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Every great song has something that grabs your attention. It might be a turn of phrase in the lyric, a chord progression that grabs you, or a gorgeous melodic bit in the chorus. But you’ll more likely find that great songs are a partnership of musical elements, where everything works together, producing something greater than the sum of its parts.
The most common demonstration of how different elements within a song work together is to think about the natural energy build that happens as a song moves from verse to chorus. You’ll notice:
- melodies move higher in pitch;
- lyrics become more emotional;
- chord progressions become shorter and stronger;
- instrumentation builds.
You may find that your latest song just isn’t working for you. The parts on their own seem to be fine, but somehow when you consider them all together, you find the song lacking in anything that really grabs attention.
This is often caused by song elements working at cross-purposes. You may find, for example, that your lyric is building emotional energy, but is being partnered with a melody that’s moving in a generally downward direction.
If your songs have lost their sparkle, here’s a short list of things you should be checking:
- Chorus chord progressions are simple, short and strong. Leave longer, meandering progressions for the verse or bridge.
- Verse lyrics are mainly descriptive. Leave emotions for the chorus. Let your verse lyrics set the stage and make observations.
- Chorus lyrics evoke an emotional response. Once you’ve allowed your verse lyric to describe the scene, you’ve set everything up for the listener to tap into your emotional chorus.
- Melodies should move higher if lyrics are becoming emotional.
- Chorus vocal rhythms should elongate. This means that as you sing your chorus, you should be holding certain notes longer, particularly words that hold considerable emotive value. (This elongation happens in contrast to instrumental rhythms, which generally become busier in a chorus.)
- Add instruments in emotional moments. The deeper and more poignant the emotions, the fuller your instrumentation should become.
- Add backing vocals in emotional moments. You’ll find that backing vocals appear more in song choruses than in song verses, and it’s because of their emotive power.
So songs will often fizzle out or otherwise disappoint if you find that these important relationships are missing or working against each other.
I often advise songwriters to not to analyze their songs if they’re working, because sometimes a song will work well for “no good reason.” But if you find that your songs are just missing the mark, start dissecting it bit by bit, and pay particular attention to how chords, melody, and lyrics partner up. That’s where you often see problems.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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