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You’ll find that songs have a higher success rate if you can replicate ideas throughout. We do this quite naturally, for example, when we use rhythm. The basic beat that the drums establish at the beginning is usually repeated throughout the entire song. We like that kind of consistency. The problem is that we can’t repeat everything. We need new melodies, lyrics and chords for choruses, to differentiate them from verses. But it works really well if we can somehow, in the midst of using new material in a chorus, relate that new material somehow to what the listener has already heard.
This is usually achieved through the use of motifs – short rhythmic or melodic “cells” that get replicated throughout a song. We hear a certain melodic pattern in the verse, and then we hear something similar in other areas of the song.
For example, think of the last couple of notes of each line in The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” – the first two lines end with a short descending melodic figure on a quick rhythm (on the words “photographs”, and “to know.”) Then this descending reverses for the next two lines, ending with short ascending figures. (“come and go..” “say hello”.. etc.)
That’s an example of what we mean when we talk about motivic use and development in a song.
There’s an interesting way of developing motifs within a song, and it’s called “mirroring.” It just means that you take a melodic shape that occurs in a verse (or early part of your song), and do an opposite melodic shape in the chorus (or later part of the song).
You get a bit of a sense of this technique in Bruno Mars’ hit “Grenade”. The verse uses descending melodic shapes; the chorus switches to a focus on ascending figures that coincide with the word “Grenade.”
A similar approach is used in Mike Posner’s “Please Don’t Go.” The verse phrases are mainly descending shapes. The chorus features a large upward leap at the start.
There are other ways to try “mirroring” ideas:
- Try developing a chord progression that uses a descending bass line in the verse, and an ascending one in the chorus.
- Develop lyrics that focus on “I” and “me” in the verse, then switch to “you” and/or “we” in the chorus.
- Use an identical melody for verse and chorus, but move the chorus melody up one octave.
You should note that this is not the sort of thing of which listeners will be consciously aware. Very few listeners are aware of, or even care about, motivic development. It does its work in the background.
But not noticing does not mean that it’s not working. Using mirrored musical ideas results in a stronger sense of cohesion between sections of your song. The reward is that the song truly becomes an example of a successful musical journey.
“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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