Fitting Parts Together to Create a Song

Most of the time, you write songs where all the sections (verse, chorus, etc.) are written as part of the same process. You might write a chorus hook, and then you work on a verse that will partner well with it, and so on.

But you likely have bits of songs that you’ve written over the years that never found a home in a complete song. Those individual parts might sound great, but you just never found a way of working them into  a song.

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If you’ve got several or more of these abandoned ideas sitting in a proverbial drawer somewhere, it might be time to pull some of them together and see if you can make completed songs out of them.

You might wonder — How can parts of songs, written at different times, wind up working together within the same song? It really comes down to knowing the basic principles of good songwriting. As long as the various sections, which might have been written months — maybe even years — apart, exhibit the qualities of what that section typically shows, your audience will usually be none the wiser.

So what are the things you should keep in mind and remember as you start pulling these various parts together? Here are some tips:

  1. Choose sections and then move them into the same, or closely related, keys. Most songs will keep a constant key throughout, but remember that a verse will often be in minor, moving to major for a chorus. So if you pull out a verse you wrote last month that’s in A minor, your chorus will likely work if it’s in either A minor or C major – the relative major.
  2. Make note of the basic range of each section. One of the most important considerations for what makes a verse sound like a verse, for example, is that it usually sits lower in pitch than the chorus. So if you find a section you wrote a while back, but it’s pitched rather high, you may get the verse-like quality you’re looking for by lowering it, especially relative to the chorus you’re going to pair it with.
  3. Try each section with a similar backing rhythm approach. Most choruses will build on the rhythmic approach that gets set up in the verse. The parts you’re trying to pull together might have rather different rhythmic feels, and so creating a backing rhythm feel that is related will help give you a clearer picture of what they’d sound like in the same song.
  4. Don’t consider lyrics yet. Getting a lyric that works can wait until you get the music working. This is not to say that lyrics are unimportant. But if these musical ideas were originally written at different times, you’ll need to eventually rework one or both of the lyrics that you originally wrote. Getting the sections together is mostly a musical task, and that should happen first.

And remember that you can use small bits of the sections you originally wrote. You may find a chorus section that you wrote a while ago, but maybe it’s just the first few notes you really like. But those few notes might be all you need to restart the writing process for the rest of the song.

It can be exciting to hear two sections come together in this way, when you probably thought you had written something that was never going to see the light of day. Audiences can find the truth of the matter quite interesting if you choose to tell them. As long as the different sections partner well, that’s all that really matters.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

How to Harmonize a MelodyHave a  great melody, but stuck at the “how to add chords to it” stage? “How To Harmonize a Melody” shows you, step-by-step and with sound samples, how it’s done, with suggestions for chord substitutions that might work as well. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.

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Songwriter with guitar

Diversifying Your Songwriting Style

Among other admirable qualities, the individual members of The Beatles were known for the astonishing diversity of their writing styles. For every song they wrote, they threw out the template and came up with a new song that bore little similarity to past ones.

That meant that every new hit had a freshness. Every new song was a new musical journey, and it paid off.

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If you’re interested in diversifying your writing style, it’s not easy to do if you aren’t spending a lot of time listening to music from other genres. In most interviews with The Beatles, musical influences were bound to come up. They all spoke of recordings their parents had played as they each were growing up. Jazz, Dixieland, blues, swing, avant garde, musical theatre — the pool of musical experience The Beatles individually were able to tap into was deep.

Add to that their more contemporary musical experiences and interests of other bands they were interested in (Little Richard, Bob Dylan, Gene Vincent, The Byrds, and many, many more), and they had a seemingly endless supply of styles and genres they could infuse into their own songs.

Adopting a new style is a bit like learning a new language:

  1. You need to immerse yourself in it; and then…
  2. You need to communicate to others by using it.

If you want to diversify your writing style, try the following:

  1. Choose a genre – one you don’t normally listen to.
  2. Take a week and listen to as many different artists from that genre as you can. Google and Wikipedia will help you search new songs and artists.
  3. Keep a notebook, and be sure to write down your thoughts and impressions as you listen. You’ll find that putting your thoughts into words helps you grasp the nuances of the genre.

It stands to reason that you should be choosing genres for which have at least some initial interest. As you listen, you want to gain an appreciation for the history and the compositional characteristics of that genre.

As the weeks pass, you’ll find that, without even knowing it, your own songwriting style will begin to change. As your knowledge and experience deepens, your songwriting will deepen. Your sound will become a fascinating melange of styles and characteristics.

And the great thing is that you won’t even have to think about it. It’s something that will automatically happen.

If you love the blues, and you write lots of blues, and you listen exclusively to blues, you’re going to find it harder over time to keep coming up with new ideas for your songs.

But if you can deepen the well from which you can pull ideas, the music you write will be a distinctive blend of styles, and just think of the unique journey you’ll be able to offer your fan base!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Thousands of songwriters are using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” to polish their writing technique. Right now, “Use Your Words!” is being offered free with your purchase of the bundle!


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Songwriting - List

A Songwriter’s List

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessIf you want to be a better lyricist, putting lyrics at the top of your songwriting agenda is a crucial first step. Read “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.” Right now, it’s free with your purchase of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”

Let’s say you’re in the market to buy a house. The real estate agent asks you what features you’re looking for. You’re likely to mention location first — that’s such an important consideration. And then, of course, the size of house you need.

“We need a 4-bedroom house, preferably somewhere near the city, but close enough to the country to make outings easy.”

Sure, that’s no problem. Everyone looking for a house is going to mention size and location.

Then we get to the bits that reflect personal taste.

“I’ve always wanted a fireplace. A nice big stone fireplace for those chilly evenings.”

Eventually you’ll find the house that suits your needs. It may need some work, and it may not have everything you’ve hoped for, but if you’ve placed importance on the fact that it should have 4 bedrooms, be just outside the city, and have a fireplace, I know this much: it will probably have 4 bedrooms, will probably be just outside the city, and will probably have an amazing fireplace.

Because those are the things you put at the top of your list. Those were the things that were important.

In songwriting, you may not know it, but you’ve also got a list. Your own musical style and approach to writing will dictate what your songs’ most important features are, and they’ll be the features that are at the top of your list.

If you find that lyrics, let’s say, are the part of your songs that, upon reflection, never seem to sound very good, think about it: have you ever put lyrics front and centre in your songwriting process? Have lyrics been at the top of your list?

Leonard Cohen is known for his lyrics. But that makes sense: he was a poet. His lyrics probably meant more to him than any other aspect of his writing. For Leonard, words were his “nice big stone fireplace.”

For whatever else his songs might have, the words were going to be their most important feature, because they were at the top of his list.

If you’ve ever wanted lyrics to be more meaningful and powerful, you’ve got to place that feature at the top of your list. Lyrics can’t be an afterthought. There needs to be a spotlight that you shine on the lyric-writing process.

Once you’ve placed lyrics at the top of your list, it feels natural to begin with lyrics. Develop a lyrics-first songwriting process, and you’ll find that, song by song, what you say through your words gets better, more effective, and more powerful.

And that goes for any song feature that you wish you did just a little better. Place it at the top of your list, give it your attention, and you’ll be amazed what that one small act does for your songwriting.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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Singer - melody & lyrics

Shaping a Melody to Enhance Musical Meaning

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Yes, the shape of a melody really can help or hinder what you’re singing about. To be sure, the way that melody and lyric work together is somewhat subjective, so you’re not going to get a set of rules for what to do with a tune to enhance the meaning of your words.

But having said that, one can take a broad look at the way lyrics and melodies from some of the world’s biggest hits over the past several decades, and find certain (albeit vague) commonalities:

  1. Melodies that hover around one note, or are constructed of repeating melodic ideas within a small range: These are good melodies for lyrics that describe issues of social justice, or any other lyric that gives a strong opinion of something. An example: The verse of “Ohio” (Neil Young). Also, the opening of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”
  2. Melodies that move around mainly by step, exploring the upper and lower reaches of the singer’s range: These melodies are great for lyrics that mainly tell a story, or lay situations out in a kind of “this is what’s happening” sort of way. Example: “Someone Like You” (Adele Adkins, Dan Wilson).
  3. Melodies that feature strategically-placed leaps, particularly upward ones. Upward-moving melodic leaps have a way of tugging at the heartstrings, and so these kinds of melodies can be great for love songs, or songs with very tender lyrics. And particularly true when those leaps are paired up with emotionally-charged words or phrases. Examples: The opening of the verse for “You Make Me Feel Brand New” (Thom Bell, Linda Creed, recorded by The Stylistics.) Also, “Good Night” (Lennon & McCartney).

And of course, most melodies do a good job of combining all of these characteristics. That’s because most songs will combine many ideas and approaches into one hopefully engaging lyric. A love song will often tell a story, and can also from time to time offer a strong opinion.

All of this is simply a way of reminding you: how your melody and your lyric partner up can make or break your ability to communicate with your audience.

When you take a lyric and simply recite it like poetry, you have a chance to use vocal inflection to enhance the meaning of what you’re saying. Once you’ve added a melody, however, that melody becomes the inflection.

And so it’s up to your melody to enhance the meaning of your lyric.

Try this with a song you’ve recently completed: Read your lyric aloud like poetry, with the same up-and-down shape that your melody traces. Your lyric should come to life as a kind of recited poem that way, and it will tell you if your melody has a chance of properly enhancing the meaning of your words.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Writing a Song From a Chord Progression“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle includes“Writing a Song From a Chord Progression”. Discover the secrets of making the chords-first songwriting process work for you.

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Hal Blaine

Being Good, Being Unique, Being Famous

I think it’s fair to say that no one becomes famous for simply being good. There are lots of really great musicians — and I’m thinking specifically of studio musicians — but unless you take the time to look them up on Wikipedia, you’re not likely ever to know them.

The ones that get famous for being good are actually getting famous for being, to some degree, unique.

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The studio drummer Hal Blaine is a good example of someone who had little fame when he was at the peak of his career. More recently, though, he’s acquired a bit of the fame that eluded him back when he was playing drums in some of the biggest hits of the 60s and 70s.

If you’re one of the few who don’t know who Hal Blaine is, he’s the one that played drums for many, many singers and bands that either didn’t have a drummer, or whose drummer couldn’t cut it in the studio.

So he’s who you’re hearing when you listen to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe”, when you listen to The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man”, The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and many, many more. He’s a fantastic drummer.

His fame has come about more recently because it’s only been in the past few years that his contribution has become more commonly known. He played on six consecutive Grammy Record of the Year recordings, from 1966 to 1971 — an astonishing achievement, and a testament to how in demand he was.

It wasn’t common knowledge that Hal and his circle of musical friends, known by their unofficial name “The Wrecking Crew“, were actually the players for many of these acts. They were used by producers because they were so good.

And because most of them read musical notation, they could get from rehearsing to recording in very short order, thus wasting very little expensive studio time.

I’ve been mentioning players, but the same thing about being famous and being good applies as well to songwriting.

To be a studio musician, you need to be good. Fame isn’t important. Being good is. In songwriting, it’s different. Being good might mean that you’re simply copying what others are doing. And no one has become famous as a songwriter, or as a performer, for copying anyone else.

So if you’re wanting to acquire a bit of fame for the music you write, being good is a starting point. Being good will allow you to start building a larger fan base. But then you need to be unique.

In songwriting, uniqueness can mean one or both of these two things:

  1. You need to write about unique things.
  2. You need to perform your music in a unique way.

And this is simply another way of saying that you need to stand out from the crowd. If you’re trying to sound like others, you may actually do a good job of that, but you’ll need to work hard to get any fame for that.

You need to sound enough like others that you start pulling in a fan base from other singer-songwriters. But then you need to stray a bit off the beaten track, and provide something unique.

How unique is really up to you. It doesn’t take much. In the balance between “predictable” and “different”, a mere touch of “different” may be all you need.

But if there’s no difference between you and other acts in your chosen genre, you need to ask yourself, “Why am I trying so hard to sound like someone else?”

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle includes“Writing a Song From a Chord Progression”. Discover the secrets of making the chords-first songwriting process work for you.

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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.

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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