Creating a Sense of Forward Motion in Your Songs

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.Gary Ewer's Songwriting E-books

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Forward motion in a songIt’s not enough to get someone to just listen to your song; the measure of a song’s success is whether or not you’ve been able to get the listener to come back to the song over and over again. We have all sorts of devices that help to achieve that: a good hook, a catchy rhythm, an interesting lyric, and another thing that’s hard to define, but so very important: forward motion.

The sense that a melody is moving forward is defined and measured, quite simply, by the desire of the listener to keep listening. The fact that the chorus follows the verse is not, in and of itself, a description of forward motion. But writing a verse that “calls for” the chorus is. If you can write a verse melody that creates sufficient tension through its lyric, harmonies and melodic shape, you’ve created a situation that usually finds resolution in the chorus. So forward motion is, in fact, helped by all the devices mentioned in the first paragraph above: the hook, rhythm, lyric and so on.

Good songs feature this kind of “tension and release.” Without it, you’ve simply got a succession of song components, with the verse following the intro, the chorus following the verse, the bridge following the chorus, and so on.

You need to create tension in order to have your listeners stick around to experience the release. Here are some ways you can achieve that:

  1. Create verse chord progressions that end on the V-chord. That situation will require a chorus progression that starts on the I-chord, and sets up a way of featuring the I-chord throughout the chorus (which is what  you want.) Here’s an example of how that might look:
    VERSE:
    C  F  Dm  G  Am  Dm  F  G ||
    CHORUS:
    C  G  C  G  Dm  G  C
  2. Use your verse lyrics to set up situations and ask questions. That way, listeners will want to hear the chorus, where they assume these questions will be answered.
  3. Let your verse melody rise as it moves toward the chorus. Listeners hear that rising contour as something that’s going to be met and resolved downward, especially as the chorus nears its end.
  4. Let bridge lyrics present questions and answers in short fragments. This builds energy, and whenever energy is created, listeners will wait for the expected release.

In both music composition and music performance, good music is all about the future; that crescendo you’re building into that musical phrase is all about the sense of expectation it’s creating, and that’s what keeps people listening.

If you feel that you’ve written a great song, but there’s just something boring about it, look for ways to embellish what you’ve written with some devices that build energy, and enhance the listener’s desire to keep listening.
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