Piano - Songwriting

Giving Your Song a New Identity

Have you ever written one of those songs that just doesn’t work, no matter what you seem to do to it? Of course, the most common solution is to put it aside, maybe forget about it, and get on with your next one.

Before you give up entirely on that song that isn’t measuring up, here’s something you can try: Give your song an entirely new identity by switching modes. Here’s how that works.

Let’s say that you’re song is primarily in a major key, with a chorus progression something like:

C  F  Dm  G  Am  F  Am  G

As you play it through, it’s obvious that C is the tonic (key) chord. Songs in a major key tend to exhibit a particular mood. Depending on the lyrics, it’s easy to think of major key music as happy, optimistic, or in some way generally positive.

To find other possible moods, try switching from major to minor. There are several ways to do this, but let’s start by simply assuming that we’re in the key of C minor, and using the equivalent chords we would find in that key.

In C major, the 7 chords naturally existing in that key are: I: C| ii:Dm| iii: Em| IV: F| V: G| vi: Am| and vii: Bdim.

In C minor, those chords are: i: Cm| ii: Ddim| III: Eb| iv: Fm| V: G (or Gm)| VI: Ab| and VII: Bb.

That would make your progression:

Cm  Fm  Ddim  G  Ab  Fm  Ab  G

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When you change the quality of the chords from major to minor, this might also change your melody, so you’ll need to sing through your tune to make sure it’s fitting with the new chords.

As you can hear, the entire mood of the music changes when you switch from major to minor.

Good songs are a partnership between all the many song elements that work together to form a song. Key, tempo, lyrics, melodic shape, chord progressions, rhythm, production — they all play a role in defining the overall success of a song.

You may spend a fair bit of time changing tempo, developing a different backing rhythm, changing the melodies or lyrics… but the one thing we often don’t change is the major or minor quality of the music. We often see that as a change that might be a bit too radical.

But for those songs that just don’t seem to work, a radical change might be what’s needed. And it’s not difficult. To summarize what you need to do to make this kind of change work, simply write out your chord progression, work out the Roman numerals for those chords, and then switch them for the minor key equivalents.

If your song was originally in minor, simply make the switch to major.

Once you’ve done that, you might find that others song elements such as tempo, time signature, and backing rhythmic feel, might need to be experimented with as well. But making that switch in mode might be the thing that opens the floodgates and gets you thinking creatively about that song that just wasn’t working.

Good luck!

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 song lyric. Right now, get a copy of “Creative Chord Progressions” FREE with your purchase of the 10-eBook Bundle.

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How to Know If a Song Needs a Bridge

You could make a case for saying that no song needs a bridge, in the sense that there are other solutions at your disposal. Here’s what I mean by that:

One of the most important characteristics of any song is contrast. Audiences need to be able to hear some difference between, say, the verse and the chorus, however slight that difference might be. It might be a different chord progression, a different range for the melody, or, of course, different lyrics.

And as long as those differences are present, it’s possible to construct a song in such a way that a bridge isn’t strictly necessary, and many songs don’t in fact use a bridge.

And to look at the issue from the other direction, I’ve heard songs that use a bridge that I’ve felt wasn’t necessary, in a way that didn’t add anything valuable to the song.

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So how do you know if your song could or would benefit from including a bridge? Here are some suggestions to consider.

  1. If the chords of the verse and chorus are the same, or very similar. In that case, a bridge can offer a new “flavour” to your music. You’ll want to take your chords in a new direction– move into minor if your song is on a major key, or vice versa.
  2. If the melody “wants” to explore a higher range. If you don’t feel that the chorus melody provides enough of a climactic moment, you can do that with a newly constructed melody for a bridge.
  3. If the verse-chorus melody combination would sound boring if you repeated it for a 3rd verse-chorus.
  4. If the end of the lyric reveals an important concept, philosophical statement, or “other shoe dropping” kind of line. A bridge can, in those cases, draw a clearer line between the rest of the lyric.
  5. If you need to dramatically change the energy of the music, either higher or lower.

My own opinion is that the lyric should play an important part of the decision to use a bridge. Bridge lyrics need to stand out a bit from everything else.

In any case, how you know that a bridge is making a valuable contribution to your song is if it draws attention to itself in a subtle way… different without sounding so different that it doesn’t connect well to what’s come before or what follows it.

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

Gary Ewer's Songwriting eBooksThousands of songwriters are now using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting ” ebooks to polish their songwriting technique. Today, get a FREE copy of “Creative Chord Progressions ” with your purchase of the 10-ebook Bundle.


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Guitar - Songwriting - Teacher

Teaching Others Can Improve Your Own Songwriting – Here’s How

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If you’re looking for a way to improve your own songwriting skills, it may surprise you to know that teaching songwriting to others is a great way to do this.

Teaching, of course, is meant to help the student, but here’s what teaching someone else can do for you:

  1. Teaching organizes your thoughts. How you approach songwriting in the first place can be a mystery even to you, but teaching someone else helps you to understand what you get out of songwriting. That can be a crucial part of inspiring someone else, but it also serves as a powerful reminder to you.
  2. Teaching clarifies your own songwriting process. One of the toughest aspects of songwriting to beginners is how to do it. They may have musical ideas bouncing around, but newcomers to writing music often struggle with how to get started. Being able to describe this very important step helps you, by reminding yourself of the many different ways that songs can be written. It can help you by keeping you from getting into a songwriting rut.
  3. Teaching gives you an extra musical activity. Writer’s block can happen when you feel stuck, and teaching is a way to keep your hand in songwriting without the pressure of writing your own song. You’ll notice that no matter how bad your creative block is, you can still show others how it’s done. That may seem weird, but it’s not, really. By teaching, you’re tapping into a completely different pathway in your creative mind.
  4. Teaching can answer questions that you may be having. It’s happened more than once with me that showing a student how to do something has actually helped me. Teaching often means slowing a process down to show the various parts of a potential solution, and in so doing you often find that you’re answering questions you’ve had about something you’re working on.
  5. Teaching can give you another revenue stream. You may be showing your own child, niece or nephew how to write songs, and doing that for free. But expanding beyond that and teaching others can be a rewarding career. And depending on your situation, you may find that that extra money is taking pressure off you, especially if you’ve been relying on your own music, and the performance of it, for a good percentage of your income.

We like to think that songwriting is purely a creative activity, where we hope to simply imagine our songs, and there they are! But in fact, songwriting requires discipline, hard work, and a clearly thought-out process.

And in that regard, teaching others how to do it can help. Its main benefit is to slow the process down, and nothing does that quite so well as teaching.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

Creative Chord ProgressionsDo you get stuck at the chord progression stage of songwriting? This eBook, “Creative Chord Progressions“, is being offered FREE with your purchase of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.

Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
Non-singing songwriter

Building an Audience For Your Songs If You’re a Non-Singer

It’s hard to build audiences for songs, if you mean sending your songs “out there” for others to hear and appreciate, and then building a fan base for yourself that way. Songs on their own, standing simply on their own strength, may be excellent, and producers might build their careers around finding great songs. But audiences usually need to know personalities (singers or bands) in order for songs to really succeed. A good song that you’ve written for someone else has a better chance of building a fan base for that singer than it does for you.

That kind of success — where you work as a songwriter and not at all as a performer — really requires you to be working for producers or other industry personnel, partnering often with others to create songs that other singers are going to want to record.

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And it’s hard to build an audience or a fan base that way. Audiences will always associate the song with the singer or band, and not usually with the songwriter.

Building an audience for your songs, therefore, usually means building an audience for you as a performer. Your songs become a vehicle which presents you to the world. In that sense, the quality of your songs becomes a part of the entire package, all of which need to be good: your songs, your singing, your production… you.

If you’ve been writing songs, but you find it hard to get much or any attention for the work you’re doing, it may be time to present yourself as the singer of those songs. You may feel that you have a horrible voice, but there are ways to improve your vocal abilities.

Here are some thoughts and tips regarding making yourself a better performer of your own songs.

  1. Don’t assume that your voice needs to be trained in the traditional sense of that word. Many pop singers have taken voice lessons, but those sessions often deal more with important issues such as relieving vocal stress, warming up properly, increasing vocal range, and so on. If you’re a lousy singer, it may have more to do with improper technique, and those issues can often be solved relatively quickly.
  2. A good voice doesn’t need to be a beautiful voice. Karen Carpenter was renowned for the amazing beauty of her voice, and it brought The Carpenters considerable fame and fortune. But there are many singers that have, shall we say, less than polished voices (Dylan? Neil Young? ), but they’ve built huge careers. The reason? The singer presents music with an honesty and integrity that audiences love. The fact that the voice is rough around the edges just makes it seem that much more real.
  3. Singer - songwriter at the pianoPractice pitch-matching. If you find it hard to sing in tune, one of the easiest and best first steps is to play a note on a guitar or piano and sing the note, trying to match the pitch. Record yourself doing this, and listen to the recording afterward. Try singing well-known melodies along with the recording, and then try singing those melodies with just you — no instrumental backing.
  4. Take lessons. Get in contact with a college near you, and ask if they have a music program, and any senior voice students who might be able to give you a few lessons. Be specific about what you’re looking for — that you want to be able to sing your own songs, and be sure they know the genre you work in. A few lessons may be all you need to improve your technique.
  5. Sing every day. And listen to yourself a lot. Record yourself and listen carefully. Just like improving with anything, it’s important that you identify what it is you don’t like, and then work, issue by issue, to make things better.
  6. Singer with Electric BassBe courageous. Confidence makes you a better singer. Singing as if you love what you’re doing is one of the best ways to get an audience on side.

Remember, this is not about becoming a great singer, as such. It’s about learning to use your own voice as a way to build an audience base for your songs. By improving your performance skills, you give the audience more than just songs to relate to… You give them you!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Thousands of songwriters are using the materials from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle to improve their songwriting technique. They’re discovering their own hidden talents, abilities they never knew they had. Now, it’s your turn!

Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .
The Knack

About Those Songs That Don’t Seem to Have a Catchy Shape

If you ask someone what they like about a song melody that they love, they’ll usually mention one or more of the following:

  1. It’s got a nice contour that explores a large range, from low to high.
  2. It’s got a moment (the so-called climactic moment) that acts as a point of focus for the entire tune.
  3. It’s easy to remember.
  4. It’s fun or otherwise enjoyable to sing.
  5. It brings the lyric alive.

Those aren’t the only things people might like about a melody, of course, and any good melody might not have all of those qualities.

And here’s another point: not every song is about the melody. Many songs make do with a melody that has a constricted range, or perhaps doesn’t really have a climactic moment.

PracticingFor those songs, where the melody sits a bit in the background, not really getting attention (“My Sharona”, written by Doug Fieger and Berton Averre, and recorded by The Knack in 1979, might be a good example) — how do such songs succeed?

How does a song with a rather shapeless melody still manage to become a big hit? (“My Sharona” was the top song on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1979).

Here are some thoughts on that:

  1. Songs that use melodies that don’t have a lot of shape or points of interest need to use rhythm, either as a background hook, or even as part of the rhythm of the melody.
  2. Lyrics usually need to step up and be enticing and somehow noticeable.
  3. Instrumentation and production issues become important front-end partners in songs with static melodies.
  4. A chord progression can become more important in songs that don’t have a melody that grabs attention.

Of those four points, the first three probably describe the success of “My Sharona.”

In your own songs, don’t stress over a melody that seems to be lacklustre or shapeless. Not every song needs that kind of melody.

But without a melody to grab attention, remember that your audience needs something that does, and does so rather immediately. If your melody isn’t that element, it’s important to listen objectively to your songs and ask yourself:

  1. What is it that will make people want to listen to this song.
  2. What is happening within the lyric that the audience will find enticing.
  3. What is happening instrumentally that can replace the interest-factor we normally find with a well-shaped melody?

Remember that a good song is a partnership of components, all working together. In every song, at least one of those many elements will be required to do the heavy lifting. Not every element needs to do that. So it’s not a problem that your song melody seems flat or static, as long as other elements have stepped forward to please the audience.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

Creative Chord ProgressionsAre you looking for ways to make your progressions more creative? Tired of the same-old, same-old? This eBook, “Creative Chord Progressions“, is being offered free with your purchase of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle. Read more.

Posted in Melody 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.

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