Dealing With Excessive Predictability In Your Songwriting

Predictability is not the horrible monster of songwriting. Even songs that sound unique, complex or startling are often following a template established by someone else’s song, with just a touch of innovation thrown in; it doesn’t take much innovation to make a song sound unique.

Writing a Song From a Chord ProgressionIf you like starting songs by working with a chord progression, you need to read “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” It will give you the pros and cons of this songwriting method, and help you create songs that really work!

Predictability is, most of the time, a good thing. Predictability is the anchor that assures the listener that everything’s okay, that no matter how strange things might sound, there is a strong core within the song that makes it understandable.

Excessive predictability is a problem, though. Excessive predictability usually means that you follow a personal template when you write that makes everything sound the same.

The typical culprits that lead to excessive predictability in your own songwriting are:

  1. The same tempo from song to song.
  2. The same key choices.
  3. The same key changes (e.g., always moving from a minor key verse to a major key chorus.)
  4. The same topic and point of view in the lyric.
  5. The same instrumentation.
  6. The same formal design.
  7. The same vocal range (e.g., if all the songs are placed high in key, you’ll hear the same screaming tension in the voice, song after song.)

So as you can see, excessive predictability usually refers to your habit of copying your own songs, not so much that you’re doing something that other songwriters do a lot. When you approach songwriting in the same way, song after song, you’ve got a problem with excessive predictability: everyone can tell what’s going to happen next.

Here’s what you can do to solve this problem:

  1. Change up the formal design. If you’re stuck in a verse-chorus-bridge design tendency, start your song in a different way. Try starting with the chorus. Or with an instrumental solo. Or with a slow, unaccompanied version of the chorus, as Eagles did in “Seven Bridges Road” (Steve Young).
  2. Don’t use the same tempo in consecutive song projects. Of course, you can change tempo any time you like (and that kind of experimentation is great), but change things up from your previous song right at the conception stage. Tempo strongly affects mood.
  3. Don’t use the same key in consecutive song projects. And more than that, see what you can do to develop a keener taste in complex progressions, or at least progressions you don’t normally use. I always say that simple progressions aren’t usually a problem, but expanding the palette of chords you like to use is a great way to make a song sound unique.
  4. Break out of the love song trap. Love still sells, it’s true. But it will help excessive predictability a lot if you can expand on the kinds of things you write about. If you’re not sure what else is out there that can serve as song topics, you need to do more listening in your chosen genre.
  5. Try lower keys that allow you to explore lower, sultrier vocal tones than you’ve done before. Sure, your money notes may be in your upper register, but low-range singing tends to pull listeners in and make them want to listen to the content of your lyrics.

Being curious about other instruments will help as well, and remember that you don’t need to be very good on an instrument to use it as a songwriting tool.

And remember: predictability is not evil. Most good songs need something familiar about them in order to give audiences something to feel comfortable with. The tiniest bit of innovation will give you a song that sounds very innovative.

But excessive predicability means you may have to stop, sit back, and really listen to what you’re giving your audiences, and then start the process of taking your songwriting in a new and exciting direction.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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  1. Hi Gary, you forgot to mention the importance of changing key signature WITHIN a single song itself and then returning to the original key (modulation), as well as changing the time signature within a single song. These are incredible techniques that are used in many classic successful songs that aren’t limited to just prog rock.

    Aretha Franklin – Say A Little Prayer
    Ella Fitzgerald – Cry Me A River
    The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
    Paul Simon – How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns
    Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

  2. Pingback: The Daily Muse – April 8th, 2020 | All About Songwriting

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