Tom Cochrane

Songwriting: Pairing Up Instinct With Knowledge

As a songwriter, you’re always trying to get the notes of your melodies, as well as the chords that accompany them, to sound somehow magical. At least, that’s the way most audiences will perceive what you’ve done.

But hopefully you know that it’s not magic. It’s not even random, even though you may use improvisation and experimentation to come up with your song. The best songs come about by combining your musical imagination and instinct with your understanding of the fundamentals of solid song structure.

When your instincts and knowledge come together to create a great song, no one really cares about the structure underneath it all. It’s like looking at a gorgeous building: when it looks great, the architect hopes no one really cares how they did it. Structure should be irrelevant to the enjoyment of music.

There’s nothing magical, in the strict sense of that word, about how good music works. As I say, it’s instinct coupled with knowledge of the fundamentals.

The Placement of a Chorus’ High Note

A good example of how knowledge of the fundamentals can be vital to the success of a song would be considering the high point of, let’s say, a chorus melody. Most choruses give us the highest notes of a song. But you’ll notice that most of the time, that high point is not randomly placed. It either happens right at the beginning of a chorus, or near the end.

First, let’s look at songs that place the high note at or near the start:

What advantage does the song get from a high point at the start of the chorus? Mainly it’s the shot of energy, and especially where that shot coincides with the main chorus hook.

Songs with the climactic high point at or near the start are memorable and fun to sing and fun to recall. If your song’s verse dwells near the bottom of your vocal range, this kind of high note placement (at or near the start of the chorus) can be a great idea.

Now, let’s take a look at the ones where the high point gets placed a little later in the chorus:

The advantage to a later-in-the-chorus high point is that you can use the chorus as a kind of build-up. And you’ll notice that the high point doesn’t need to be much higher at all. In “Just the Way You Are,” the high point is a semitone higher than the basic range of the chorus.

Song Structure and Knowledge

The placement of a song’s high point is just one out of probably hundreds of elements within a song that can come about mainly by a songwriter’s knowledge of good song structure. When writer’s go purely on instinct, they may not be aware of the kind of power that can come from placing this vital element.

If you’re looking to be a more consistent songwriter, simply determining to write every day is not necessarily going to get you there. You need to couple your musical instincts with knowledgeAnd that knowledge will be of best use during the editing stage.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle gives you the understanding of the fundamentals of good song structure. It includes a 9-Lesson Course designed to take you through the process of polishing your songwriting technique.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle

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