Songwriting Principle No. 1: Contrast Makes or Breaks Your Song

When I wrote “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, I researched long and hard about what makes good songs; why some songs work so well, while others seem to fall flat. In my preparation for writing the book, I developed a list of what I considered to be the primary principles of successful songs. There are eleven of them, and in my opinion you must  be considering those principles in order for your song to work. Because these are the principles that I observed in all of the successful songs out there, being written by professional songwriters.

Over the next few days, I’m going to briefly describe each one, and why they’re so important. I really want you to be able to incorporate those principles into your own songs, and start writing the songs you’ve always wanted to write.

In that list of eleven principles, the one I place right at the beginning, one of the ones I consider to be most important is:

Songs without CONTRAST risk being boring.

Contrast is what makes one part of your song sound different from the others. To have your song exhibit no contrast is the same as looking at a field that has no hills, no valleys, no distinguishing characteristics: it’s boring.

So when it comes to music, what is contrast, and how do you incorporate it into your songs?

When you write verses, choruses, bridges, etc., you’re actually incorporating contrast, because it requires some sort of contrast to draw a distinction between those formal sections. But the kind of contrast I’m talking about is on the smaller level. Here are just a few questions to ask yourself that can help you get a handle on how to incorporate contrast into your songs:

  1. Does your song use the same instrumentation all the way through? If so, you’re missing out on a great way to use contrasting elements. Try adding instruments (strings, drums, extra rhythm instruments, etc.,) on choruses as a way of building energy.
  2. Does your song use solo instrumental effects at various points?This a a great addition to a second verse, especially if verses 1 and 2 follow each other with no chorus in between. Fit solo answering phrases in between melodic lines.
  3. Does your song change key? This technique is a great one to use if your song is the verse-without-chorus design (AAA…) Changing key (usually upward) is a good idea for such songs because songs that have no chorus are particularly vulnerable to boredom. But changing key has to be done carefully. (“Essential Chord Progressions” has a chapter that deals specifically with this.)

Those are just three simple ways to make use of contrast. The basic rule is that all songs “should” incorporate a measure of contrast to keep the listener engaged. Contrast is what makes the listener want to keep listening. It’s that little bit of unpredictability that keeps songs alive.


-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website

Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , .

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Songwright » Blog Archive » Songwriting Principles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.