Writing Instrumental Music

From “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website. Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book bundle.

The popularity of instrumental music comes and goes. I sometimes get emails from songwriters who tell me that they’ve got a song on the go, but can’t come up with a lyric that suits it. It could be that your song doesn’t need a lyric. On page 149 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” I mention that “Your lyrics don’t need to be astounding poetry, but that doesn’t mean that you should write garbage.” Don’t let an otherwise good song be compromised by a weak lyric. Sometimes, a lyric of any sort might actually be getting in the way of some good music.

There’s no rule that states how to know if a song should be an instrumental or not, but here are some quick-tips to guide you:

i) MELODY: An instrumental usually needs to have a strong melody. “Classical Gas,” by Mason Williams, has a really strong melody with a solid rhythmic component. There are no lyrics to share the limelight here, so the melody needs to be captivating enough to live almost entirely on its own.

ii) CHORD PROGRESSIONS: Chord progressions don’t necessarily need to be spectacular, but the importance of a catchy set of changes increases in an instrumental. With a lyric, we often don’t even notice the chord progression, and that isn’t a bad thing. But while I often talk about the “triangle” that is formed by the lyric, melody and chords, an instrumental by definition will eliminate one of those components, putting the other two in a higher place of importance.

iii) PERFORMANCE QUALITY: An instrumental needs to have a good performance. If your instrumental just sounds like some guitarist strumming away, that’s not enough. It needs good melody, well-played. It will also benefit from a creative instrumentation. Plucking out a melody on guitar with a guitar playing chords behind it may fall flat. Try an interesting keyboard setting, or incorporate another acoustic instrument as the main one: flute, saxophone, trumpet, etc.

iv) VARIETY: Playing through an entire instrumental on one instrument can become a bit boring, so try passing off performance duties to another instrument part way through. Again to use the example of “Classical Gas,” the classical guitar is the main melodic instrument, but the middle section of the song introduces a new melodic idea using brass instruments. The change in instrumentation at this point makes for a more interesting piece.

-Gary Ewer

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One Comment

  1. well i write music and along the line i usually get stuck so i dont really what means to get out of that and also i will like you to give me some tips on how to write quick and good music

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