Do You Know What Bliss Is?

Do your song melodies have a focus?

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"Bliss" - Windows XP DesktopIn 1996, Charles O’Rear took a photo of a landscape in Sonoma County that became famous as the Windows XP desktop picture. The story is that the photo was not retouched or edited in any way. Nowadays, that same hill is covered in grapevines, as you can see in this Google Street View.

Don’t worry; this hasn’t turned into a technology blog. I only mention that 1996 photo, named “Bliss,” because it serves as a great reminder to songwriters regarding the issue of focus.

The most notable feature of “Bliss” is that there is no notable feature. Sure, there’s a hill there, and you could make the case that your eye is drawn to that slight rise just to the left of centre.

But other than that, though it’s peacefully beautiful, there really isn’t much to look at. Of course, that was purposeful on the part of the designers. They needed something that looked great but without distracting from whatever icons would be sitting on it.

Quick switch to music. Especially in today’s music world where technology can play a big role, it’s very important to think about a point of focus for your music. If you create songs by layering loops, you run the danger of not providing enough for your listeners to listen to.

In that sense, you may be simply creating the musical version of the photo “Bliss” – lovely to listen to, but at the same time, nothing to listen to.

Here are some important aspects in good songs that provide that all-important aspect of focus:

  1. A melodic high point. For many songs, the melody needs something that stands out, something that acts as a climactic high point. Lots of songs demonstrate this, but give “Rain is a Good Thing” a listen (recorded by Luke Bryan, written by Bryan, and Dallas Davidson). The chorus keeps moving up, providing a very satisfying climactic moment very close to the end. That technique works in any genre.
  2. A lyrical high point. For songs that are in verse-chorus format (no bridge), the final verse needs to be the place where something dramatic or satisfying happens, answering whatever questions have come before. For songs that include a bridge, the bridge needs to be the place where all is revealed. That creates a very important climactic moment.
  3. A chord progression high point. These days, you notice more and more that verse and chorus progressions are either the same, or almost the same. Songs don’t necessarily need a chord progression high point, but if the melody and lyric doesn’t provide it, look to your chords, especially in the bridge or near the end, to provide something distinctive.

Climactic moments more often happen in melodies than in any other song element. But in fact, a climactic moment can happen in a lower part of a melody, enhanced by lyrics and chords.

No matter what you choose to do, there needs to be some sense, once you’ve reached the end of your song, that you’ve provided a musical journey for your listeners. If it’s just one nice sound after another, audiences will get frustrated.

In other words, “Bliss” is a nice photo, but don’t necessarily expect someone to frame it and hang it in the living room.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. Interesting that you bring up the loop-based “Bliss” type music. I’m a huge fan of listening to electronic music while I work because *it doesn’t distract me*. The pumping rhythm and lack of deep, melodic meaning can be good while I’m concentrating on other things.

    I can’t listen to classical while I work, because I’ll find myself trying to parse the pieces of the music and how they’re put together.

    So, while not having a focus isn’t necessarily a good thing for many songwriters, sometimes it’s great for those of us needing a little ‘mindless music’ to listen to!

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