Songwriter’s Experiment: Try This Evaluation Method

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AudienceHere’s an interesting and useful experiment that songwriters can try, one that will help get a clear picture of song energy. It works whether you’re simply at the guitar-vocal demo stage, or if you’ve got a more-or-less finished product: Listen to the first 15 seconds of your song, the middle 15 seconds, and then the last few. Do you feel a sense of “progression” in the energy level? For most songs, there should be a noticeable intensifying of energy. This energy, or momentum, is what keeps most people listening.

This evaluation method works best if you’ve got your song in a finished format, because much of what we add to a song – instrumentation, for example – helps to contour a song’s energy levels.

But this kind of musical observation can help you even before you get to the studio, when your song is still in the pre-demo stage. If, as you listen to these beginning, middle and end snapshots of your song, you don’t really perceive any kind of change, it may (not always… keep reading below) mean that you haven’t taken your listeners on enough of a journey.

Once you’ve done the experiment, here are some indicators that your latest opus needs something more:

  1. The melodic snapshots you’re observing all seem to dwell in and around the same few notes.
  2. The chords haven’t ventured much or at all beyond your opening chord choices.
  3. The dynamic levels (volume) haven’t changed over the length of the song.

As we listen to an entire song, it may not be occurring to us that nothing is really changing, and that the musical journey we’re supposed to be taking listeners on isn’t really happening.

But comparing the beginning, middle and end snapshots gives us a more immediate picture of things, and is the first step to solving the problem.

Having said all that, it’s also important to note that not every song will need to display any kind of dramatic change from beginning to end. There can be a value to carefully controlling how a song proceeds, and certain kinds of songs won’t need to change muchf.

Typically, the faster the tempo, the less a song will need to show energy changes over its length. So dance numbers don’t necessarily need to be building; their job is to get people up and moving, and so they usually start with a bang and stay there.

Also, songs that display strong lyrical content may not need to show a long, gradual build in energy; the momentum is more dictated by the lyric itself.

So this beginning-middle-end experiment won’t solve all your songwriting woes, but can be a useful way of targeting problems relating to song energy if you know there’s a problem, but can’t identify it.

Recently, a very good songwriter sent me an MP3 of his latest tune, asking for my help identifying why it seemed to be lacking “something”. When I did the beginning-middle-end snapshots, the problem became obvious: the melodies (i.e., the melodic range) all dwelt in and around the same 5 or 6 notes. From there, the problem was easy to fix.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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  1. Pingback: Songwriting Link of the Day April 7, 2011 | Creative Music

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