In verse-chorus formats, tentative ideas need to be followed by strong ones.
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When I use the words “fragile” and “strong” as they pertain to songwriting, I’m usually describing chord progressions. A fragile progression is one that has a certain degree of ambiguity, particularly with regard to where the key centre is. For example, if the song is in the key of A major, but the chord progression seems to avoid that chord entirely, that might be considered a fragile progression. Like the windows in a building, something fragile needs something strong to frame it and make it useful.
To provide that strength, we usually follow a verse’s fragile progressions with strong progressions in the chorus. A strong progression is usually short, and clearly points to the tonic chord as being a focal point. Strong progressions will require you to feature the tonic chord as a clear starter or finisher of musical phrases.
But there are other elements, obviously, that come together to make a song. And the same principle of strong following fragile will usually apply.
As you write your songs, keep the following ground rules in mind:
- Fragile and strong melodies: Keep verse melodies away from the tonic note, focusing on the mediant (3rd) or dominant (5th).
- Fragile and strong rhythms: While it’s important to always set lyrics in such a way that the rhythm of the music matches the natural pulse of the words, the verse is a place where you can use a lot of syncopation and other rhythmic complexities. Follow these up with stronger, beat-oriented rhythms in the chorus.
- Fragile and strong lyrics: A fragile lyric is one that explores a storyline, allowing twists and turns to be the interesting element. In a way, fragile lyrics are a bit unpredictable for that reason. Follow fragile lyrics with strong ones in the chorus. A strong chorus lyric means allowing repetition of phrases and lines, and permitting clear emotions to shine through.
When an audience hears ambiguity in a verse, they instinctively know that the pleasantly predictable chorus will follow, and that pattern of fragile moving to strong is enticing and enjoyable. Getting the order right is crucial.
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