a use for it, but it will compromise your musical intentions in most pop genres.
  4. Any inversions that create a stepwise bass line should work. And this is often something you can work out on paper before trying it on your bass, if you know a bit of chord theory. Write out your progression, then write the notes you’ll find in each chord. Circle bass notes that move (as much as possible) in a stepwise way. Make sure that at least half or more of your chords are root position (i.e., not inverted) and you should be fine.
  5. Inversions often sound better when used on weak beats. A weak beat simply means a beat that’s not the first one of a bar. Audiences often expect a stable root position chord on beat 1 of a bar. Having said that, you can get an interesting effect by inverting the first chord of a bar, as The Beatles did in “Dear Prudence”, at the start of verse 2. That bass line, by the way, is interesting for the fact that it operates as a double line: an upper line that moves downward in a stepwise way, and a lower line that acts as a bass pedal point.

Here are some standard progressions, all of which feature some smoothing out of the bass line by using inversions:

  1. C  Dm  C/E  F  C/G  G  C
  2. C  G/B  Am  Am7/G  F  C/E  Dm  C
  3. C  G/D  C/E  F  C/G  Am  G/B  C
  4. C  C7/Bb  Am  C/G  F  C/E  Dm  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.“)

 

Building Your Audience: Air Guitar is a Thing. Air Accordion isn’t.

“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 free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace – Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Read more..

______________

Air guitarIf you take a look at the list of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (HoF), you’ll notice one characteristic that seems to describe them all, regardless of the kind of music they’ve written, performed, or otherwise produced: winners tend to be those that write music that speaks directly to common folk.

For each winner, you’ll notice that connecting-with-common-folk quality in two major categories: 1) the kind of lyrics they’ve written and sung, and 2) the simplicity of the instrumentation of most of their important songs.

Writing lyrics that connect to the listener is a no-brainer, and the best songs in the pop music genres have always been the ones that allow the listener to imagine themselves singing the song. That’s always been a vital part of making successful music.

Instrumentation is another key ingredient to connecting with the listener. A great analogy can be found in the world of sports, and in particular, the success of soccer worldwide. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, with a recent estimation of 3.5 billion fans globally. The likely reason for that success: the simplicity (yet excitement) of the game, and the simplicity of the required equipment list: 1 soccer ball.

Most of the HoF inductees use mainly a basic instrumentation – a guitars-bass-keyboards-drums kind of approach. Those are instruments — especially guitar and keyboard — that many fans have in their possession, and that’s a large part of making a connection. It’s why you likely play one of those instruments.

That’s not to say that other instruments have been shunned; far from it. The Beatles used brass band, strings (both solo and ensemble), sitar, flutes, recorders, clarinet, harmonica, accordion, and more. But at their core, they were a guitars-bass-drum band.

That’s important, because most inductees to the HoF are there because of their influence on other usually younger musicians. Not many can play a guitar to the level of Eric Clapton, but many dream that they can. And because of the number of up-and-coming guitarists who have pointed to Clapton as one of their key influences as they were developing and learning their craft, he’s there in the HoF.

Air guitar is a thing. Air accordion isn’t. You’ll connect with more listeners by being excellent on your guitar than on your accordion.

I’m a fan of using creative instrumentation as a way of setting yourself apart from other performers. But I also believe that the ones who really connect with the listener are the ones who create engaging music with an instrument that common folk will have at their disposal.

If you’re looking to increase your fan base, it’s not just listeners you’ll want to think about. It’s other musicians as well. As your fan base grows, consider the fact that many of those fans will be up-and-coming singer-songwriters who look to your music as an influence. Here’s the best way to be sure you’re being as influential as possible:

  1. Improve your playing abilities. Being a mediocre performer isn’t going to work when it comes to influencing others. If you don’t have chops, you need lessons.
  2. Become a better lyricist. The excellence of lyrics will do more to connect with common people than any other aspect of your songwriting technique. Excellence of lyrics does not mean becoming highbrow. It means writing natural, easy-to-understand words that immediately speak to your audience.
  3. Use a common instrumentation, but use it wisely. If it’s influence you’re looking for, the music that connects with people is still guitar, bass and drums. And in addition these days, a lot of it is happening with synthesized sounds. If you’re still using a guitar-bass-drum approach, think of ways to develop your repertoire of sound possibilities. A guitar can be played in many ways, and you’ll want to explore them all. Be creative.
  4. Add unique instruments to a common instrumentation. In other words, get excellent at playing your music with a solid core of guitar-keyboards-bass-drums. To that, occasionally add instruments that will take your songs to a new level. So try adding flute, violin, cello… anything that sets your music apart from other musician’s music.
  5. Explore more sub-genres. Don’t get stuck in one style of music. Be creative, and be curious. And then have the courage to present some of your music in a more surprising way.

To that last point I would say: compare The Eagles’ “The Last Resort” and “Lying Eyes.” The two songs are completely different, not just in instrumentation, but in genre, performance style, vocal style, and more. You could even say that they target completely different audiences. But that’s what being creative does. It allows you to tap into many different possible fan bases, and that’s what you need to do to build 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.“)

Figuring Out Why The Songs You Love Are So Compelling

Discovering why you like a song is a great first step to improving your own songwriting technique.

______________

 

“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..

____________

Angel Olsen - Hi-FiveWhat makes a good song? It’s partly a matter of personal taste, and also a matter of good song structure. But focusing on taste for the moment, we like songs if they are presented in a style that we enjoy. We group those styles into categories called genres. And then within each genre, you’ve got sub-genres to consider.

And within sub-genres, you have to consider that each and every songwriter will have their own way of writing, their own way of presenting their music. This is why we love music, and why we’re so intrigued by it: every songwriter brings their own style to music, and then we gravitate to the ones we love, and more-or-less ignore the ones we don’t.

If you’re like most people, there are genres you like, and genres you dislike. You probably don’t know all the best songwriters in the world, because you naturally tend to ignore music you don’t like. I’ve written many times about the benefits of acquainting yourself with music from genres you don’t normally listen to, and I hope you do that.

But there is a way of taking the songs you love, and learning from them, allowing them to inform and guide your own songwriting. It involves analyzing good songs, figuring out what’s so good about them, and then applying those lessons learned to your own music.

Here’s a way of working that can help you achieve that. First, choose a song (not your own) that you love to listen to. The more recent the song, the better. Now try the following:

Dig into the Melody

Even if you don’t read music, there is a way to analyze the melody. First, play the melody over and over on your instrument of choice (guitar, keyboard, or other). Once you can play it with ease, write down the letter names of each note of the melody. For example, if your chosen song is “Hi-Five” from Angel Olsen, you’ll write:

C#-C#-C#-D-C#-B-A-B-E-D | E-E-A-F#-E-E–D |C#-C#-D-C#-B-C#-B-A-D-E-B|C#-C#-D-C#-C#-C#-B-D-E-B….

Now convert those notes to lines: draw a horizontal line that moves up and down, representing the direction and shape of the melody:

Line drawing of "Hi-Five"

Doing this for one song may not show you much, but doing this for several songs may reveal something about the kinds of melodies you like. For example, you might discover that you feel drawn to songs that translate into a flat line, with lots of repeated tones, or perhaps one with a very noticeable high point. That may not be something you will have noticed before, but it allows you to think about ways to incorporate those characteristics into your own music.

Dig Into the Chords

The biggest surprise many encounter when creating chord charts of their favourite songs is the simplicity and general mundaneness of those chords when played by themselves. If you’re not clear on how to discover the chords for a song, read this post. Then do this:

  1. Compare verse, chorus, bridge progressions. You’ll either find that they are the same (or very similar), or that the chorus progression tends to be shorter and less adventurous than the verse and the bridge.
  2. Compare the first chord of each song section. You’ll find that for songs where the chorus is in a major key, that the verse and bridge start on minor chords.
  3. For each section, compare the first two or three chords with the final two or three. This will give you a sense of how that songwriter likes to structure chords. For example, you may find that you are drawn to verse progressions that are “closed systems”, ending on a tonic chord, before moving on to the chorus.

Dig Into the Lyrics

This can be done on many levels. To start:

  1. Write a concise, 1- or 2-paragraph short story that gives the basic outline for the events that occur in the song.
  2. For each section of the song lyric, write a letter ‘N’ (narrative) if you feel that the lyric is mainly narrative, or ‘E’ (emotive) if you feel that the lyric is mainly an emotional expression or reaction to events in the song. Write N/E (narrative/emotive) if you feel that it moves back and forth between the two.

Conclusions

These are just some preliminary ideas. The purpose here is to analyze – to try to get inside the head of your favourite songwriter, and to try to discover any patterns or methods of working that describe why you happen to like their music so much.

The results of musical analysis can be very surprising, and very informative. It can be a huge help to your own songwriting as you begin to identify the attractive qualities of music that you like.

The next logical step is to try analyzing your own songs in a similar way. Knowledge is a very powerful thing. The end result is that you’ll learn to apply the qualities of good music to your own songwriting process.

_______________
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. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Creating Chords and Melodies At the Same Time

Here’s a procedure for writing songs by creating the melodies and chords simultaneously.

_____________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle (plus a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”) is written by Gary Ewer, designed to straighten out your technique and get you writing better songs.

______________________

Guitar - PianoSuccessful chord progressions usually follow a predictable formula, but melodies need to be unique. Therefore, you could argue that there is a certain logic to making sure your chords work before moving on to the writing of a melody.

But that’s not necessarily the case. You can work out the important parts of a song melody even if you’re not sure what chords you’re ultimately going to use to accompany it. What follows is a set of steps that show you how you might create a melody, along with chords, at more or less the same time.

The First Step

Let’s say you’ve created a fragment of melody that sounds like this: [PLAY] (A-Bb-A-G-F-A-F-D)

As you can tell, it doesn’t take a lot of musical knowledge to come up with a simple fragment like that. It sounds nondescript enough that it might be the sort of thing that any number songwriters might randomly create.

Now, instead of continuing on with adding to your melody, switch to creating a chord progression that would accompany it well. How do you do that?

It’s best to get a sense of key first. The melody starts on A, but when you listen to the entire fragment, you get a strong sense of D minor, since it ends with 3 notes from the D minor triad played from high to low: A-F-D.

So I’m going to try working out a progression that makes D minor sound like a tonal focus. I’m also (arbitrarily) going to decide to change chords every 2 beats. So that gives the following choices:

  1. Dm  F  Am  Dm [LISTEN]
  2. F  Am  Gm9  Dm [LISTEN]
  3. Dm  Bbmaj7  Am  Dm [LISTEN]
  4. Dm  Gm9  F  Dm [LISTEN]

Now this is an important point: none of those progressions could be considered unique. They’ve probably been used hundreds of times in other songs. It’s the combination with the melodic fragment that makes it all sound unique: there is probably no song in the past that has put those melody notes together in quite that way.

So instead of working out a chord progression and then seeing what melody I might be able to come up with, I created a short melodic fragment that “made musical sense”, and then experimented with chords that might act as a backing accompaniment.

The Next Step

Now I want to expand on my melodic fragment. In a sense, I want to create an “answering figure” that works well with the first one. I’ve come up with something like this: [PLAY] (F-C-A-G-F-G). What I like about it is that it sounds like it’s shifting focus from D minor to F major, and that’s a nice contrast to the first phrase ending in minor.

Just as before, I now come up with possibilities for chords that might work well. After some experimenting, I’ve decided on F  Bbmaj7  Csus4  C. [LISTEN].

So far, assuming I take the first chord progression above (Dm  F  Am  Dm) as my opening progression, the whole tune so far sounds like this: [PLAY].

If this were a verse melody, you could do a simple repeat of those bars of music, and you’d have a considerable chunk of verse completed.

If you compose this way, the best answer to “how do you start your songs… chords first or melody first?” would be “both.” You started with a short fragment of melody that you liked, you then created chords that made that one fragment sound nice, and then you moved on to creating an answering melody, and then the chords to make that fragment work.

Adding Lyrics

You can compose all song elements at the same time by adding lyrics at this time. Sometimes the music will start to give you a sense of topic, or even at least of a category. Now is the time to start working those details out.

And you’ll find that you can continue in this way, where melodic ideas give rise to chord options, and the combined sound gives you a feeling of what the song is about. And you can continue on with the chorus, and optional sections such as pre-chorus and/or bridge. You’ll find that as you continue to write, new ideas are easier to create.

So the next time you think about whether you should be starting your song with chords first or melody first, try the option described above: work them both out at more-or-less the same time.

______________

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 Symmetry Strengthens a Song’s Structure

Symmetry helps to make your song feel like a complete musical journey.

__________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, 3rd editionThe new 3rd edition of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” ebook manual is now released. A songwriting manual that’s part of Gary Ewer’s 6-ebook bundle. Take your songwriting to a new level of excellence.

Get the eBooks..

__________
Rock band in concertHumans are pattern-seekers. When we see things that show no sign of obvious design, we like to keep staring until we see something that makes sense to us. A good example is when you lie on your back and stare at clouds. Eventually, you’ll imagine that the clouds form the shapes of animals, faces and other familiar forms.

In music, we use repetition to offer an important sense of form, allowing the listener to hear vital patterns. We repeat verse and chorus melodies, and audiences take musical comfort from hearing those elements repeat.

Similar to repetition, symmetry is often used by songwriters to help listeners make sense of their music. When a song ends the same way it begins, like The Doors’ “Light My Fire”, it packages the music in a frame, so to speak. That’s an example of form or design symmetry.

Sometimes symmetry happens in smaller bits. Here are some examples:

  1. Melodic symmetry. A songwriter might repeat a short melodic idea, once in a downward direction, then upward. That kind of balancing up and down is a kind of symmetrical approach that can strengthen its structure. Example: “Kathy’s Song” (Paul Simon):
    Kathy's Song - Symmetry
  2. Lyrical symmetry. Lyrical symmetry can happen on several levels. We notice it when a song’s lyric ends the way it begins. Example: “Look Away” (Diane Warren). But you can also achieve lyrical symmetry by using similar words and phrases throughout a song. I’ve mentioned this before when talking about Billy Joel’s song “Uptown Girl”, which features fragments of lyrics that all have a similar rhythmic effect as we find with the title words: “uptown world”, “backstreet guy”, and so on.
  3. Rhythmic symmetry. Give “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” (Jennifer Aden/Corey Batten, recorded by Blake Shelton) a listen, and you’ll hear rhythmic patterns in the background rhythm guitar that are based on the first syncopated rhythm of the melody. The symmetry comes through when you hear the guitar acting as a kind of “answer” to verse phrases.

In music, symmetry can often be best described as an answering figure that either repeats the same feature just heard, or a mirror image of what has just been heard (i.e., an upward-moving line followed by a downward moving one).

When you’ve written a song, it can be time well spent to give your music a good listen and try to see if you’ve been able to incorporate elements of symmetry.

If you haven’t, it doesn’t mean you’ve created a problem. But sometimes simply ending a song the way you started it can add a strong feeling of structural cohesion that makes your song feel like a complete musical journey.

______________

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.“)

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams Copy a Feel, And Get Nailed

Can you plagiarize the feel of a song? The jury in the “Blurred Lines” case seems to think so.

_____________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle (plus a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”) is written by Gary Ewer, designed to straighten out your technique and get you writing better songs.

______________________
Marvin Gaye m- Robin ThickeThis is a head-scratcher, to be sure. Most cases of musical plagiarism involve striking similarities between two songs’ melodies and/or lyrics. In the case of “Blurred Lines” vs “Got To Give It Up” (and despite the judge’s admonition to the jury not to consider the “feel” of the songs in question), it appears that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams got nailed for exactly that: copying a feel.

I’ve been reading about this for several days now, assuming that I must be missing something. After all, we only get to know what’s reported, and so that requires reporters to understand a case before communicating the facts to us.

There are indisputable facts here. The lyrics for “Blurred Lines” bear no similarity to the lyrics of “Got To Give It Up,” and no amount of discussion can change that.

The melodies bear no similarity either. I’ve done up the first few bars of each song, and you really would have to have an active imagination to claim otherwise. For those who read music, click the links below to see the first page of each song (Each link opens in a new browser window/tab). I notated the melodies more-or-less the way we hear them in their recorded versions.

Blurred Lines Sheet Music – Page 1 -||- Got To Give It Up Sheet Music – Page 1

If you want to hear the first few bars of each tune in a “stripped down” accompaniment (pun intended), click the links below. I’ve done the renditions using a basic chording accompaniment, with “Got To Give It Up” transposed to the key of G major so that you can hear them both in the same key. Remember, the jury was instructed to consider the sheet music only, not the actual accompaniment or “feel” of the music.

Blurred Lines Sound File Example -||- Got To Give It Up Sound File Example

When done in this minimalist accompaniment, you get a clear picture of the melodies, and there is no denying that any similarity between the songs’ melodies is nonexistent.

So it does appear to me that the jury did exactly what the judge told them not to do. They seemed to be unable to separate the performances from the sheet music. There is no denying that Thicke and Pharrell deliberately borrowed (stole?) arrangement ideas from Gaye’s rendition.

But this is a real worry for songwriters. Imagine the scenario, which this week seems somewhere between possible and likely:

  1. You write a song that bears no resemblance to any other existing song.
  2. A performer/producer loves your song and wants to record it.
  3. They arrange the song (let’s say, without your specific input) so that it has a feel similar to The Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love,” including an arpeggiated keyboard, washy background vocals and string sweetening.
  4. The copyright holders for “How Deep Is Your Love” launch a lawsuit claiming infringement. They sue YOU for copying their song, even though sheet music renditions bear no similarity.

When has this happened before? Never, as far as I can see. I’m not a lawyer, and so am willing to accept that there’s something here that musicians aren’t understanding about music and the law. But it all seems ludicrous, sad and terrifying. When you can win a 7-million-dollar court case because the tempo, drum beat and cow bell were similar… well, as I say, this is a head scratcher.

Even if we were to consider the musical arrangement, they’re somewhat similar but not identical. The percussion for both songs is similar, but not overly. Both cow bell parts are completely different. The bass lines are similar, but not strikingly so.

It will be interesting to see where this all goes. For now, unless I’m missing something, it appears that we’ve witnessed what can only be called a judicial blunder that could have serious ramifications for songwriters.

______________
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.“)

Some Guidelines for Speedwriting Your Songs

Speedwriting helps to increase your creative abilities, even if the activity terrifies you.

_____________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle (plus a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”) is written by Gary Ewer, designed to straighten out your technique and get you writing better songs.

______________________
Songwriter working at a piano keyboardSpeedwriting can be either fun or terrifying, depending on how you’re feeling on any given day. But there can be no doubt that speedwriting has a lot of benefits, and as a songwriter, you should treat it as an important exercise.

In practically every area of creative arts, you’ll find people who work speedwriting into their daily regimen. Authors in particular love the power, creativity and verbal prowess that come as a direct result of speedwriting.

For songwriters, it can be fun to set a timer for something ridiculously short, like, say, 3 minutes, and see what you come up with. But the main problem that songwriters face, which authors don’t usually have to deal with, is dealing with verses, choruses, bridges and other sections, all of which need to transition more-or-less seamlessly. That’s where speedwriting a song can create the biggest problems.

So let’s try to solve those design problems first. Here are some tips to help you get set up; they’ll increase the chance that you’ll be able to speed-write something worth keeping.

The Set-Up

You should be able to do the following three steps in 30 seconds or less:

  1. Choose a basic song design as a starting point: verse-chorus, verse-chorus-bridge, or something else. Write out each section that you plan to use (see diagram below).
  2. Choose the first two chords of each section of your song.
  3. Create a first line of lyric.

The Song

So now you’ve got a basic framework. Get your instrument ready, as well as any materials you typically use to write: paper, pencils, smartphone, computer… whatever you like to use.

Get your sheet of paper where you wrote your song design so that you can refer to it as you work. It might look something like this:

Song design form

To make this a true speedwriting activity, set a timer for 3-5 minutes, and then start. The idea here is to not set down rules for how this should happen. But there is one rule you may want to remember: Don’t second-guess, judge or criticize what you’ve written down. Don’t take time (yet) to go back and fix what you’ve written. The idea is to always move forward.

Once the timer tells you that the activity is finished, you may find that you haven’t even come close to finishing your song. That’s OK. Keep whatever you’ve written, set it aside, and get set up for a new song.

For each time you run this activity, try changing things up as much as possible. Try not to use the same song design twice in a row, and always choose different starting chords and a different lyric.

The more you try speedwriting, the easier you’ll find it. You’ll start to notice that you’re able to write songs that are “keepers.” Once you’ve got something that’s got potential, then it’s time to go back and fix.

Don’t let the difficulty of speedwriting discourage you. It will be hard at first, but you’ll be surprised by how creative you start to feel, especially if you make this a daily part of your songwriting schedule.

______________

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.“)

8 Questions and Answers On Writing Song Hooks

Hooks can be important contributors to good song structure. Here are 8 commonly-asked questions about hooks.

As you know, a song hook is any catchy bit that represents the most memorable part of a song. It’s often found in the chorus (“Born in the U.S.A.”), but can also be a song’s intro which then keeps repeating throughout the song (“Superstition”), a word or short phrase that recurs (“Ho Hey”), or even a song’s outro (“Hey Jude”).

In pop music, many think of hooks as indispensable; if you don’t have a hook, your song is going to fail. This is a myth, of course, as many songs don’t feature a prominent hook, opting instead for a motif as a major building block.

_____________________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle (plus a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”) is written by Gary Ewer, designed to straighten out your technique and get you writing better songs. 

_____________

There are other myths as well. Here’s a list of 8 questions that often come up when discussing hooks, with some concise answers:

1. Does my song need a hook?

A- Not always. Some songs work very well without a noticeable hook that stands above the song’s other elements. A good example: “The Fool On The Hill“. Lots of catchiness here, but not a hook in the traditional sense of that word.

2. Can a song have more than one hook?

A- Yes. Since a hook requires that it be a) recurring, b) catchy, and c) memorable, anything that has those three attributes qualifies as a hook. In Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, the opening clavinet line is a clear and memorable hook. The line “Very superstitious, writing’s on the wall…” is an important hook as well.

3. Can a hook fix a bad song?

A- No. It can mask problems with a song, but when all is said and done, adding a hook to a bad song gives you a bad song with a hook. It’s far better to fix structural problems with songs instead of hoping to cure them with a hook.

4. Is there any musical genre that doesn’t use hooks?

A- No. Since a hook is simply anything catchy that recurs throughout a song, you’ll find them in any genre, including pop, rock, country, folk, jazz, classical, and all genres in between.

5. What’s the difference between a hook and a motif?

A- The difference is in how they are used. A motif, like a hook, is usually a melodic/rhythmic idea. A hook keeps recurring more-or-less in the same way, using the same (or almost the same) notes and rhythms each time. But a motif serves as an idea that develops into other ideas. A good example is the chorus of “Let It Be”, which keeps presenting those iconic words starting on different notes, changing direction, etc. That means that the chorus of “Let It Be” is a better example of a motif than it is a hook. (Read more about motifs here.)

6. Can I add a hook to a song that’s already finished?

A- Yes. In fact, adding instrumental hooks can happen in the studio as part of the recording process. It can help create a good, layered effect, where the song components operate on one level and the instrumentation adds a new, interesting layer.

7. Can songs be comprised entirely of hooks?

A- Yes. But that’s not to say that it’s something you want for every song you write. “We Found Love” (Rihanna and Calvin Harris) has several hooks, including the opening rhythmic synth figure (which also serves as a motif), and then of course the verse and chorus melodies.

8. When I write songs, I don’t give hooks much thought. I just try to write something that sounds good to me. Is that a problem.

A- Not usually. A song’s success comes from how the various elements communicate with and strengthen each other. Hooks are often used as a way to add cohesion and structure to music. But that can also be achieved by a good use of musical motifs. Hooks can add musically climactic elements to a song, so without a hook you still need something that makes your music memorable, singable and catchy.

_________________
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.“)

Leonard Bernstein’s Ideas on Song Melodies

There are many different kinds of melodies, with the tune being the one most songwriters deal with.

_____________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle (plus a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”) is written by Gary Ewer, designed to straighten out your technique and get you writing better songs.

______________________

Leonard BernsteinFor many songwriters, music is all about the melody; once you’ve got an engaging melody, you’ve got something that acts as an important vehicle for lyrics. That melody, to be ultimately powerful, needs chords to support it — chords that make the musical journey sound complete.

I’m fond of pointing out the similarities between classical and pop music structures. Even though the performance style of classical music is radically different from pop, the basic structural characteristics are similar:

  1. In both classical and pop music, melodies tend to move upward to a climactic high point, and then move downward again before ending. Examples: CLASSICAL: The “Going Home” theme from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” POP: “Lay Lady Lay” (Bob Dylan).
  2. In both classical and pop music, chords move around in such a way as to make one chord stand out as the tonic.
  3. In both classical and pop music, musical energy and momentum grows as the music progresses. Ends of songs tend to be, on average, more energetic than the beginnings.

Thinking about melody for the moment, you only have to listen to a few songs to realize that there are big differences between the kind of melody that you find in various songs. For example, if you listen to The Knack’s “My Sharona“, you hear a melody with a lot of repeated notes, and very little of what you might call “shape” or “contour.”

But now compare that melody to the one we hear in “Love of My Life” (Freddie Mercury/Queen). The melody is beautifully shaped, with a mixture of stepwise motion and melodic leaps.

The American composer Leonard Bernstein has given us a brilliant description of the different kinds of melody we encounter in music. In his book, “Young People’s Concerts”, he says the following about a kind of melody that you, as a songwriter, are most familiar with: the tune:

[W]hy do so many people complain about music that has no melody? […] What do you suppose they mean when they say it’s not melodic? What are they talking about? Isn’t any string of notes a melody?

Well, I think the answer is in the fact that melody can be a lot of different things: it can be a tune, or a theme, or a motive, or a long melodic line, or a bass line, or an inner voice — all those things: and the minute we understand the difference among all those kinds of melody, then I think we’ll be able to understand the whole problem. You see, people usually think of a melody as a tune, something you go out whistling, that’s easy to remember, that “sticks in your mind.” What’s more, a tune almost never goes out of the range of the normal human singing voice – that is, too high or too low. Nor should a tune have phrases that last longer than a single normal breath in singing it. After all, melody is the singing side of music, just as rhythm is the dancing side. But the most important thing about a tune is that usually it is complete in itself — that is, it seems to have a beginning, middle and end, and leaves you feeling satisfied…

As a songwriter, you’re most concerned about the tune: the kind of melody that, as Bernstein says, has the following characteristics:

  1. It can be easily sung.
  2. It’s easily remembered.
  3. It stays in the range of a normal human singing voice.
  4. Its phrases are short enough that each one can be sung in one breath.
  5. It sounds complete, having a start, a middle, and an end.

That’s why the melodies for both “My Sharona” and “Love of My Life” were so successful commercially, even though they are structured in completely different ways. Bernstein goes on to talk about other kinds of melodies, the kind that many classical composers were fond of: themes, for example. In a theme, you hear potential for other melodic ideas to develop, and that’s what you get over the course of a longer symphony.

In your own songwriting, you’re usually going to restrict your melody writing to the composing of a tune. How you know you’ve nailed it is if it can be described using Bernstein’s five observations listed above.

That’s certainly not to say that every melody will achieve those characteristics in the same way, as “My Sharona” and “Love of My Life” demonstrate. But wouldn’t music be a boring activity if that were the case?

______________

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.“)

Mixing Major and Minor Chords to Create Powerful Song Progressions

Here are 5 chord progressions that successfully blend major and minor chords and strengthen the relationship between verse and chorus.

_____________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle (plus a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”) is written by Gary Ewer, designed to straighten out your technique and get you writing better songs.

space

______________________

Pianist playing chordsAll songwriters know that most song progressions contain a mixture of major and minor chords, all working together in such a way that they point to one important chord as the tonic. The tonic chord is the one that represents the key of your song.

In that sense, a song is like a musical journey a traveler might take: no matter where the journey takes you, all roads (most of the time, anyway) lead back to home.

It’s the fact that most progressions are a mixture of major and minor that I want to focus on in this post. Once you begin to study pop songs from the past several decades, you’ll notice something of a pattern emerging: in quite a few major-key songs, verses are a bit more likely to use more minor chords than choruses are:

Chord progressions moving from minor to major

There’s a good reason for that. The chorus, which represents the most recognizable, easily remembered and easily sung part of the song, usually sits strongly in the song’s key. The verse, by comparison, will often engage in a more interesting musical journey, setting up the chorus as being a musical target.

But it’s more than that. The reason minor chords often work so well in a song verse is that they offer a nice sense of contrast to the chorus. And some of the most successful songs are ones that most expertly integrate that sense of contrast.

As you work out the chords for your song, simply deciding to stick close to minor-sounding progressions for a verse may not necessarily give you the progressions that are going to work.

So the following is a list of 5 progressions, all of which feature a verse progression that uses a good number of minor chords, and then switching to choruses that feature mainly major chords. (Key: C Major).

The verse progression continues up until the double line, followed by a suggested chorus progression. Each verse progression, as the diagram above demonstrates, will start to reorient itself toward major as it gets close to the chorus.

They’ll work in almost any style, tempo and/or time signature. Also, experiment with how long you hold each chord. Most of them will work fine holding each chord for 2 or 4 beats.

  1. Am  Bb  F  G  Am  Bb  Dm  G || C  F  Dm  G  C  F  Am  G
  2. Am  Em  Am  G  Am  Dm  Em  G  ||C  G  C  G/B  Am  F  C  G
  3. Am  F  Am  Em  Am  F  Am  G  ||C  Am  F  G  F  C  F  G
  4. Am  G  Am  Dm  Am  Em  F  F  ||C  Bb  F  G  C  Bb  F  G
  5. Am  Dm  Esus4  E  Am  Dm  Gsus4  G ||C  F  Gsus4  G  Am  F  Gsus4  G

______________

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.“)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,386 other followers