How you use the tonic note in your song can go along way to controlling musical energy.
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Some might say that it’s not all that important to know the key of your song as you’re writing it; as long as you have chords that work well together, knowing the key is just extra information that’s not really all that important. But by knowing the key of your song you can identify the tonic note and chord, and that can play a big role in strengthening the structure of your music. Here’s how that works.
The tonic note is the one that represents the key of your song. If your song is in C major, C is the tonic note and the C-chord is the tonic chord. They assume a position of great importance in your music, as they represent a kind of “musical goal” with regard to chord progressions and melodies.
You’ll notice that in many songs, the tonic note appears more in a chorus melody than a verse melody. There is a good reason for that. Since tonic notes feel like “home”, a metaphorical place of rest, it can kill the forward motion of your song if it appears too often in the verse.
But in a chorus, the tonic note sounds more powerful, more final. For that reason, a chorus is a good place for it. The same applies to tonic chords, not just tonic notes. A tonic chord offers a strong sense of finality and power that is very useful in a chorus.
So if you’ve recently written a song, but find that the energy sounds haphazard, it may be that the tonic note is being used in a way that kills song energy. Here’s what to look for:
- See if you’ve used the tonic note more in the verse than the chorus. (That shouldn’t be the case… it’s more normal for the tonic note and chord to appear more frequently in a chorus).
- If you have lots of tonic notes in your verse, see if you can change the chord underneath it to be a non-tonic chord. That will help to keep forward motion and energy intact.
- If you use lots of tonic chords in your verse, see if you can change the melody note above it to a non-tonic note.
- Try to avoid the tonic chord (as much as possible) in a song bridge. The bridge needs to wander away from the tonic to make its return in the chorus more welcome.
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