Songwriting: Melody and lyrics

Being Prolific is Only Good If You’re Writing Good Songs

You may be the kind of songwriter that works slowly, such that by the end of the year you’ve only written a small handful of songs. It may be your norm to take your time getting your initial ideas down, and then spend a lot of time honing and crafting what you’ve written.

How to Harmonize a MelodyGetting melodies and chords working well together is vital knowledge for any songwriter. “How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you, step by step, how that works, and gives you sound samples to follow.

If you find yourself worrying about the small number of songs you write compared to others who work in your genre, it’s worth reminding yourself of this important fact: No one will make note of how prolific you are if those songs aren’t good ones.

It’s like noting that a baseball player has played 3000 games in their career, but had only 200 runs batted in; the number of games becomes nothing more than an interesting but meaningless statistic.

But let’s say that your number of completed songs per year is bothering you, and you feel that you should be writing more. That can be a good objective. If the songs you’re writing seem to be good ones, popular with your fan base, and you simply wish you could write more, there may be things you can do to become more prolific. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Don’t overthink your songs. Sometimes you might find that you actually get a good number of songs written, but then it’s the editing stage where things get bogged down. Because for many, the editing stage becomes the “time to second-guess everything I’ve written” stage. If you find it easy to get into a flow, be more trusting that you’ve actually written something that works just as it is.
  2. Work on several songs at the same time. By this, I mean that you should hone your ability to keep several songs on the “front burner”, and switch to a different one as you feel ideas dwindle with the one you’re specifically working on. By doing this, you allow spontaneity to play a bigger role in your songwriting, rather than getting bogged down on one particular song.
  3. Work quickly. Historically we can see that songs that come together quickly have a level of excitement and raw musicality that serves as a kind of self-generating inspiration. Try to turn off your internal critic and get as much of a song written as you possibly can before putting the magnifying glass on what you’ve written. By doing this, you’ll probably find that you’re more pleased with what you’ve written, and songs become easier to edit.
  4. Work with others. Collaborations can be great ways to speed up the songwriting process, since the pool of ideas becomes larger and things can come together much quicker.
  5. Be more willing to explore non-conventions in your chosen genre. There’s a video of a Howard Stern interview of Billy Joel, in which Billy, in a way, pokes a bit of fun at how unconventional his hit “Piano Man” was: written in a 3/4 waltz time, with a lyric that’s actually a limerick. It’s the kind of thing that can make a songwriter worry and think that the song is weak. But as we know, “Piano Man” is a great song, and thankfully Billy didn’t overthink what he had written, and was willing to accept the song as being something unique, something actually powerful.

Most of the time, songwriters who worry about how much they’re writing are focussing on the wrong thing. You should be more focused on the quality of your writing. Once you feel that songwriting excellence is becoming more commonplace for you, you’ll probably find that the number of songs you write will naturally increase.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook bundle includes several chord progression eBooks, including “Chord Progression Formulas”. Learn how to create chord progressions within seconds using these formulas. Get the free deal!

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Why Developing a Diverse Songwriting Style is Crucial to Building a Larger Fan Base

Writing a Song From a Chord ProgressionIf you like the chords-first songwriting method, you’ll want to read “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” It deals with the common chords-first problem of how to write a great melody straight from the chords. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.

Songwriters tend to work within specific genres, even though most songs can be reworked to exist in practically any genre you can name. As an example, Paul Simon wrote “The Sound of Silence” as a kind of folk tune, which was then tweaked to sound more like a pop tune.

And because it’s such a great song, it has been presented as a country-bluegrass tune, and even as a metal song by the American band Disturbed.

Great songs have the ability to be dressed in different clothes through performance and production, and they’ll still work. Even so, most songs are written with a particular performance category in mind, and in your own songwriting you are probably hearing a finished version of your song in your mind as you write it, and that version is likely in the genre you call your own.

Though that may be true, there is something to be said for deliberately writing a song that strays outside the boundaries of your normal genre. So even though you may be getting a name for writing pop songs, you might consider writing something country, or perhaps folk or even metal.

And why would you do that? The main reason is the possibilities diversifying your writing style gives you for building a larger fan base. You may already have a solid fan base in a particular genre, but think of what would happen if you stepped outside that genre and began to pull in listeners who might not normally encounter your music.

Writing outside your normal genre will mean familiarizing yourself with songs, as well as singers and bands who work in those other genres. And by succeeding in getting them to perform a song you’ve written, you’re able to pull their fan base into your own existing one.

So spend some time in your daily listening by focusing on a genre you don’t normally work in, and familiarize yourself with the sounds, chord choices, tempos and instrumentation. It’ll practically always work in your favour.

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleIf you’re trying to improve your songwriting skills, you need basic grounding in the fundamentals. That’s what you get with “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.” Right now, get a copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process” FREE when you get the Bundle.

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Using the Range of Your Melody to Create Musical Energy

For those who don’t create (write or perform) songs, they’d probably have a simple answer to how you generate musical energy: turn up the volume!

But if you’ve been a musician for a while, whether that’s writing songs, or being involved in producing or playing them, you likely know that there’s a lot more you can do to generate musical energy. Making things louder means trying to make everything more energetic, but focusing on one particular component of a song — like the melody, for example — means you can be more subtle about it.

Essential Chord ProgressionsLooking for lists of progressions you can use in your own songs? “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle has 2 main collections, plus eBooks on how to harmonize your own melodies, and more.

One of the most powerful ways to control the power of your melodies, and the energy they generate, is to give thought to their range. Typically, when melodies move upward, they generate more power, and when they move downward they allow energy to dissipate.

That’s because when a singer is required to sing in their highest range, a natural kind of tension can be heard in the voice. Listeners interpret that increase of vocal tension as an increase in musical energy.

Then when the voice moves downward, that extra energy diminishes.

It’s a common principle in songwriting, regardless of genre, that the first section of a song (usually the verse) exhibits lower energy levels than the section that follows — the chorus. So that’s the reason that most songs will use melodies lower in range for the verse, and then higher in range for the chorus.

In addition to that, though, you can be even more subtle about melodic range within a song’s section. You can see evidence of this in practically any song, but take a listen to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” as a good example. You can hear that the melodies dwell mainly around one note for quite a while, with occasional jumps upward. Each of those upward melodic leaps offers a slight shot of energy in the voice, even if the backing instruments mainly continue with whatever they had been doing.

Those melodic fluctuations allow for some understated but constant up-and-down of musical energy throughout the entire song.

In your own songwriting, take a look at your melodies and pay particular attention to how they move. When melodies move up, you’ll want to think also about the lyric at those moments: does the rising melody seem to make sense when considering the words you’ve placed in the lyric? Is there an increase in emotional content of your lyric at those moments?

The interesting thing about how you manipulate melodic direction and range as a songwriter is that listeners can clearly hear the effect, even if they don’t have the musical vocabulary to explain why those melodic manipulations are working.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook BundleIf you’re ready to take your songwriting to its highest level possible, you need “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.” Get the manuals that thousands of songwriters are using. Comes with a free eBook on LYRICS.

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Tuning a guitar

Don’t Ignore Your Playing When You’re Concentrating On Songwriting

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessTrying to get a handle on writing song lyrics? Discover the benefits of making a lyrics-first method your new go-to process with”Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process. It’s FREE right now when you purchase the 10-eBook Bundle.

If you find yourself needing to write a lot of songs in a short period of time, it can take all of your creative energies. At those times, other creative activities (reading, drawing, listening) might take a backseat, at least for a while.

And because of your complete focus on writing, you may find that your pool of ideas dries up quickly. The problem is that you haven’t been doing anything else creative to replenish those ideas.

So what are the things that typically help you feel more creative? If you’re a lyricist you might spend time writing new lyrics, or perhaps reading someone else’s lyrics, or even unrelated to your own songwriting you can write poetry, essays, even novels. Any of these activities still require your brain to be creative, and they can help your songwriting by being a necessary diversion.

But don’t forget perhaps one of the most valuable creative activities you can do as a songwriter: playing your instrument.

Why Playing?

What makes playing so valuable is the fact that you’re usually playing songs, or at least snippets of songs. Solos, backing rhythms, chord progressions that are parts of your favourite songs… these all have a strong and particular relevance to songwriting.

Getting music under your fingers, whether you’re a guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, or player of some other instrument, puts you in the position of feeling music in a way that shouldn’t be ignored if you’re a songwriter. It’s inspiring.

When you’re writing songs, you’re probably using your instrument to create them, but I’m talking about making sure, during writing sessions, that you pull your brain out of writing mode and putting it firmly into playing mode. In other words, you’re playing your instrument as a kind of diversion from writing.

When you do that, and then go back to songwriting, you’ll find that your pool of musical ideas has increased and songwriting actually usually becomes easier.

So the main piece of advice here is: don’t ignore independent playing — playing for playing’s sake — when you’re in a period where songwriting is demanding most if not all of your creative energies.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook bundle includes several chord progression eBooks, including “Chord Progression Formulas”, as well as a Study Guide. Discover the secrets of great songwriting!

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Guitarist - Songwriter - Lyricist

Here’s An Easy Way to Make Sure Your Lyrics Are Working the Way They’re Supposed To

Every time you write a song, you’re communicating something to your audience. When we think of that word communicating, we automatically think of lyrics, because communication and words go hand in hand.

But in good songwriting, everything you write plays a role in communicating. For example, if you want to write a nostalgic song, you need nostalgic lyrics, but you also need for the instruments to be playing in a “nostalgic” way, and you need to sing it with a tone of voice that similarly sounds nostalgic. Even characteristics such as key choice, tempo and backing vocals can effect the character of the music you’re writing.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook BundleGet “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBooks. They’ll help you polish your technique, and make you the best songwriter you can be. Comes with a Study Guide, tons of chord progressions, and information covering every aspect of how to write good music.

In that sense, everything you do in the production of a song, from the songwriting stage through to the performing or recording stage, needs to partner up and support everything else.

When it comes to lyrics, no matter what kind of song you’re writing, and regardless of genre, there’s a way most lyrics progress as a song moves along, and you can use this as a guide to make sure your lyrics are working the way they’re supposed to:

Verse Lyrics

The purpose of a good verse lyric is to describe what’s going on to the listener. In so-called “story songs”, this might be the actual story, but in any case, by the end of the verse, listeners should have a pretty clear idea of what the song’s subject matter is.

Because the story is so important in a verse lyric, words and phrases that elicit an emotional response should be kept somewhat to a minimum. Your main job is to describe people and circumstances by using simple, everyday words. The tone should be conversational.

Chorus Lyrics

A good chorus lyric is, in effect, a response to what the verse has just described. It’s not so much that the words and phrases you choose should show you being overly emotional; it’s more a case where the words and phrases should stimulate an emotional response in your listeners.

It’s usually why chorus melodies are higher in pitch than verse melodies, because a higher vocal line sounds more emotionally intense.

As with the verse, your chorus lyrics should be conversational, and you need to use words that are the kind that would typically sound emotional.

Bridge Lyrics

Keeping in mind that the bridge (which usually happens after the second chorus) is the last chance to finish up the story you’re creating, but also closer to the end of the song than the beginning, it’s normal for a bridge lyric to be a combination of verse-like descriptions, followed quickly by a chorus-like emotional reaction, al meant to increase musical energy.

I’ve often thought that one of Taylor Swift’s earlier hits,  “You Belong With Me” is a perfect example of this. Check out the lyrical lines in the bridge, and you’ll see that it’s a great model for this important up-and-down of emotional content.

So really, all you have to do when you’ve written a complete lyric is to look section by section through your song and see that you’ve moved from descriptive to emotive as you go from verse to chorus, and then that your bridge lyric (if your song is using a bridge), fluctuates quickly between those two characteristics.

And if you’ve done that, you’ve created a lyric that has the best chance possible of enticing your listeners to stick with your song to it’s very end.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Hooks and RiffsThere’s more to a song hook than meets the ear… a lot more. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” is a vital manual for any serious songwriter.

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5 Characteristics of Great Song Lyrics

How the Rhythm of a Melody Changes as a Song Progresses

Why Hooks are So Important to Pop Songs

Gary Ewer

I’m Gary Ewer. For years I’ve been helping songwriters understand the basic fundamentals of good songwriting. I do that mainly through the free articles on this blog, and also through my 10-eBook bundle. If you lack consistency in your songwriting, and you want to take your abilities to the next level, everything you need to know is in that bundle package, so please take a look at those ebooks. And if you want to browse through the more than 2300 posts in the blog archive, scroll to the bottom of this page.

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

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