Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
Symmetry occurs when matching items either face each other, or if they are placed equally distant on opposite sides of a midpoint. For songwriters, symmetry occurs when elements of a song repeat, especially applying to aspects of melody, lyric or form that occur near the beginning, and then recur toward the end of a song. Songs with some aspect of symmetry are more memorable.
A song without symmetry of any sort usually means that the listener does not hear anything toward the end that they heard toward the beginning, and this can be a problem. Without any aspect of symmetry, songs use what is called a through-composed form, which means that new ideas are spun out constantly, each idea having no particular reference to what came before. Such songs are hard for listeners to remember. Most of the time, you’ll want to use symmetrical elements as you compose.
Here are some ideas for using symmetry, ensuring that your audience has a better chance of remembering your song after they’ve heard it:
- Symmetry in melodic shape. Your melody is most likely the element that people will remember about your song, more so than harmony or even lyric. So how can you use symmetry in your melodies? Try this:
- In your introduction, use a distinctive melodic hook that you can bring back between verses and choruses (Example: “Old Days”, by Chicago), and as an outro if your song has one.
- If your verse has an interesting melodic shape, like starting on a high note with a leap downward, try constructing your chorus with a low note and a leap upward. (Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” inverts ideas from the verse and presents them in the pre-chorus)
- Use your bridge to fragment and combine melodic ideas from your verse and chorus. Take the main melodic idea(s) from verse and chorus and use them to construct something new in your bridge. (Meatloaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” does this to a certain extent.)
- Symmetry in rhythm. Even though your rhythmic ideas may develop throughout your song, ensure that the basic beat and basic rhythmic pattern is something that listeners will hear and recognize near the end.
- Symmetry in lyric. Try using the same, or similar words at the end of your song that you started the song with. If it’s a narrative type of song (i.e., tells a story), this may be not so easy. But if it’s about how you feel about someone, see if there is a way to get the same thought across at the end of your song. In other words, you’d basically be saying at the beginning, “Here’s what’s happening, and how I feel about it…”, and then you’d be finishing by reiterating that emotion. Songs that begin and end with a chorus would be good examples of this.
- Symmetry in harmony. This is probably less important, because you’ll likely use a similar selection of chords throughout your song. But try starting the song with something distinctive, and then using those chords as a way of ending your song. (Example, “Eight Days a Week” – The Beatles)
As mentioned, the main benefit of symmetry in music is the repetition factor: the repeating elements give your song a more obvious sense of form, and make your song more memorable.
To learn more about every aspect of good songwriting, you need to check out Gary Ewer’s set of songwriting e-books. Starting with “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, you’ll find the answers to all the questions you’ve had. Get your songs finally working by clicking here!