5 Ways to Create Momentum in a Song

In music, momentum means that the listener needs to hear things changing as the song progresses.

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Song energyIn music, momentum is created every time you do something that makes the listener think that something else is about to happen.

For example, as you play through your verse, you might choose to play louder as you go. That generates forward motion (momentum), because listeners subconsciously want to know where that crescendo of sound will lead.

Momentum is largely responsible for keeping an audience listening to your song. There are several standard ways that musicians can create momentum. Many have to do with things you do as a performer, so those ways aren’t specifically related to songwriting, such as changing how loudly you play.

But there are things that songwriters can do to inject some momentum into the song, things that work at the structural level of your music. Here’s a list of 5 that you can think about. Not every song will use all of them, but they all work to build energy:

  1. Move the melody upward as the verse progresses. When melodies move upward in a verse, listeners tend to think that a climactic moment is approaching, and they’re willing to wait for it.
  2. Move verse chord progressions toward the dominant (5th) chord. In a verse, the chord progressions should be worked out such that they make the first chords of the chorus sound strong and inviting. You can do that by creating verse progressions that end on the dominant chord. So a good verse progression might be: C  F  Dm  G  Em  Am  Dm7  G, with the chorus starting on C.
  3. Use verse lyrics to pose questions and describe situations that require an explanation. If you can use your verse to set up situations, listeners instinctively expect to have the answers presented in the chorus. That’s why verses should describe situations, while choruses should describe emotional responses. It’s a natural way of building energy and momentum.
  4. Use shorter, quicker vocal rhythms in the verse. By using quicker rhythms in the verse, an audience tends to expect longer words to appear in the chorus. It works hand-in-hand with the lyrical approach from number 3 above. Longer note values elicit a stronger emotional response.
  5. Shorten musical phrases as a way of generating energy. You see this one more in song bridges than anywhere else. By shortening phrases, we mean create a lyric and melody that has the singer singing short groupings of words before taking a breath. You get a bit of this effect at the end of bridge of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” (“still have fun.”)

No song uses all these techniques, and so don’t assume that there is something wrong with music that doesn’t really show, for example, much difference between verse and chorus chord progressions.

But if you find that your songs fall flat in the chorus, take a closer look at things like melodic shape, chords and lyrics, and see how those elements change between verse and chorus. You may simply find that there is not enough difference, and that translates in the listener’s ear as a lack of momentum.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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