If writing music were easy, I doubt we’d stick with it. One of the reasons we write is because it’s not always easy. Sometimes, coming up with music that sounds great means working and reworking. It’s a process that takes time and experimentation.
But that battle of getting music right is the “fun.” In some ways, the longer it takes to get a finished product, the prouder you might feel when it’s done. Struggling is to be expected in the arts.
If you like starting your songs by working out a chord progression, you need this eBook guide: “Writing A Song From A Chord Progression.” It shows you, step by step, how to avoid the pitfalls like boring melody and unfocused lyrics — problems that can occur when you start your songs with chords.
So when you’ve got those first ideas for a song working but it’s not sounding right yet, it’s usually for this reason: individual song elements are working at cross-purposes.
Here’s a simple example of what I mean. Let’s say that you’ve written a song about losing at love. But the chords and backing rhythms sound kind of jaunty and playful. It could be that you worked out the instrumental aspect of the song, you liked what you heard, and then you tried to use it for a sadder, more introspective lyric you’ve been mulling over.
In fact, most editing that happens with the basic components of a song is mainly solving the problem of elements working at cross-purposes.
Let’s see if we can speed that editing process up. Here are four common ways that elements work against each other:
- Lyrics and melody. Emotional moments in a lyric work well when they’re placed higher in the singer’s vocal range. So if your more emotional moments are placed low in the melody, you might be missing out on an opportunity to connect with the audience. SOLUTION: Speak through your lyric using a highly-melodramatic reading style. Note where your voice goes up and where it goes down. Let that influence the melody you write. When you get it right, your melody should match (most of the time) that natural up-and-down of your voice when reading the lyric. •Read more about integrating melody and lyric.
- Chord Choice. Deciding on whether a chord you choose should be major or minor is often a matter of identifying the mood of the moment. But always choosing minor chords when subject matter is sad, and major for happier moments, can sound trite or overly predictable. SOLUTION: Always experiment with chord choice, and make note of words in the lyric when a chord changes. One very effective chord substitution is to change a I-chord (C in the key of C major) to a vi-chord (Am). That one change can poignantly affect the mood of a song. •Read more about chord substitutions.
- Tempo. This is one aspect of music composition that, in my experience, people don’t play with enough. It’s amazing what choosing a different tempo will do to the overall mood and even meaning of your song. Writers often get stuck in the tempo they thought of when they first created the song. SOLUTION: Try different tempos and keep an open mind. You might be pleasantly surprised that a new tempo breathes new life into your song. •Read more about how tempo affects musical meaning.
- Energy. Musical energy comes from many different elements — tempo, instrumentation, melodic shape, lyric, loudness, playing style, rhythm, etc. — and so it often requires careful consideration. SOLUTION. Because verses are generally low in emotional content, and choruses are more intense, let that be reflected in your song’s design elements. As emotion rises, allow for a fuller instrumentation, perhaps playing louder and with a more obvious intensity. Remember that instruments often increase musical energy by playing with a more rhythmic feel, but a voice will increase the emotional level by holding on to powerful words for a longer time value. • Read more about musical energy.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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