With Songwriting Ideas, It’s Fragile First, Followed By Strong

In verse-chorus formats, tentative ideas need to be followed by strong ones.


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Songwriting: From Fragile to StrongWhen 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:

  1. Fragile and strong melodies: Keep verse melodies away from the tonic note, focusing on the mediant (3rd) or dominant (5th).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


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