Building a Complete Song From a Fragment

Once you’ve developed an idea for a song, the next step is to figure out what it is.


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Music-songwriting studentIt’s much more normal to conjure up a fragment of music – either a line of lyric, a bit of melody and rhythm, or a chord progression-based hook – than it is to sit down and write a complete song in one or two sittings. Getting that one good musical fragment is the all-important starting point.

Filling out that fragment is the tricky part, and the next step is actually not “How do I fill this out”, but rather, “What is this fragment I’ve created?” You may think you have just worked out a chorus hook, but you might discover that it works better as a bit of verse.

How do you know what you’ve created when you write a small fragment? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. It’s likely a chorus hook if it is short, sounds good when repeated, has a strong rhythmic component, and uses a restricted tone set (not many notes).
  2. It’s likely a bit of verse if it is a little on the long side, doesn’t use repetition, starts low in the voice, is relatively quiet or non-energetic.
  3. It’s likely a bit of bridge if it is pitched high, has a chord progression that is complex or tonally vague, and sounds energetic.
  4. It’s likely a bit of pre-chorus if it starts low and moves high, with a chord progression that is moving toward the dominant note/chord, and builds energy as it goes.

Many fragments that you come up with can be modified to work well in any section. And in fact, some songs feature different melodies that are strongly related to each other, so you can take one idea and rework it to serve as both a verse and a chorus.

In those cases, be sure that your bridge melody is different from any other melody in your song. The bridge needs to stand as a variation on other sections.

By identifying your invented fragment’s place in your song, you save a lot of time working out the rest of it. Since song sections basically represent a variation in momentum, you at least have as your starting point that your fragment is going to help build, diminish, or otherwise contour that momentum.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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