By Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
In yesterday’s article I spoke about the contrast principle, indicating that contrasting various elements within a song is a crucial part of keeping a listener’s interest. In my book “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” I outline eleven different principles that all work together when a song is a winner. Here are those eleven principles.
- FORM: SONGS WITHOUT CONTRAST RISK BEING BORING. You must have some level of contrast to make important elements stand out from the rest.
- FORM: IN GENERAL, THE ENERGY OF THE END OF A SONG SHOULD EQUAL OR EXCEED THE ENERGY AT THE BEGINNING. Maintaining and building energy is a crucial way of giving forward momentum to a song, and keeping a listener interested. Occasional dips in energy throughout the song are possible, and can actually be a fulfilling of Principle Number 1 (see above).
- Harmony: TWO CHORDS THAT HAVE A NOTE IN COMMON WILL FORM A STRONG PROGRESSION; AND IF THAT FIRST CHORD MOVES UP BY FOUR NOTES OR DOWN BY FIVE NOTES TO REACH THE NEXT CHORD, THE PROGRESSION BECOMES EVEN STRONGER. It is important to know that the way chords interact with each other is a crucial part of putting a song together.
- Harmony: A VERSE WILL USUALLY TOLERATE MORE FRAGILE PROGRESSIONS THAN A CHORUS; A CHORUS USUALLY REQUIRES MORE STRONG PROGRESSIONS. Not every song follows this principle, but you’d be surprised how many do.
- Harmony: THERE SHOULD BE A PERCEIVABLE AND SOMEWHAT PREDICTABLE PATTERN TO THE PLANNING OF CHORD CHANGES. And in general, many songwriters simply use too many chords. Think of chords as paint on a palette: most paintings don’t require every colour under the sun.
- Melody/Lyric: THE SHAPE OF A MELODY MUST BE PLANNED WITH VOCAL RANGE, HARMONY AND TEXT IN MIND. Nothing operates independently in a song; everything relates and affects something else.
- Melody/Lyric: A) A VERSE CAN USE TEXT THAT IS NARRATIVE AND INCONCLUSIVE, WITH PREDOMINANTLY FRAGILE CHORD PROGRESSIONS; B) A CHORUS CAN USE TEXT THAT IS REFLECTIVE AND DRAWS CONCLUSIONS, AND USE STRONGER CHORD PROGRESSIONS. This amplifies Principle No. 6
- Melody/Lyric: THE PRESENCE OF THE KEYNOTE (TONIC NOTE) WILL STRENGTHEN THE UNDERLYING STRUCTURE OF A MELODY. CHORUSES CAN AND SHOULD FEATURE THE TONIC NOTE IN ITS MELODY MORE THAN VERSES. The tonic note gives a strong foundation to the harmonic structure or a song, and is a subtle way of strengthening choruses.
- Melody/Lyric: THE LATTER HALF OF VERSES WILL OFTEN BE PITCHED HIGHER THAN THE FIRST HALF; CHORUS NOTES ARE OFTEN HIGHER THAN VERSE NOTES. This works hand-in-hand with the building of energy. In general, listeners use the range of melodies to help perceive the energy design of a song.
- Hook: MAKE IT SHORT AND MEMORABLE. If it’s not short, it’s probably not going to lock in, and if it’s not memorable… it’s not a hook!
- Hook: ADDING A HOOK TO A BAD SONG GIVES YOU A BAD SONG WITH A HOOK. Hooks don’t save songs, any more than a tie clip will make a bad tie look good. You must solve your song’s structural problems by getting to the source of the problem. Hooks make good songs sizzle!
If you’d like to learn more about these eleven principles, it’s why I wrote “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”. That book is downloadable, and you can be improving your songs moments from now. Click here to read more about that book, and the five other e-books for songwriters I’ve written.