Pet Shop Boys

Making Dramatic Changes to Song Mood With Tempo

Songwriting tends to happen in two stages. First, you spend a certain amount of time creating ideas, and second, you experiment with, pull together and reshape those ideas until you get the song into its final form.

Some songwriters find the first stage relatively easy, but get frustrated trying to make a finished song. They get stumped when trying to modify what they’ve done, so they wind up with a song that they seem to have written rather quickly, but sounds weak somehow.

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There are lots of ways to take a song and experiment with it to find the gem inside. If you’ve created some song ideas, you might try:

  1. Changing the mode. You can take your original song ideas that you put into the key of F major, say, and try them out in F minor.
  2. Changing the instrumentation. If, for example, you’ve accompanied yourself with guitar or other chording instrument, you can try an instrumentation that sounds fresh and interesting. Production changes are almost always compelling, and can yield surprising results.
  3. Changing the performance style. Changing the way you play your instrument(s) makes more of a difference than you might imagine.
  4. Changing the time signature. Most songs in the pop genres are in 4/4 (also called “common” time), but 3/4 (like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”), or even something like 5/4 (the “Mission Impossible” theme) 7/4 (verses of “All You Need Is Love” – Lennon & McCartney), brings out a whole new character.

But the one modification that makes a dramatic change in feel without needing consciously to change much of anything else is to change the tempo.

You’ll notice that when you take a ballad and speed it up so that it isn’t a ballad anymore (compare Willie Nelson’s recording of “You Were Always On My Mind” with the Pet Shop Boys’ uptempo rendition), or take a fast song and slow it down (compare Eric Clapton’s faster and slower version of “Layla”), it feels like a completely new song.

Once you’ve changed the tempo, other things will change just as a natural result, and those things will be some of the other things in that list above, instrumentation and performance style in particular.

So if you’re looking to make the most dramatic change you can to you recently invented song idea, nothing gives you a bigger change than simply playing it at a new tempo. That one change does more to get your head into a new space with your song, and sometimes that’s what it really needs.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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