Think Small, and Big Things Will Happen

Do your new songs sound like your old ones?Some think that if a song isn’t working, you toss it out and try something new. Wrong. You’d be shocked how close a bad song is to being something that has hit potential. All it takes, usually, is a few small tweaks and you’ve got something to be proud of. Let “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle show you how to fix your bad songs. Read more..


Composing songsI’ve worked with and conducted a fair number of performing groups, from young students to professionals. Whenever I wear that hat (i.e., helping performers as opposed to helping composers), I adopt an approach that could be described this way: I’m not trying to make music sound good; I’m trying to make performers sound good, and I let the music take care of itself. In that sense, I’m focusing on the more immediate responsibility: performance quality over music quality.

Granted, I have that luxury if the music is already good. But the point I want to make here is that performers have one main task: play well. If they succeed at that, they can make ordinary, even mediocre, music sound great.

As a songwriter, your main responsibility is to create music that is good, however you choose to define that word. Your song needs to work. But one of the most prevalent problems with songwriters, both new and experienced, is creating a song that captivates an audience from its beginning, maintains that interest level throughout, and finally ends up as having been a worthwhile musical journey.

You could say that every songwriter’s output is a collection of hits and misses. There is a way to make your songwriting lean more toward hits and less toward misses, if, as a composer of music, you adopt the approach I described at the beginning of this post. Here’s what I mean.

When you start a new song, instead of dwelling on the fact that you eventually need to create something 4-5 minutes in length that will captivate listeners, focus in on a smaller and more immediate responsibility: you need to create a catchy, musical idea, not a song. In other words, since a good song needs a good basic idea (a hook, perhaps), your immediate responsibility is to create that, not an entire song.

Once you’ve created that hook, you now have about 10 seconds of music. It may not seem like much, but now you switch responsibilities. Your task now is to create a chorus that makes that idea sound amazing.

And now you’ve got a chorus that works, and it’s time to switch responsibilities again. You now need to create a verse idea that partners well with your chorus idea. Just an idea, mind you. Don’t worry about the entire verse, just get that first line, something that makes the listener say, “I wonder what’s going to happen next?”

Each time you switch responsibilities, you essentially say to yourself, “Now I’m going to create something that makes this bit I just wrote sound even more amazing.”

So you can see what’s happening here; instead of belabouring over the fact that you need to create an entire song, you break that job up into tasks, into “immediate responsibilities.” Once you’ve completed one small task, you move on to the next one.

This kind of approach, of focusing on the immediate responsibility, has a way of lessening the stress and anxiety that can come with songwriting. It’s a bit like saying, “I don’t need to climb Mount Everest. I need to get to that base camp.” Once that’s achieved, you then say, “I don’t need to climb Mount Everest. I need to get to the next base camp.” Eventually, you’ve climbed Mount Everest.

As all your song bits, your areas of immediate responsibility, come together, you may see the need to revisit bits you’ve written earlier, to make them connect just a bit better. But by thinking of songs as collections of ideas that are, in a sense, ends unto themselves, you may find the fun (not to mention the quality) returning to your songwriting projects.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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