songwriting - unique instrumentation

5 Songwriting Tips to Make Your Songs Stand Out From the Rest

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Looking for a way to make heads turn with your songwriting? If you really want to establish yourself and rise above the pack, you need to be doing something that’s different from what everyone else is doing.

Yesterday I wrote about the pressure of being unique. Being too different, though, has a way of making your music just seem weird for weird’s sake. But it’s a good idea if every song you write has something innovative about it — just enough to draw attention to itself.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” - Can't get past the hook?Here are 5 tips for helping your songs stand out from the rest of the music everyone gets to hear. Some of the ideas apply to the structure of your songs, while others (like the first tip) refer to things you can be doing at the production stage:

  1. Use a creative instrumentation. Guitar, bass and drums may be what you usually do, but since it will sound pretty much like most other songs out there, it’s time to think outside the box. A good producer will be able to help create unique sounds that are computer-based, but there is a lot in the acoustic world to consider adding to your final mix: flute, oboe, brass or string ensemble… even a cuíca.
  2. Try a melody with no accompaniment. This can be an interesting way to start a song: just a solo voice, with no instruments to support it. Then gradually bring instruments in. The tricky bit is to stay on key. It works well with certain genres, such as folk. Eagles did this on “Seven Bridges Road.” Canadian folk group “The Rankin Family” show how it’s done on “Mo Run Geal Dileas.”
  3. Try a chord progression with a non-diatonic chord. A non-diatonic chord is one that doesn’t belong to your song’s key, and they have a way of momentarily startling the audience. With some experimentation, you might find one that fits the bill. Example: Am  F  Ddim  G  Db/F  G  Am. (The Db/F is a so-called “Neapolitan 6th.”)
  4. Try a non-standard song form. As a songwriter you may find yourself always using a standard verse-chorus-bridge song form, and so it can get a bit predictable. You might try something off the beaten track, like: chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-instrumental-chorus. Try anything that ensures some measure of contrast, but doesn’t conform to predictable forms.
  5. Sing in a different language. This may seem bizarre, but language itself can come across as an instrumental technique in the sense that it involves unique vowel sounds. Used when the listener is least expecting it, a song in a language other than the one you normally use can give a moment of surprise that really works. Folk songs (like the Rankin Family example from Point #2 above) are a great place to start.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

Essential Secrets of Songwriting, 3rd ed.If chords are hard for you, that’s what Chapter 4 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, 3rd Edition, deals with. Get the full 10-eBook Bundle for only $37 USD. And get a free copy of “Creative Chord Progressions” today. Read more..

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Gary,

    Really enjoyed this post – some great ideas to spark creativity and write in a unique way.

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now and have really enjoyed your songwriting advice – I’m a music theory person myself and love how technical you get with the musical aspect of songwriting – a lot of people tend to gloss over that and focus solely on the lyrics!

    I actually run a songwriting blog myself ( ModernSongstress.com ) and would love to feature this post on it, if that would be okay with you – I would of course give you credit and link back to your site (and whatever course/program you’d like to promote).

    Let me know if you’d be okay with that! 🙂 You can reach me at katie@modernsongstress.com

    Thanks!

    Katie

  2. Gary,

    Informative and useful songwriting blog, as usual.

    Regarding point 3, using a non-diatonic chord in a progression – I’ve been having a hard time figuring out what the key is in your example of Am F Ddim G Db/F G Am. Can you let me know?

    Thanks

    • Thanks Tom. That progression can be seen in either C major (in which the tonic chord never appears), a progression that includes a “modal mixture” (The Ddim chord, which is borrowed from C minor). On the other hand if you think of the progression as being in A minor, you’d need to consider that it makes a short detour toward C major – that would account for the Db/F. In traditional harmony, that Db/F — the “Neapolitan chord” — would typically take the place of a IV-chord, and so that’s why it makes the key of C major more likely.

      -Gary

  3. Pingback: 5 Songwriting Tips to Make Your Songs Stand Out From the Rest - The Hit Songwriting Formula | The Hit Songwriting Formula

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