by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
Contrast is what sets the different sections of your song apart. And a song without enough contrast will make it about as interesting as your Great Aunt Bertha, who just keeps saying the same thing. Contrast, simply put, means that one part of your song says something different from the other parts of your song, and does it by modifying various aspects of composition: melody, chords, loudness, instrumentation, etc.
Without contrast, it’s hard to distinguish the beginning from the end of your song. So why is that so important?
Contrasting elements in a song gives it a sense of forward motion. Let’s take an easy example: It’s relatively common for the overall volume level of a successful song to build as it progresses. But dance music doesn’t usually exhibit this characteristic. Good dance music will generally pump out the energy right from the beginning, and keep it pumping right to the end. So is there a danger of boredom setting in? Possibly, and that’s why most dance music will feature some sort of distraction to the high energy level – a “break” of some sort, to instill that important sense of contrast. (Dance music can be forgiven the need for much contrast, since its main purpose is to keep feet moving.)
Music these days often use contrast in much more subtle ways than the songs of previous generations. So here are some tips for adding contrasting elements to your songs:
- Add an instrument to the mix in the chorus of your song. It doesn’t need to be much – perhaps a different sounding cymbal at the chorus, or perhaps a modified guitar timbre.
- Add vocal harmonies to the chorus. This helps to contrast with unharmonized vocals of a verse.
- Add a bridge with radically different compositional or arrangement techniques (subtract drums, add a unique-sounding instrument, etc.) This helps break up a song with a constant sound throughout.
- Change key. Particularly in songs which use the same melody for the verse as for the chorus, a well-timed key change can add variety to an otherwise dangerously nondescript song format.
- Play with the time signature. If your song is in a typical meter such as 4/4, throwing in a 2/4 bar between the verse and chorus can keep things interesting.
The best advice is to listen to a recording of your song, and make note of the ways in which the song exhibits contrasting elements over time. If you find yourself at a loss to describe any sorts of changes over the length of the song, it’s time to come up with something a little innovative. That contrasting element you come up with, even if it’s very minor, will give your song forward motion, and give it a new lease on life.