7 Ways To Make Instrumental Music Work

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Guitarist playing chordsWhat are the fundamental differences between instrumental and sung music? The answer is: practically nothing. An instrumental has, essentially, most of the same elements that a song with lyrics has – without the lyrics, of course.

But without a doubt, the most common error I see in student songwriting of instrumentals is the missing melody. Everything else is there- a good chord progression and of course good instrumental work. But for some reason, I’ve seen many occasions lately where the melody is either weak or entirely missing.

It may be that songwriters know that lyrics and melody form a particularly strong bond, and so once you take the lyric out of the equation, the melody gets neglected. But in fact, a good instrumental usually needs a particularly strong melody. Without it, you’ve only got a chord progression.

So how do you write a good instrumental that grabs a listener? Here are some tips.

  1. Assuming you use a verse-chorus design, use the same guidelines that you would for sung music: lower verse melody, higher chorus melody, etc.
  2. If you use a bridge, let the melody work its way upward.
  3. Avoid instrumental fatigue. If your main melodic instrument is a guitar, look for ways to vary the sound or performance style, particularly in the bridge. Ideally, change instruments so that the listener hears something new (like the contrasting of guitar with brass section in “Classical Gas“.)
  4. Create melodies that use interesting rhythms and rhythmic devices, such as syncopation.
  5. Allow chorus melodies to use notes held for longer time values. Like sung music, this will help intensify the emotional impact of the chorus melody.
  6. Remember that the melody is what people will remember, not the chord progression.
  7. Consider starting your work on an instrumental by creating an interesting melody, rather than starting by working out a chord progression.

As you can see, these are practically the same guidelines in play for writing songs meant to be sung. You need to give the audience something catchy to remember. So instrumentals will benefit from the development of a catchy hook, and will be more memorable if you create a melody that’s every bit as strong as one that has a lyric attached.

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One Comment

  1. I found this article eduactive. My musical world has immensely been transformed. Thank you for this piece of information

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