Working With Bits of Failed Songs to Create Winners

There are ways to make sure that the various sections of your song connect well together. Some of them are obvious – like keeping a consistent key throughout, or keeping the tempo the same, and so on.

It’s possible (and relatively common) to have various sections in different keys, but the connection comes from the choice of keys: since your chorus is in C major, let’s say, you might choose to put the verse in a different but closely related key, such as A minor.

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By doing that, you create a nice sense of variety, while also allowing for a connection that strengthens a song’s structure.

One other way to strengthen the connection between sections of a song might be to find ways to create partnerships — similarities, really — between the various melodies you’ll wind up using. A good example of this is Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love”, in which most of the tunes feature short, downward-moving cells, all pulled together to create longer melodies. We hear those shapes on a subconscious level, and it acts like a kind of musical glue to, again, strengthen the structure.

I’m mentioning all of this, because there’s another aspect of good songwriting which allows for not making a strong connection at all between the various sections of a song. We know of many songs where the verse, chorus and bridge melodies seem to lack any obvious common characteristics.

Think of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” (Adele, Paul Epworth), and compare the verse and chorus melodies. There really aren’t many shared characteristics there.

This should give you encouragement as a songwriter. Why?

We all have days or weeks when it’s hard to finish anything we start. We might come up with a good chorus hook, but can’t seem to create the verse that makes it a more complete song.

In those cases, you’re likely to eventually set it aside and think of it as a failed attempt at something that started out with great hope. But it’s actually better thought of as a song-in-the-making, waiting for something else to pair up with.

The fact that verses and choruses can coexist without a strong structural connection means that on days when you’ve got a verse but no chorus, you simply need only to search through your file of incomplete songs to find a potential partner.

As you search through your collection of incomplete song melodies, looking for ones that might form a more complete song, consider the following tips:

  1. This is obvious, but put the different melodies in the same key and tempo.
  2. Move the key up or down to find the best compromise.
  3. Listen to each melody objectively. You may need to change aspects of one or the other to create a better partnership.
  4. Lyrics usually need to be adjusted or completely changed for one or even both melodies.
  5. You may need to adjust the end of your chorus melody to improve a connection back to your verse.
  6. Bridge melodies often thrive by being completely different verse and chorus, so a melody that you think might work well as a bridge can usually succeed without having to work too hard on it.

As a final tip (and hopefully by now this is obvious), don’t throw anything out. A good, healthy collection of “failed songs” is better thought of as a treasure trove of ideas that can make you a more prolific songwriter.

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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