Creating Musical Momentum Keeps Listeners Listening

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleMuch of the skill of songwriting involves very subtle qualities that audiences don’t consciously notice. But they’re a vital part of songwriting success. Read more about this in “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, now with a 7th eBook absolutely FREE: “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Read more..


Imogen HeapSong energy is a much easier term to define if you’re talking about a song that’s loud and fast. It seems obvious: the louder and faster things are, the more energy the listener perceives. But song energy is a much subtler musical attribute most of the time, and involves more than loudness and tempo. Songs that are quiet and gentle, such as Imogen Heap’s “Half Life“, or classics such as “Killing Me Softly” (written by Fox & Gimbel, a huge hit for Roberta Flack in 1971) show that song energy is generated by tempo and dynamics (loudness), as well as the following:

  • Melodic rhythm
  • Melodic range
  • Lyrics
  • Harmonic rhythm
  • Instrumental activity.

As you compose a song, you may be instinctively aware that a song’s climactic moment best belongs closer to the end of a song (without being the actual end) than toward the beginning. It’s something we find to be natural in practically all art forms. For example, the climactic moment in a TV show happens toward the end, and it’s the way we like it. The writers spend the majority of time previous to that, building momentum and excitement.

So how should songwriters build momentum and excitement. And especially important: how to do you build energy when a song’s chief characteristic is that it lacks obvious energy?

Here are some tips for ensuring that your quiet songs keep listeners riveted and interested in your music:

  1. Melodic rhythm. Allow the length of notes that you use in the melody to elongate in your chorus, especially when it comes to singing the song title. You hear this clearly demonstrated in “Half Life”, where most of the verse uses quick 8th- and 16th-notes with lots of syncopation. Then in the chorus, the notes become longer, allowing the emotion of the lyric to take hold.
  2. Melodic range. Make sure your song’s highest notes occur in the chorus. In pop music, it’s common to have the highest notes wherever the song title is sung.
  3. Lyrics. A chorus contains a song’s most emotional lyrics, and that partners well with melodic range. Note that “emotional” doesn’t need to mean that the lyric is dripping with emotional outpourings. It simply means that the lyric is mainly expressing a feeling rather than describing a situation.
  4. Harmonic rhythm. This term refers to how frequently chords change in your song, and it’s usually a more-or-less fixed pattern: every 4 or 8 beats, for example. You can generate more energy by changing the harmonic rhythm in the chorus. But don’t assume that changing chords more quickly will generate more energy. Often, suddenly hanging on to a chord for longer can be the way to up the energy level of a song.
  5. Instrumental activity. Adding instruments, having them play higher, louder, and with more rhythmic activity – these are all ways that momentum and excitement can be generated.

With all of the suggestions listed above, remember that subtlety is important with quiet, gentle ballads. A little bit of modification goes a long, long way when the song is soft and introspective.


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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