Five Things You Need to Know Before You Write Your Next Song

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

No one would ever pick up a tool to start building a house without having a complete blueprint in front of them. And while it’s unlikely (and frankly, unnecessary) to have a song’s complete blueprint in front of you as a starting point, it is surprising how many people start the songwriting process with no preliminary thought to at least some important details.

There are at least five things you need to know, either before you start composing, or very early on in the songwriting process.

  1. Basic rhythmic motif: This is the underlying rhythm that works its way through the entire song, and helps “paste the whole thing together.”
  2. Hook: You notice, hopefully, that I didn’t list this with the basic rhythmic motif. A hook is short, memorable fragment, usually a combination of rhythm and melody, and meant to bring your song to mind easily. (A motif simply provides compositional cohesion, whether it’s clearly remembered or not.
  3. Basic harmonic language: You’ll notice that some songs sound best when using the natural chords that exist in any one key, while others make great use of flat-3, flat-7, and so on. (It’s why I have several different formulas in my “Chord Progression Formulas” e-book). So decide what kind of song yours will be.
  4. The climactic point: Every good melody needs a moment that the listener identifies as the high point, the moment of highest excitement. Don’t leave this to chance. Try to identify this moment early on in the songwriting process.
  5. How the verse and chorus melody relate: If your song uses a verse and chorus, you’ll find that the listener derives great satisfaction, without knowing it most of the time, when there is some sort of relationship between the verse melody and the chorus melody. Some of that relationship should come from a similar rhythmic motif, but experiment with other techniques: reversing certain melodic leaps, featuring a higher range in the chorus while using similar melodic fragments, etc.

The great thing about songwriting is that you can modify what you’re doing as the song progresses, so don’t be surprised if your ideas change as you progress. You may find that a certain rhythmic idea occurs to you as you are almost finished, requiring you to go back in and rework the song. But that’s the creative arts for you! My point here is that if you start the process with nothing but a wish, you’ll wind up with something that sounds more like aimless wandering than songwriting.

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