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Everyone who writes music has got tons of musical fragments that have gone nowhere. I mentioned in yesterday’s article that writers need to be “sketching” all the time. But it can get depressing when your sketchbook is full, and you’ve only got a song or two that’s complete. Surely those bits of melodies, lyrics and chord progressions have got some use! Here are some ideas for what you can do to finish up a song that has a start, but no end.
I’VE GOT A CHORUS, NO VERSE
If you find yourself saying, “I’ve got a really great chorus, but when I try to think of a verse, my brain shuts off. I can’t seem to create anything that works”, study the chorus carefully: make sure that what you’ve got really does work as a chorus. The lyric should be emotive, and the chord progressions should be mainly strong, featuring lots of root movement of 4ths and 5ths.
Also, the melody should dwell in and around (away from and toward) the tonic note. If that’s the case, try starting work on a verse by starting with lyric ideas, and write words and phrases for which the chorus lyrics provide an obvious answer.
For melodic ideas, try this: study your chorus, and find a melodic fragment that seems to be an important motif, something that is distinctive in shape. Now, play around with that idea by moving it down in pitch, and playing with the order of the notes. For example, if your chorus features lots of upward-moving melodic shapes, try playing with downward shapes, mainly lower in pitch.
Regarding chord progressions, while reversing the order of a set of chords often doesn’t work too well, you’re likely to find one or two chords that do actually sound good when played in reverse order from the chorus.
I’VE GOT A VERSE, NO CHORUS
You know the fragment you have is a verse if it seems to be primarily narrative, or at least descriptive, in nature. Again, the recommendation would be to start putting a chorus together by creating lyrics that answer questions or describe emotions related to the verse.
Improvise melodic shapes that sit above the verse in pitch level. Make sure that the tonic note plays an important role in what you’re creating.
Let your chorus chord progression feature the tonic chord as a starting and ending point.
I’VE GOT A FRAGMENT AND I JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS
This is where it can be fun to look through your sketchbook or collection of song fragments, and find bits and pieces that can go together. Probably the most famous example of this is The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”, with two seemingly unrelated bits, one written by John, the other by Paul, were simply “jammed together” to form that iconic song from the Sgt. Pepper album.
Using that song as a model, you’ll discover that the bits and pieces don’t need to be obvious song partners. Putting them together creates a new reality, and play it all together several times before making a judgement call.
One last piece of advice: don’t worry if your sketchbook keeps getting bigger and fuller. As a songwriter you shouldn’t be throwing anything out. It often comes as a surprise when you discover the bits that finally wind up together!
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