Pianist - Songwriter

Songwriting: Changing Key Within a Verse

Most of the time, a song will start and end in the same key without ever changing. But once in a while, it can be interesting for the audience if they hear the music move off to some new key, even if that key change is just temporary. In music theory terms, it’s called “modulation.”

So let’s say that you’d like to spice up your verse by changing key. One possible scenario would be to move to a new key, but then move back to the original one before hitting the chorus:

Verse that changes key

There are a few reasons why you might like to change key. One good circumstance would be if the chord progression you’re using is a very simple, basic one; doing the same progression in a new key makes it sound like you’ve come up with something new, when in fact you’re just repeating the old progression in that new key.


“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleIf all you really need are some chord progressions to get your songwriting process started, check out “Essential Chord Progressions” and “More Essential Chord Progressions.” Tons of chords for any genre, playing style, or tempo. They’re part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle. Get today’s FREE DEAL: a copy of “Creative Chord Progressions” 


So let’s say you’ve got this progression:

C  F  C  F  C  F  Am  G (I  IV  I  IV  I  IV  vi  V)

And lets assume that you play each chord for two beats. You get something that sounds like this:

To make a full verse, you’re going to want to repeat that, and possibly add even more to it. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, and I’ve often said on this blog that I think songwriters sometimes worry too much about repetitive chord progressions.

But if you’re looking for a way to make that progression sound fresh and new, try moving up into a new key at least temporarily. Which key you choose can be up for some experimentation. I’ve often liked the minor-3rd relationship: moving it up into Eb major, and then moving it back down to the original key again:

From C major to Eb major

…which sounds like this:

As you can hear, the kind of modulation here is a so-called abrupt modulation, in the sense that there was no attempt to alter the chord before the key change to smooth out the transition to the new key. I kind of like the abrupt nature of the modulation.

One of the reasons I like the change to Eb major is the fact that the Eb major chord has a note in common with the C major chord, so that helps to make a connection between the old and new key.

It also works to switch to F major, though I find it a bit less satisfying, mainly because the last chord of the F major section is a C, which is the first chord of the C major section. That means you get two C major chords in a row:

From C major to F major

…sounding like this:

Anther option you might want to consider for making a key change within a verse: Switch from minor to major. This works well if you use the relative major/minor relationship. So let’s say that you use the progression above, but in C minor rather than C major: Cm  Fm  Cm  Fm  Cm  Fm  Ab  G. You can then use the Eb progression from above as the nice contrasting middle section.

The examples I’ve given above make for a 12-bar verse, and so if you want a 16-bar verse, you might consider creating a 4th phrase that connects well to your chorus. Or, when you come back to your original key, you can change that progression to be something longer — different from the original progression.

Switching key in the middle of a verse works best if you consider the following:

  1. Use a simple progression if you want to simply repeat the progression in a new key.
  2. Don’t feel you have to use the same progression transposed. You can move to a new key and then come up with something completely different.
  3. There’s no need to switch back to the original key for the chorus, but it can feel a bit unbalanced to move to new key in the middle of your verse and stay there for the chorus.
  4. Switching key in a verse can be just one part of several key changes that happen in your song. You can then move to a new key again for the chorus, and move up for the bridge, etc. But the more you modulate, the stronger the need to keep the progressions simple.
  5. Don’t use this technique a lot! It’s something you want to use sparingly. Listeners like feeling rooted in a key. It’s why I’d favour moving back to the original key before hitting the chorus.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleIf you’re looking for one set of eBooks that will cover everything you need to know about writing songs –creating melodies, lyrics, chord progressions, and more — “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Deluxe Bundle is what you’re looking for. It always comes with a SPECIAL DEAL.

Posted in Modulation (Key Change) and tagged , , , , , , , , .
Songwriting notepad

Identifying the Principles That Guide Good Songwriting

In order to help students fully understand a topic, teachers will identify a list of principles that strive to explain as much as possible with as few words as possible. We teachers of music do that very thing: we study as large a collection of music as possible, and then come up with a few statements that hope to explain how most — not likely all — of those songs work. Those statements are principles.

With regard to songwriting we sometimes toss the word “rules” around, but it’s almost never about rules; guiding principles are a much more relevant way of comparing and understanding music. But how do we identify the principles that guide the writing of songs?


Chord Progression FormulasIf you want a quick way to create chord progressions that make sense, you need “Chord Progression Formulas.” This eBook manual shows you how to take some basic formulas, and create dozens of progressions in moments. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.


In songwriting, a principle is identified when we notice many or most songs with a similar basic trait or characteristic, a trait that is almost necessary to the success of music in general. That may seem easy, but in fact it can be a difficult challenge, because the characteristic might be working almost entirely in the background. And it’s got to be the kind of trait that almost all songs, regardless of sub-genre, display to varying degrees.

Here’s an example. We might notice that some songs start in a minor key for the verse, and then switch to major for the chorus. Not many songs do the opposite: you don’t notice many songs that start in major and then switch to minor.

You might be tempted to say something like “Good songs start in minor and switch to major.” But of course we know that’s wrong. We know that many, probably most, songs start and end in the same key. But there’s obviously something pleasantly enticing about a song that starts in minor and switches to major, so there must be a principle involved.

The actual principle in play that makes changing from minor to major work is this: In general, the energy of the end of a song should EQUAL OR EXCEED the energy at the beginning.

There are other things we can say about musical energy that shine a brighter light on that principle. For example, we know that even though musical energy increases as a song progresses, it rarely increases in a straight line. It usually moves up and down, but higher toward the end than the beginning.

That statement regarding musical energy is a principle, not a rule. A principle is a far more encompassing than a rule. It gives the songwriter and producer much more leeway in achieving the principle’s intent. Rules are rigid and don’t allow for flexibility. Principles encourage creativity.

With musical energy, for example, there are many ways to make the end of a song more energetic than the start:

  1. Build up the instrumentation.
  2. Play louder as you go.
  3. Switch from minor to major.
  4. Play faster.
  5. Move melodies higher.
  6. Change to a higher key.
  7. Use more backing vocals later in the song.
  8. Add countermelodies later in the song.

Any one song might only use one or two of those ideas. But they all work to achieve the same thing: they boost musical energy.

To most fully understand songwriting as an art form, you need to dissect songs that have made the most powerful impact on our culture, and describe, in the most concise way possible, why they succeed. You need to be able to find the commonalities between those songs, and express those common traits using as few words as possible.

In “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook, I identified eleven different principles, the intent of which has been to describe the success of as many great songs as possible. Those principles are not meant to prescribe exactly how you should be writing songs, but rather to serve as a guide that allows you to express your creativity in your own unique way.

The best way to fully understand those principles is to engage in active listening of music on a daily basic. Active listening means striving to put into words what you like about a song, what you don’t like, and then to think of ways you can incorporate the things you like into your own music.

And if you succeed with that, then you’ve properly understood the principle involved, and you have a better chance of writing songs that express your own unique approach to creativity. That’s what musical principles are all about.


“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Deluxe Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook bundle will show you how to write great songs, harmonize your melodies, and give you hundreds of chord progressions in the process.

PURCHASE and DOWNLOAD the e-books for  your laptop/desktop. (High-quality PDF format for your iPad, iPhone, or any other PDF-reading device.)

Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
Songwriter and pen

How Long Should a Songwriting Session Be?

If songwriting is the kind of activity for you where there’s no particular pressure to get something written, there’s nothing like the freedom of starting and stopping as the whim hits you.

The biggest problem with writing when you want to is keeping disciplined. There can be days (weeks? months?) when it’s hard to get something done without the focusing pressure of a deadline.


Writing a Song From a Chord ProgressionIf you like starting songs by working out the chord progression first, you will love “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” It’s part of the 10-eBook “Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Bundle.


If, however, you’re the kind of songwriter for whom music is either a career choice, or forms a good chunk of your income, or at least has that potential, you’ve got the added pressure of getting work done in a timely fashion, and possibly having several songs on the go at any one time. You’ve probably got band rehearsals, gigs, and possibly recordings to do.

That puts songwriting in a different category: you don’t have the same luxury of writing when you feel like it, and stopping when you don’t.

So the question of how long a songwriting session should be becomes more important. You’ve got a lot of music to write, let’s say, but you get easily frustrated with songs that don’t come easily.

In those cases, how long should a songwriting session be?

Pacing Yourself

You’ll guess correctly that there’s no one right answer, and that it depends on the personal characteristics and approach of each individual songwriter. But if you find writer’s block keeps becoming a problem for you, you may need to rethink how you’re pacing yourself as a writer.

Here are some tips for helping you to gauge how long your songwriting sessions should be.

  1. Divide your day into 3 sections or “chunks” of time: morning, afternoon, evening.
  2. Aim to write for one hour in any one section of a day.
  3. Aim to write for one or two sections per day.
  4. If any section of a day includes school or work, don’t force yourself to fit songwriting in. In other words, if you work from 9 to 5, the evening is going to be your one songwriting session for that day.

Now, that just gives you a blueprint for what a day of songwriting could look like. There are days when you’ll want or need to write more, especially if you have a gig or rehearsal that needs your new song finished.

No matter what your songwriting needs are, there’s always the chance that you’ll get stuck in your songwriting process, and need to step back a bit to keep frustration from growing into writer’s block.

So the issue of frustration is always going to be the determining factor for how long a songwriting session should be. Frustration is no friend of the arts.

The best solution for busy songwriters is to have several songs on the go at any one time. That gives you the option of switching to a different song as a way of dealing the frustrations that are happening with your current one.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

3rd_ed_cover_smChapter 5 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” is where you’ll discover the secrets of writing a melody that partners well with a lyric. Get the full 10-eBook Bundle, and a FREE COPY of “Creative Chord Progressions.”

Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , .
Floating musical notes

Tips for Developing a Melody-First Songwriting Process

Starting the songwriting process by working out chords makes a certain amount of sense, mainly for the reason that chords can provide a strong sense of mood. The theory is that if you can get some good chords working, and then pair them up with a rhythmic groove, you’ve got the makings of the feel of a good song. Now you just need a melody and lyrics.

I think the chords-first method can work, but it comes with certain musical dangers, the main one being that the melody can get neglected. The great classical masters of composition practically always did a melody-first method for writing music. By doing so, they ensured that melody was front and centre, with no chance of being neglected.


How to Harmonize a MelodyOnce you’ve got a melody, how do you know which chords will work with it? “How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you how to do exactly that. Shows the secrets of harmonic rhythmidentifying the key of your melody, chord function, and more. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.


There are two problems that many songwriters have with the melody-first method are:

  1. Without chords to guide me, how do I come up with a good melody? Or…
  2. Once I’ve got a melody, what do I do for chords?

The first problem is the one that provides the most anxiety, but it shouldn’t. If you’ve always thought that coming up with a melody with no chords in mind sounds daunting, you might be surprised that it’s actually a lot easier than you think.

If you, right now, start to hum an improvised melody, you’ll likely find you won’t simply sing random notes. You’ll probably notice the following:

  1. You’re creating melodic shapes that fit into a major or minor scale structure, even if you’re not trying.
  2. Your melodic ideas are singable.
  3. You’re creating rhythmic ideas that get repeated.
  4. You might even throw in a word or two as you get a feeling for what you’re singing about.

In other words, it’s highly unlikely that you’re simply going to improvise random notes that have no structure whatsoever. Everything you hum will have the potential for being accompanied by a chord progression.

In that sense, there’s really no such thing as a melody-first method, because a newly-improvised melody will imply the chords that could support it. So it really is a melody-and-chords method.

Just because you have an ability to sing melodies that make musical sense doesn’t mean you’ve written a great melody. There are lots of ways that singable melodies can be bad, but at least you’ve got the ability to get inside the ballpark, as they say.

The Advantage of Melody-First Songwriting

So if melody and chords happen more or less together, is there an advantage to concentrating on writing the melody first? Yes, and it’s a pretty big advantage: By focusing on the melody, you feel freer to change the chords underneath it, and you can end up with a more interesting chord progression.

It’s amazing how much you can influence the impact of a melody by adjusting the chord progression underneath it. If you’re not sure how to come up with good chord substitutions, give this article a read: “Chord Substitutions: Finding a Great Chord.

Don’t Forget the Structure of Good Melodies

Don’t be too discouraged if your first attempts to write a melody result in something that sounds structureless or otherwise disorganized. It may take several attempts to come up with something you like. As you try to get the melody-first method working for you, remember these important tips regarding good melodies:

  1. Good melodies use a good amount of repetition. If you come up with a good, short melodic idea, try seeing what it sounds like if you simply repeat it. You’d be surprised how many song melodies make use of this one important characteristic.
  2. Good melodies are mainly stepwise with occasional leaps. If you’re stuck for what to do next once you’ve sung your first note, simply move up or down by scale degrees. Scales often form important parts of good melodies. A great example of a melody composed by mainly scalewise passages is “A Groovy Kind of Love” (Carole Bayer Sager, Toni Wine).
  3. Don’t forget repeated notes. When all else fails, try singing the same note a few times, working out an interesting rhythm. A good example of this is Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone“, where the verse melody makes great use of note repetition.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Creative Chord Progressions”. Learn how to take your chords beyond simple I-IV-V progressions. With pages of examples ready for you to use in your own songs.

Posted in Chord Progressions, Melody and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
Victrola

Why Sticking to the 3-4 Minute Song Length Still Makes Sense

There’s an interesting history behind why pop songs tend to be 3-to-4 minutes in length, and it has to do with the nature of the medium: typically, a 10-inch record spinning 78 times per minute, as you would have had when rock & roll was in its infancy.

That usually meant that it was not possible to have a song much longer than 4 minutes or so. Longer than that, the grooves of the record were too close together, compromising sound quality. And back in the day, a 2-and-a-half minute song was typical.


Hooks and RiffsHooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” explains why hooks can be a vital part of a song’s success. It shows you how to write them, and even more importantly, how to layer hooks for maximum effect. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.


These days, of course, there’s no such limitation. A song can be as long as it needs to be. But I would maintain that for the typical pop song — or songs in any of the related pop genres of country, rock, and maybe even jazz — it’s still best to stick to the 3-4 minute song.

Developing Musical Ideas

If you think of musical genres that produce longer works — like an 18th-19th century symphony, let’s say, which could be anywhere up to an hour long or more — those are pieces that engage with the audience by developing musical ideas in a way that pop music usually doesn’t.

Developing a musical idea means presenting an idea — a melody, a rhythm, a harmony, even a key — and then changing that idea over time in such a way that the listener hears that modification happening. They hear different themes being presented, and then they hear the composer contrasting and mixing those ideas in interesting and thought-provoking ways. That’s what you hear when you listen to any symphony by any of the Classical masters. And that kind of development takes time.

Pop music doesn’t usually engage in the developing of musical ideas, at least not so much. They’re more about a catchy hook than they are about developing ideas over time.

A hook, being short, catchy and memorable, is what short music needs. Because pop songs started off their life decades ago with the need to be short, it meant that the hook was the only good way to be sure you were providing something interesting for the audience.

You’ll notice that progressive rock masterpieces in the late 60s and into the 70s were much longer than typical pop songs. But that’s because prog rock was the one sub-genre of pop that did present musical ideas that were developed and modified over time. So like a Classical symphony, they could keep listeners engaged by how the music developed, not by catchy hooks.

Why You Should Keep It Short

If you’re using the standard pop format of verse-chorus, with any of the other optional sections such as pre-chorus and bridge, you’d do well to limit your song to 4 minutes or less. Longer than that? It’s hard for a song that’s hook-based to maintain interest. It becomes too repetitive or too rambling.

A hook is a little jewel that waves a flag and gets immediate attention. Long after most of a song has faded from someone’s memory, they can usually still hum the hook. You’ll notice this when people sing out the iconic guitar hook of “Smoke On the Water”… they often can’t sing much of the rest of the song, but they love that hook.

Don’t consider a short 3-4 minute song some kind of musical failure, where you’d otherwise love to be able to sing 6 verses and choruses, and have your song approach 10 minutes. It’s usually not necessary, and you’ll lose listeners.

Consider it a musical challenge: How do you present a coherent musical journey for your audience, one that sounds interesting and musically fulfilling, but limits itself to 4 minutes? It’s often not easy, but you’ll reap stronger benefits from doing a short song well, than struggling to keep audiences listening for 6 minutes or more.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Gary

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages explore 11 principles of songwriting, and will take your own music to a new level of excellence. Right now, download a FREE COPY of “Creative Chord Progressions”, when you get the 10-ebook Bundle.Creative Chord Progressions

Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

Hi, I'm Gary Ewer. This blog has been my labour of love since 2008. You'll find the five most recent songwriting articles right here on this page, and if you want to browse through the more than 1500 posts in the archive, scroll to the bottom of the page.

And if you're ready to discover the extent of your true songwriting skills, you need my eBook Bundle. Read about that here.

Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of any article. I love reading what others are thinking about music.

About Gary Ewer

Stay Connected!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Gary’s YouTube Videos

If you like seeing songwriting concepts being explained, check out Gary's YouTube Channel.

Gary's latest video: "5 Reasons to Include a Bridge In a Song's Design"


Read More Articles From the Archives:

A Welcome from Gary Ewer

Welcome! I've been helping songwriters improve their technique for many years on this blog, and I'm glad you've visited today. And I very much welcome your comments on anything you read here.

About Gary

Songwriting Manuals

Are you stuck in a songwriting rut? Gary's “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” manuals will get you moving again. Seven high-quality PDF documents. Take your songwriting to a new level of excellence!

Read more..

Essential Chord Progressions

Discover how chords work, and how to add chords to your song melodies.

More Info