Building Energy: There's a Progression For That

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

Song EnergyIn general, the energy near the end of your song should be more than the energy at the beginning. That rising energy is not a constant; it ebbs and flows in a generally-upward direction, much like a successful stock market chart. The latter part of your verse as it moves into your chorus needs to be featuring rising energy, and you can use your chord choices to help.

Let’s set up a typical scenario: A song in C major, with a verse and a chorus that both begin with a C chord, and are both 32 beats long. If this is the case, you’ll gain an energy boost for your chorus if the verse ends on the dominant chord (G or G7). This creates a strong sense of expectancy and tension that is resolved by the chorus’ C chord.

Now, let’s invent a progression for our verse. Try two beats for each chord:

C  Eb  F  C  || C  Eb  F  C

That will do nicely for the first 8 beats of our verse. We now want to create a progression that gets us from the verse to the chorus. Here’s a great technique: Take the verse progression and transpose it upward by a 4th. For the listener, it’s as if you’ve at least momentarily changed key, and it gives the entire song a shot of energy:

C  Eb  F  C  || C  Eb  F  C || F  Ab  Bb  F

As you can see, it moves the energy somewhat aggressively in an upward direction. We’ve now got to add four more chords that get us not just to the chorus, but begs for the chorus. In other words, we need to let the final chord of the verse be G. Try this:

C  Eb  F  C  || C  Eb  F  C || F  Ab  Bb  F || F  Ab  Bb  G||

If you look at the roots of each chord, you’re looking at a series of upward-moving bass notes (upward musical gestures create energy), then an abrupt transposition upward (creating more energy), building to a dominant chord at the end, which sets up the chorus to be the most energetic part of the song.

Returning to do Verse 2 means that you can allow energy to dissipate a bit, which is perfect for rebuilding the energy plan. And you should try variations on this. For example, you may want to start the chorus on the vi-chord (Am) to give a sense of variety, and maybe avoid those distinctive flat chords, for the same reason.

And of course, hand-in-hand with chord energy are all the other tools you should be using to contour the energy of your song: varying the instrumentation, dynamics, vocal and instrumental range, and lyrical content. Successfully controlling these factors gives you a song that listeners will want to stick with and listen to over and over.

Gary Ewer's E-books for SongwritersIf songwriting has gone from being a joy to being a frustration, there’s a book for that! “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” bundle of six e-books were written to get you enjoying songwriting again. They’re downloadable, and you can be reading all about why some songs succeed while others fail, moments from now. Click here to get started.

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  1. Yes, that’s it exactly. I like your choice of starting on a chord other than the I-chord, and transposing it upward to Gm injects a really nice shot of energy.

    Love it!

  2. really nice idea.

    so i must traspose ex: II-V-I to the new tone (IV) and add a V7 (from the first tone) if wanna make the progression beg for a chorus?

    Verse 1 in C: dm – G- C
    Verso 2 in F: gm – C- F – G7

    ¿this is correct?

    thanks! love your sharings =)

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