FUN - We Are Young

Identifying the Section of a Song That Isn’t Working

Once you’ve finished a song and play it for yourself a few times, you might find yourself feeling that one particular section — the verse, let’s say — just doesn’t quite make the grade. You like everything else about the song, but that verse, for whatever reason, isn’t doing a good job of setting up the chorus.

Sometimes when one section isn’t working well, your immediate temptation is to declare the whole song a dud and start again. But there are some obvious benefits to trying to zero in on what the problem section is, and then fix that, instead of tossing the entire song.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” - 4th ed.Words and music need to act as partners in a song, but how do you make sure your melody is helping your lyric? That’s what Chapter 5 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” deals with. Get it as part of the 10-eBook Bundle, or purchase it separately.

So let’s say you’re in that situation I’ve described, which is that you’ve identified the verse as being somehow unsuitable for your song. Rather than throwing out the verse and starting from scratch, try the following:

  1. Keep your melody, and change the chords. Sometimes a melody will get a new lease on life simply by having a new, more interesting chord progression. Substituting chords can be fun to experiment with, but if you’re not sure how to do that, give this older post a read. See how many different renditions of chords you can come up with, and choose the best one.
  2. Keep your chords, and write a new melody. Chords have a lot to do with the mood of your music, so by keeping the chords that you’ve come up with but changing the melody, you have the benefit of writing something new that retains the mood and feel you’ve been going for. And just as with inventing new chord progressions, come up with as many different melodies as you can, and then keep the best one.
  3. Keep the chords and melody, come up with new lyrics. Word lists are a great way to generate lyrics when the process seems slow, so return to those lists and see what else you can create with them. It can sometimes work well to go line by line and come up with alternatives for one particular phrase. With that one new phrase, you sometimes find that everything else sounds better.
  4. Keep everything, but change the tempo. It’s amazing what a new tempo can do for the feel of a song, as Eric Clapton likely discovered when he performed “Layla” as an unplugged version for MTV. A new tempo has an enormous affect on mood, and so radically speeding up for slowing down something you’ve written gives you the opportunity to generate something entirely different. Of course, changing the tempo of your verse usually means changing the tempo of everything else, but it’s possible to have a song with tempos that change as the song progresses, as we hear in “We Are Young” (Fun, ft. Janelle Monáe)
  5. Partner on a new verse melody. This is where songwriting collaborations can really work well. Getting a songwriting partner to write a new verse for you frequently yields surprisingly good results.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Hooks & RiffsHooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.

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