Doing Interesting Things With Time Signatures and Phrase Lengths

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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It doesn’t take much to make a song appear to be much deeper than it really is. It just takes doing little things that are just a touch out of the


ordinary. Changing the time signature is one easy way to do it, and changing the length of the musical phrase also deepens your song’s message. Here’s how that works.

It’s more than likely that time signature of your next song is going to be 4/4… It’s probably the meter of choice for more than 90% of all songsin the pop, country and folk genres. For jazz and more progressive styles of rock you might see 3/4, or even asymmetrical ones such as 5/8 or 7/8.

For many songwriters, it’s hard to get the brain wrapped around odd time signatures. But here’s an easy way to do it: Start singing through your song, and locate a spot where a long note is held in the melody. This will often be a whole note (4 beats long). For that note, try shortening it by one beat, then proceed with your melody. That little shortening of the note throws an interesting curve ball at the listener.

It doesn’t even need to be a long note. Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” alternates between 3/4 and 4/4 time by simply shortening what would have otherwise been a straight 4/4 bar.

You can do the same thing with phrase lengths. Let’s say your verse melody is laid out in a series of four-bar phrases, where the second phrase is a simple repeat of the first one. If this is the case, try repeating only the first half of the first phrase before going on to the third phrase of your melody. It causes that third phrase to come in “early”, and in much the same way an odd time signature throws a curve ball, this off-kilter phrasing keeps the listener interested.

Like any musical effect, be careful how you use it. Randomly changing bar lengths, time signtures and other musical elements can have unexpected results, so as always, let your ears be your guide.

6 Songwriting E-books“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how to write great songs. It’s just one of a suite of 6 songwriting e-books written by Gary Ewer. (His newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books.) Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..

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