Songs Don't Have to be Written From the Front End

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” E-book Bundle
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musical bits and piecesWhen the fun of songwriting is replaced with frustration, it can make you wonder why you ever got involved in music in the first place. Songwriting is supposed to be a way to express your innermost thoughts and feelings, but for many it becomes aggravation. One way to cure negativity is to remind yourself: songs don’t have to be written in order. Try the “bits & pieces” approach.

These days I spend far more time composing instrumental and choral music than I do music in the pop genre, and the bits & pieces approach is a normal, typical way of writing. Songwriters could learn an important lesson from the writers of music from the  Classical genre: there are almost no composers who start at the beginning, and keep working sequentially until they reach the end.

This is because ideas beget ideas; the more an idea is developed, the more you’re likely going to want to go back into the song to lay a bit more of a foundation for that idea to grow on.

As a songwriter in a popular genre (pop, rock, jazz, country, folk, etc.), you’ll find that working on your song in bits and pieces rather than strictly sequentially can have enormous benefits, and can help reduce your frustrations.

Here are some bits of advice for how this procedure might work:

  1. A chorus will generally reside higher in basic pitch range than a verse. But how much higher? Well, how much higher isn’t really the issue, and in that regard, the simple solution to achieving this basic songwriting precept might be to start by writing your chorus. Then backtrack, and see what you can do in your verse to have it connect smoothly to your chorus.
  2. Chorus lyrics make definitive statements, and portray a state of mind. So if lyrics are frustrating you, try writing down some simple, basic “here’s how I feel” words and phrases. Then, next to these words, write down situations and circumstances that might make you feel that way. Not all of them will present themselves as ideas for your song, but you’ll start to see connections that will click.
  3. Take a look at the melodic shapes of your chorus, and see if any melodic motifs are obvious. Perhaps a descending or ascending leap seems to be happening. If you can identify a recurring shape, try inverting it and seeing if it works in your verse. For example, if your chorus melody uses an ascending 3rd fairly often, try creating a verse melody that uses a predominance of descending 3rds.

And don’t forget that while it is important to set aside a regular time each day to write, you mustn’t feel that you need to be trying to write a full song every time you sit down. It’s not necessary, and will lead to frustration. The bits & pieces approach is meant to remind you that you can, and indeed should, be working on  your song from many different directions. Eventually, you’ll start putting all those pieces together, and you’ll reap the benefits by having a song with strong inner structure.
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