A few little tricks can make your songs hit home with real emotional power.
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Emotion isn’t normally something you think about adding to your music. Normally, you’d think that emotion is what you find in a certain kind of lyric, or a certain kind of song topic, and then you write the kind of music that supports and reinforces the emotional element.
You’re at least partly right in that approach. But the thing is, there are ways you can intensify the emotional impact of your music. It has to do with the important songwriting principle that all components of a song work together to produce a final product. No one song element exists in isolation from the other elements.
For example, the chords you choose are either supporting the mood the lyric is conveying, or they’re hurting it. And that goes with all song elements.
If you’ve written what you think is a tender love song, but no one is feeling it, it probably means that the individual components of the song are working against each other.
So here’s a short list of things you can do to make sure that you’re intensifying the emotional impact of your “pulling-at-the-heartstrings”:
- Choose chords that are strong (as opposed to tonally vague), and use a good mix of major and minor. Altered chords (i.e., chords that are normally found in other keys) are interesting and useful, but often diminish the emotional power of a chord progression. Stick to chords that come directly from the key of the song. Example: “Someone Like You” (Adele), which sticks closely to a mix of major and minor chords from A major (A C#m/G# F#m D A…)
- Place important emotional words and/or phrases in high spots and upward leaps in the melody. Doing this all the time becomes too predictable, but if you choose one or two words that have significant meaning, and put them in a significant spot in the melody, you’ve got the recipe for hitting an emotional soft-spot. Example: “Love Of My Life” (Freddie Mercury/Queen) Listen to the melody and make note of which words are placed on upward leaps in the melody, and notice the effect.
- Experiment with tempo. Not all emotional songs are slow and ponderous: “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” (Barry White, Tony Sepe and Peter Radcliffe). So every time you write a love song, consider tempo as something worth experimenting with. You will discover different shades and meanings in your song’s lyric and overall mood when you speed it up or slow it down.
- Use vocal harmonies carefully. Use vocal harmonies in the same way that you’d use melodic contour: use harmonies on emotionally significant words. It’s common to use vocal harmonies more in a chorus than in a verse. Using them all the time tends to dull the effect, so use harmonies on words that you really want to connect to listeners.
- Experiment with instrumentation. Some instruments have a stronger effect on the emotional impact of a song than others. Generally instruments that have the same ability as the human voice for bending and shaping notes (guitar and saxophone, for example), are good instruments to try adding to the mix.
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