I’m not much of a cook, but I’ve certainly eaten enough food to know that once you’ve combined all the ingredients of a recipe in a pot on the stove and turn the burner on, new, wonderful flavours emerge. Flavours that you wouldn’t notice when you consider your ingredients separately. If you really love food, you’ll know what I mean. If you’re too busy to savour the food you eat, you won’t.
Composing music, whether you’re writing a song or a symphony, is like that. Even the simple act of putting melodies together with chords allows you to experience “flavours”, you might say, that aren’t apparent when you consider the melody and chords separately.
Following a chord progression formula ensures that your chords have a strong sense of focus and direction. Use “Chord Progression Formulas” to create dozens of your own progressions in mere moments, using some tried-&-true methods.
When we get excited about a song we’ve heard, or even one we’ve written, we automatically try to pinpoint what it is that we’re really enjoying. That gorgeous moment in that song… is it the melody? the chords? the instrumentation?
Like a flavourful stew, the answer is probably: the combination of everything.
The metaphor of the flavourful stew is also applicable to songwriting for another reason: for any good recipe you can name, no matter how distinct it may seem, nothing is completely unique. There is a somewhat limited set of ingredients in any recipe; the magic happens when you consider the ways to combine them.
Similarly in songwriting, nothing is really unique. Not only is there a relatively limited set of pitches at your disposal (usually just the ones that occur in your chosen key, with the possibility of a few others), there is also a limited set of chords that can properly support them. The magic happens when you consider the many ways to combine them.
I mention this because I want to make it clear just how little innovation you need to make a song unique, fresh, and your own. It’s understandable that you want your song to stand out from the crowd, and not just be something that easily fades into the background. You want something where people say, “Now THAT’S amazing!”
But to create that amazing song is not much different from cooking an amazing stew: good quality ingredients, all mixed in the right proportions, all supporting each other’s individual flavours.
In songwriting, a little bit of innovation goes a long way. Having a song that stands out may take very little innovation. Just as a cook might add a few clams to a spaghetti sauce to make it something that’s deliciously uncommon, a songwriter might add a french horn to an instrumental break.
It doesn’t take much to go from innovative to unpleasantly weird. I think the best songwriters understand that every song needs something that makes it sound special and different. My point is this: it takes very little to move into the realm of uniqueness. Don’t overdo it.