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Forward motion, otherwise known as momentum, is best defined by the effect it has on the listener: it makes it easy for listeners to keep listening, and makes it hard for them to turn your song off. This kind of momentum occurs when an aspect of your song causes tension, a kind of tension that demands a release. As tension builds, the listener feels a strong desire to keep listening until the tension is resolved. It’s what all good songs do, and so you want to be building forward motion into your songs.
When you think about motion, you likely think about aspects such as beat, tempo and rhythm – the kinds of words that seem to relate to motion. But in fact, every element of a song can and will affect momentum. So you have lots of ways to ensure that momentum is happening, and people stick with your song.
Here are some ideas you should be considering:
- Create verse chord progressions that end on an open cadence. This means a chord progression that ends on a chord other than the I-chord, and usually on a V-chord or IV-chord. Here’s the kind of progression I’m talking about:
C F Dm G Am Dm F G ||
C G C G Dm G C
- Make sure that verse lyrics describe situations, present scenarios, and ask questions. When a listener hears a question, they’ll wait for the answer. When they describe an emotional situation (“I saw her with another guy..”) they’ll wait to hear how you’re feeling about that.
- Make sure that chorus lyrics describe an emotional response to the verse. This is where you really make your connection. A properly written chorus lyric provides the necessary release for tension that’s built by the verse lyric.
- Let your verse melody rise as it moves toward the chorus. We know that verses tend to sit lower in pitch than choruses, but you can do more. Let the verse melody rise as it approaches the chorus. That, in conjunction with an impending open cadence, will build lots of tension that builds a ton of forward motion.
- Let bridge lyrics give lyrical and melodic ideas in short bursts. Bridge lyrics should ideally move back and forth between scenario description and emotional response, and should do so quickly. Melodic ideas should happen in fragments. This kind of fragmenting of musical ideas tends to increase energy in the best way possible, as listeners look for a return of the chorus to release tension.
So forward motion is a direct result of tension and release. If you listen to your songs and find that they seem boring, don’t just turn up the volume or play faster. Start digging into your song, and find the ways that you can build AND release energy. The end result is forward motion.
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