Making a line drawing of the basic energy of your song can reveal problems you might be having.
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Most songwriters piece a song together while sitting with an instrument. Little by little, lyrics, melodies and harmonies unite to form a final product. When it works, it’s great, and it’s fun. But from time to time you notice that something’s not working. You feel like you’re on the right track, but you can tell that something’s not quite right. There are things you can do that will quickly identify problems, but in particular I want to discuss the benefits of sketching a map for your song as part of the songwriting process.
A map in this context is a drawing that represents your song. You can use graph paper, or even just a simple blank sheet. It’s best to draw a horizontal line along the bottom representing elapsed time.
From this point, there are two kinds of maps you can draw. I’ve written before about the benefits of doing a kind of “block” drawing, where you sketch in major song elements, like this:
This kind of map lets you see your song’s important elements. Instrumentation, lyrics, melodic plateau pitches, and so on. In a way, it works like an architect’s plan.
But the other kind of map that can really help, especially when you song just seems to lie there, sounding uninspiring, is a simple line drawing that demonstrates the song’s basic energy levels over time.
We know that certain parts of songs should usually exhibit more energy than others. But as you sit and compose, that fact can get a bit lost; songwriting can cause you to get a bit near-sighted.
Here’s a line drawing of how a typical verse-chorus-bridge song usually unfolds:
Not every song necessarily follows this pattern, but it’s a common one. As you can see, energy typically builds, then ebbs. For each time that it falls, listeners are enticed to wait for it to build again. It’s a natural process.
Now, your task is simply to take your current song and draw a similar kind of sketch. As you feel the energy of your song building and dissipating, move the line upward and downward. You may find that it helps to try it several times, and that each attempt at the sketch gets you closer to a better representation of your song.
What a map like this does is to remind you that energy needs to move generally upward, with several peaks and dips. Creating a drawing for your song may reveal that song energy is too disorganized.
If you find that it’s a line that generally moves up and down, with no particular overall direction, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work. Typically, songs that have a flat energy line need to have a strong lyric.
You can also use this kind of map idea to sketch the general range of your melody. It can help solve issues that you didn’t know were there. Most of the time, song melodies should move higher from the verse to the chorus.
This kind of line drawing isn’t necessary to do with every song you write, but it can help expose problems, particularly if your song seems lifeless or directionless. It’s a way of seeing what you’ve been writing at a quick glance.
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