Momentum in the songwriting world comes from the sense that whatever is happening in the song right now is about to get better; whatever questions are being asked are about to be answered; whatever tension is being created harmonically is about to be resolved, and so on. Momentum, otherwise known as song energy or forward motion, keeps your audience with you. And without it, songs fail. But how do you create it?
This kind of energy exists in both fast and slow music. It’s not really about how much energy is there, but what you do with it. When it’s incorporated correctly, a song with momentum makes you want to keep listening. This momentum happens in slow songs through the same processes as with fast songs: by creating unresolved lyrical, melodic and harmonic situations that demand resolution.
Follow these suggestions as ways to make sure that your songs grab listeners and keep them right through to the end:
HARMONIES WITH MOMENTUM:
Have your verse chord progressions 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:
C F Dm G Am Dm F G ||
C G C G Dm G C
LYRICS WITH MOMENTUM:
- Let your verse lyrics set up situations and ask questions. That way, listeners will want to hear the chorus, where they assume these questions will be answered.
- Let bridge lyrics present questions and answers in shorter fragments. This builds energy, and whenever energy is created, listeners will wait for the expected release.
MELODIES WITH MOMENTUM:
Compose your verse melody to 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.
When songs sound boring, it’s usually because the listener doesn’t care what’s being sung about to begin with. So you need to choose song topics that speak to the ordinary person. It’s why love is such a popular subject for so many songs.
But it’s not enough to simply sing about how miserable you feel, having lost your love. There’s no tension, no forward motion capability, with that sort of lyric. You need to set up a situation that creates a feeling of “I wonder what’s going to happen next”, or “I wonder if this is all going to get resolved somehow…”
In a way, creating forward motion is what songwriting is all about. Momentum trumps every other aspect of music. It explains why songs with limited chords and limited melodic range can sometimes become monster hits (“Hound Dog”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Closing Time”, “Free Fallin'”, etc.). Particularly with regard to text, those songs all make us listen by presenting a lyric that hooks us and reels us in.