Guitar - chords - songwriter

Minor Verse to Major Chorus – the Easy Way

If you like the sound of a minor verse moving to a major chorus, you’re in good company. Many songs move from minor to major. That natural “brightening” of the sound just seems to work really well.

To hear this in action, you might listen to Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors”, or Taylor Swift’s “Style.”

Minor-to-major songs will work in any genre. It makes your verse sound pensive and moody, and your chorus sound confident and optimistic.

Here’s an easy way to create chord progressions that will work for you. You can start by choosing any key, and then transpose what you come up with to get it into the key that’s right for your verse. So let’s start easy: choose a chorus key of C major.

C major gives you seven chords that occur naturally:

C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am – Bdim

Getting the Minor Verse Progression

The Am chord is the 6th chord, and that’s the one you’ll want to choose to base your verse progression on. There are any number of progressions that will work:

  • Am Dm Em Am (vi ii iii vi)
  • Am G F Am (vi V IV vi)
  • Am F Em Am (vi IV iii vi)
  • Am Dm C G (vi ii I V)
  • Am Em F Dm (vi iii IV ii)

Keep experimenting and you’ll find even more. In your verse you may choose to use two different progressions, one for the first half of your verse, and then another for the second. That’s songwriting for you… there are no rules, and you get to say what the plan is.

As you can see, they all either start and end on Am, or they end on some chord that moves easily to Am, so creating minor turnarounds is usually not difficult at all.

Getting the Major Chorus Progression

To create a major progression, simply take the progressions above and substitute the vi-chord (Am) with a I-chord (C).

That one small change to the first chord is all you need to make those progressions sound suddenly brighter and more optimistic. Those five sample progressions would become:

  • C Dm Em Am (I ii iii vi)
  • C G F Am (I V IV vi)
  • C F Em Am (I IV iii vi)
  • C Dm C G (I ii I V)
  • C Em F Dm (I iii IV ii)

It’s sometimes good to think about how to smoothly transition from the final chord of the verse to make for a polished switch from minor to major. But you may want to consider doing an immediate jump from minor to major — an abrupt modulation. In most cases, it will work just fine.

Dealing With Sameness

You’ve got one small issue that you may want to deal with, which is that both the verse and chorus progressions will be largely the same. It’s only a problem if you want something more contrasting.

An easy solution to the prevailing sameness between verse and chorus progressions done in this way would be to add a bridge section to your song that moves in some new direction, perhaps starting on the ii-chord.

There are many ways to create chords, and this is just possible way. The benefit to creating a verse-chorus chord partnership in this way is that creating the verse basically gives you the chorus, and you get quickly beyond the chord creation stage and into working on melodies and lyrics.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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Songwriter

How Many Songs Are You Working On Today?

Hooks and RiffsSongwriters are very familiar with the chorus hook, but there are other kinds to experiment with, and you will want to discover the power of layering various kinds of hooks in the same song. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ shows you how it’s done.


When a song is unfinished it can make you feel frustrated. That’s especially true if it stays in that unfinished state for a long time. Your best way forward is to develop a positive attitude to that song that simply won’t finish: think of it as material for some future song, leave it alone, and get to work on a new one.

Having several songs that you’re working on simultaneously is a great way to keep frustration levels low, and writer’s block from setting in.

For each of those songs, the musical elements you’re trying to put together are a collection of ideas. Each song, until you finish it, is musical material. That means you can rearrange those ideas, take some out, put new ones in, and keep working and reworking your song until you get something that clicks.

You can even take the ideas that you thought were going to be part of a separate song and combine them with another. The material for one gets pulled into a second one, and instead of two songs that are causing you grief, you get one great song.

Too often, songwriters think of a song as a musical “event” that requires your full and undivided attention until it’s complete. In songwriting, the expression “a change is as good as a rest” is very applicable, and very true.

So the best thing you can do to keep yourself feeling creative and positive is to allow yourself the freedom of working on several songs at the same time. And don’t be afraid to put songs on the back burner for a long time if the ideas aren’t happening.

Once you’ve got a song finished, how long it took to write it becomes very irrelevant. And become a much happier songwriter.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process,” along with a Study Guide. Learn how to make the writing of a good lyric the starting point for your own songwriting method.

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Music Theory - Songwriting

An Idea For Practicing Lyric Writing: Creating Second Lines

If you find yourself fixated on improving your lyrics, you’re right to be. Over the long term, the quality of your lyrics is probably going to take you further than the quality of almost everything else you write.

If you find everything else about songwriting relatively easy (the melodies and chords), but struggle with lyrics, here’s a way you can practice your lyric writing: take a line from an existing song, and write your own line to follow it.


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If the line you’re borrowing is well-known, you won’t be able to easily use it in your own song; I don’t recommend starting your song with “Lady Madonna, children at your feet.”

But creating your own line to follow an already-written line is meant purely as an exercise anyway. The first line is there for you, and you simply need to come up with something that gives the same feel and flow of the borrowed line.

It’s best if you choose a line from a song you don’t know, so do an online search for performers or songwriters you’ve heard of, but never really gotten into their music.

For example, if you’ve never been big into Imagine Dragons, do an online search for [imagine dragons lyrics]. I did that, then went to an online lyrics site, randomly clicked on “Selene” from their 2010 “Hell and Silence” EP.

The first line is “To the top of all the world.” Your job is to start writing second lines that could work with it. Try not to focus on what the actual second line is… just start brainstorming your own second lines. Try rhyming and non-rhyming:

To the top of all the world…

…I set my feelings free;
…you see the rolling hills;
…like flags and sails unfurled;
…I open up my heart;

The point of the exercise is that when you find lyrics hard to write, the first line is often the toughest one. When you’ve got that first line, you’ll find that a second line will often happen more easily.

What To Do With Your Invented Lyric

You may really like the lines you’ve written, and even though you wrote them all as possible second lines, you may find that they all work well as a pretty good verse lyric. If that’s the case, go back to the first line that you randomly selected, change that line, put your second lines together, and see what they look like:

From the top of the towering mountain
I set my feelings free;
You see the rolling hills
like flags and sails unfurled…

Not a great lyric yet, but sometimes it’s easier to edit bad lines than it is to come up with something while staring at a blank computer screen.

You can now edit, remove, or otherwise fix lines as you see fit. Sometimes getting just that first line of lyric given to you is all you need to get your lyric-writing juices flowing.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleThousands of songwriters are using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” to discover the secrets of writing excellent songs consistently. Comes with a FREE copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.”

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Emotional audience

What Does a Songwriter Need to Know About Musical Structure?

There’s nothing like the word “structure” to turn off an artistically-minded musician. When a song sounds good, we don’t necessarily think about its structure. We just revel in the fact that it just sounds great.

But when songs sound good, it’s at least in part due to its structure. So what exactly do we mean by structure?


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It’s best to use an analogy, and building a house is a great one, because we often refer to houses as structures. No matter how beautiful a house looks, we need to know that its underlying structure is sound and supportive.

When that house’s underlying structure is solid, we don’t tend to think about it. We don’t need to be aware of the viability of the frame of a house in order to enjoy the rest of it. When we think about its structure, we appreciate it, but we like when it’s not obvious.

Musical structure works in a similar fashion. When it’s working for you, you end up with a song that sounds great, and your listeners don’t think at all about structure.

What are the things to think about when you consider a song’s structure? Probably the most important one is contrast:

  • Loud/soft. Typically you’ll hear soft verses, louder choruses, and the cycling back and forth between those two sections gives a natural dynamic contrast that’s important in most songs.
  • Low/high. Melodies are usually lower in verses, higher in choruses, and then the bridge will either contrast with the chorus to move even higher, or contrast by moving lower especially if the verse/chorus combination is all highly energetic.
  • Major/minor. It’s a common songwriting technique to put a verse in minor, move to major for the chorus, and then wander between minor and major for a bridge. This constant shifting creates a sense of expectation in the listener. We tend to accept whatever key the chorus is in as the main key of the song, and when it shifts away from that key, we eagerly anticipate the return of the chorus key.

There are other important aspects of contrast as well. For example, verses tend to be unemotional and narrative in style, while choruses are usually more emotive and expressive.

So while a good house relies on the placement of strong beams, all attached properly to each other based on an engineer’s estimation of what will give the most strength, the strength of a song’s structure will largely depend on subtle contrasting of important musical features.

When it’s working well, musical structure is not obvious. Listeners are not usually aware that the song is moving, let’s say, from minor to major. It just sounds “satisfying” somehow.

In that sense, we can get away with the impression of strength, while a house builder can’t rely on impressions. It’s safe to say that in songwriting, a song that sounds good is good.

And contrast works because of the pleasant sense of anticipation it creates in your audience.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle“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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guitar, pencil and notepad

Fixing Song Melodies: Try This Checklist

I firmly believe that checklists should only be used in songwriting if you know that something’s wrong. In other words, if you’ve written a song and you really like it, a checklist will serve no purpose other than to make you second-guess what you’ve written, and that’s never helpful.


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But if you’ve written a song and you feel that there’s something wrong, and you’ve traced the problem to being something wrong with the melody, try this checklist. It will hopefully give you some ideas you can use to get the melody working for you.

With this checklist, you should be able to answer “yes” to most questions, but keep in mind: because music is an art, a “no” doesn’t mean that there’s a problem, but it does give you an idea for what might be at issue:

VERSE MELODY

  1. Your verse melody starts relatively low in pitch when compared to the rest of the song. (This difference in range only needs to be slight.)
  2. Your verse melody gradually works its way upward as it approaches the chorus (unless it connects to a pre-chorus).
  3. Your verse melody might have a pleasant “wandering” quality.
  4. Your verse melody should have repeated ideas — short repeated ideas like repeated notes or pairs of notes, as well as repeated phrases.

CHORUS MELODY

  1. Your chorus melody contains a noticeable, catchy hook, one that defines the song to the listener. (Often the chorus will start with that hook.)
  2. Your chorus melody is rhythmically “locked in”, using fairly simple melodic rhythms.
  3. Your chorus melody is tonally simple but strong, supported by a strong chord progression that makes the key of the song clear.
  4. Your chorus melody sits higher in pitch than your verse melody. (This difference in range only needs to be slight.)
  5. Your chorus melody works well as a repeated section; the end of the chorus connects easily back to the beginning.
  6. There is a “fun” aspect to singing the chorus.

PRE-CHORUS MELODY (Optional)

  1. Your pre-chorus melody moves higher and connects smoothly to the chorus.
  2. Your pre-chorus melody sounds different from the verse melody, offering a sense of variety.
  3. Your pre-chorus melody should be supported by chords that move smoothly into the chorus progression.

BRIDGE MELODY (Optional)

  1. Your bridge melody should highlight (or even move into) a different key from the chorus.
  2. Your bridge melody should be different from verse and chorus melodies.
  3. Your bridge melody might feature a climactic moment higher than whatever high point you have in your chorus melody.

As you put the magnifying glass on your melodies, remember that all good songs are a partnership of elements, all cooperating to better each other. So melodies are only part of the story. The lyrics you add to those melodies, and the chords you use to support the melodies, all play a vital role.

But if you’re sure that weakness in your song comes from the melodies you’ve written, this checklist might get you at least looking in the right direction.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessAre you ready to have LYRICS take a much more important role in your songwriting process. You need to 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”

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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.

About Gary Ewer

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