Rob Thomas

Increasing Musical Energy In a Song

It’s a basic principle of good songwriting that musical energy should either stay the same or increase — rarely decrease — as a song progresses. If you listen to the start of Verse 1 end of most songs, and then skip ahead to the final moments, you’ll notice that an energy build has taken place.

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Most of the time when we talk about musical energy we’ll tend to talk about loudness, or perhaps instrumental busy-ness. But there’s a lot more to it. And in fact, your song will benefit immensely if you increase musical energy simultaneously in as many ways as possible.

Other than loudness and rhythmic activity, here are four other ways you could and should be making a song sound gradually more energetic:

  1. Lyrics. Audiences pick up a kind of energy — emotional energy — when you use words that make them feel something as opposed to words that simply describe situations or circumstances. Most songs will end with repetitions of a chorus, so be sure you choose those words carefully to make the audience feel heightened emotions. But sometimes the best way to build energy is to come up with something entirely new as an ending. Example: Listen to Rob Thomas’ “Someday” and check out the deeper meaning of the ending lyrics. It’s the perfect way to end a strongly emotional song.
  2. Instrumentation. Check out the start of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and then click to the last few moments, and you’ll hear what a great, gradual instrumental build can do for a song.
  3. Chord progressions. Musical energy increases when chord progressions become shorter and tonally stronger. The long extended ending of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” gives us a really great, short, strong progression: F Eb Bb F. In your own songs, you won’t necessarily want a “Hey Jude” kind of ending, but the chords should have the kind of tonal strength (short and unambiguously in your song’s key) that energizes the song’s final moments.
  4. Melodies. Like lyrics, melodies in choruses will need to be more emotionally driven, and this comes about chiefly by moving the chorus notes higher. It’s in those final chorus repeats that you might want to consider vocal improvisations that move things even higher (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”, for example.)

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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