Using Opposite Ideas To Keep a Song Moving

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Rock Band AudienceWhether audiences know it or not, what keeps people attracted and listening to a song is the successful blending together of opposite ideas within the same song. Called the contrast principle, presenting opposing musical shapes and elements within a song provides necessary forward motion. Without it, songs feel static, and give the sense that they aren’t developing. There are lots of ways to present opposites within a song. Check out the following list.

  1. Melodic direction. Most melodies are conglomerations of smaller “cells” – short melodic ideas that go together to form larger melodies. Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is an example of this. That song is also a good model for demonstrating the contrasting of melodic direction: downward moving cells that form the verse melody, and upward moving ones that form the chorus.
  2. Instrumentation. You can generate great forward motion by building instrumentations in such a way that choruses sound fuller than verses. In addition to simply adding instruments in a chorus, try other instrumental techniques: arpeggiating chords in a verse, and using thicker, unarpeggiated chords in the chorus; using lower chord voicings in a verse, and higher ones in the chorus; and of course, simply allowing choruses to be louder than verses will help build energy in a natural way.
  3. Lyrical rhythm. Take a listen to most songs’ choruses, and you’ll notice that words are held for longer rhythmic values than in the verse. Verse lyrics tend to be set to shorter rhythms as they recount a story. In the chorus, it’s more appropriate to allow certain words and syllables to be held for longer. It helps enhance the emotional level of the lyric.
  4. Chord choice. You’ll want to find a way to contrast verse and chorus chords. One great technique that really works is to try mostly minor chords from a chosen key in a verse, then switch to mainly major ones for the chorus. For example, if your song is in A major, try experimenting with these chords for the verse: F#m, Bm, C#m. Then switch to A, D and E for the chorus. The key stays the same, but the tonal focus easily switches from minor to major.
Most of the time, if you find that your song seems boring, you’re usually dealing with a situation where the song doesn’t have enough contrast. You’ll want to examine the contrast between sections, and make sure that you’ve incorporated opposing ideas as a way of generating energy.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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