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Song energy is at once a simple and complex concept. Simple, in the sense that it’s what gets your foot tapping and your body moving. Complex, in the sense that every component of a song, the obvious to the not-so-obvious, all interact with each other to ultimately affect energy. And also a bit complex in another way: energy that moves in an upward direction, if it’s relentless, can sometimes have a dulling effect. While some songs drive forward successfully, with energy never abating, most songs benefit from a crafting of energy, allowing it to lessen in some areas so that it drives forward in others.
In that respect,most songs’ energy maps will look like a successful stock market chart: mostly upward, with an occasional downward movement.
While you’ll want energy to grow at certain moments in your song, your song will often benefit from having that energy taking a pause, and stepping back a bit. Here’s a way that often happens:
- Intro: Establish an energy level that is at the level of the eventual chorus, or, alternately, bring the intro in quietly, at the same level as the beginning of verse 1.
- Verse 1: Start with a lower energy level, and allow it to build in the bars approaching the chorus.
- Chorus 1: Strong energy, with a quick diminishing of that energy at the close of the chorus, matching the lower level of verse 2.
- Verse 2: Lower energy once again, but often a little stronger than verse 1.
- Chorus 2: Stronger energy again, sometimes stronger than chorus 1.
- Bridge: If the song’s energy tends to be high throughout, use the bridge to dissipate energy. But more typically, allow the bridge to build even more energy, preparing for final chorus repeats.
- Final Chorus Repeats: Strong energy as previous choruses, but find ways to build it even higher.
Ballads are song types that really benefit from this kind of song energy crafting. Dance tunes will, of course, more often than not keep a steady energy level, to keep people wanting to move. So in dance numbers, your crafting of energy will need to be more subtle.
Here are some ideas for affecting song energy:
- Adding instruments, raising instrumental range, adding vocal harmonies, and raising key, are all ways that usually build energy.
- Adding a countermelody to a chorus melody (a second melody that works in partnership with the main melody) will also build energy and momentum.
- Increasing percussion builds energy. For one possibility, try snare drum on beat 3 only of each beat in a verse, then on 1 and 3 in the chorus.
- Using a well-placed pause in the general flow of a song is a great tool for dissipating song energy.
- You can craft song energy by putting the verse in a lower key than the chorus. Find two keys that move smoothly from one to the other, such as from C major to F major, or C major to Eb major.
It can surprise you that a generally energetic song can still come across as needing some spark. This can happen when song energy flat-lines, even at a high level. Life usually comes back to a song if you find ways to allow energy to step back a bit before moving forward again.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” is one of a set of 6 songwriting e-books that will show you how to write great songs, harmonize your melodies, and give you hundreds of chord progressions in the process.
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