Line drawings of musical elements are powerful tools for analyzing and solving songwriting problems.
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One powerful technique songwriters should be using is the making of line drawings to show melodic shape. The concept is simple. Put your pencil on the left side of a piece of paper, and move it to the right. If the melody goes up, the pencil goes up; if it goes down… you get the idea.
Now stand back and look at what you’ve drawn. It’s a great way to get a sense of the contour of your melody. And remember: contour is what listeners remember when they recall your songs. No one remembers notes. They remember shapes comprised of notes.
If your melody is wandering aimlessly, up, down & all around, with no sense of shape or direction, a line drawing exposes that problem immediately. As I say, it’s a powerful technique for analyzing song problems.
You can also make line drawings of other elements of music. One kind of drawing you may never have thought of is a line sketch of your lyric. Here’s how it works.
Start the same way as a line drawing of your melody: place your pencil on the left side of a piece of paper, and move it to the right. But this time, the pencil won’t be moving up if the melody moves up. It will be moving up if the emotional energy of your lyric increases.
It’s not easy to do this, because it’s sometimes difficult to separate your melody from your lyric. So it may take you a few tries. One way to make the process a little easier is to start by looking at a written-out copy of your lyric, and circling words that carry a strong implied emotion. So words like “love”, “hate”, “tears”, “so much”, “touch”, and so on… these are the words that make an impression on the listener. Those words will then represent places where the line should move upward.
Once you’ve got something that you think represents how the emotional energy of your song flows, compare that line drawing to one you’ve made of the melody. They won’t be exact copies of each other, and you probably wouldn’t want that anyway.
But there should be similarities between the two. In particular, you should see the lines for a chorus melody and lyric looking more similar than in the verse.
It’s not an exact science, of course. And you only need to do this if you perceive that there’s something not working in your song. But if you’ve exhausted all efforts to solve a songwriting problem, try a line drawing of your lyric, and see if the emotional content of the words is working against the contour of your melody.
Once you see a problem, it’s often a matter of adjusting the melody to help the lyric. That kind of relationship is an important way to strengthen your song’s structural design.
To practice this technique, try looking up a lyric for a song you’ve never heard (Google a singer-songwriter whose music you’re less familiar with). Now make a line drawing of the lyric. Then visit YouTube and find the song, and make a line drawing of the melody. See how the two lines compare.
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