Yes - Roundabout

How Simplicity Makes for Good Songs

Some of the best songs ever written have a noticeable core of simplicity about them. Songs where the melody is easy to remember and easy to hum means that audiences are more likely to hum it as they go about their day.

Simplicity is part of the reason that we find it so easy to hum “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, “Billie Jean”, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” They’re pretty easy to sing, which means they’re pretty easy to remember.


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If you find that your audiences just aren’t connecting with your songs, have you considered that there is a complexity that prevents them from making that all-important connection?

There’s nothing wrong with complex music; personally, I love songs that take me a few listens before I really understand what’s going on. There is no rule in songwriting that says that complexity is wrong. But even in those kinds of songs (progressive rock is a good example) there is often a core of simplicity that makes them work.

When Yes recorded “Roundabout” (1972), it was the biggest hit they had had up to that point. There is a lot of complexity in its design, the layering of instruments, and especially the lyrics.

But the melodic ideas themselves are, at their core, fairly straightforward, and easily remembered by an audience. The rhythms of the melody, as well as the backing rhythmic grooves, are catchy, strong and hook-like.

How to Diagnose a Song That’s Just Too Complex For Your Audience

One of the easiest ways to figure out if your song is too complex for its own good is to strip it down to its bare bones: the melody and rhythm. In other words, try singing your song to yourself unaccompanied — just you, with no instrumental backing.

That kind of simple rendering of your song will usually prove to be very instructional. It tells you a lot about the song’s basic structure, and whether there is enough at the core for an audience to be able to remember it and sing it to themselves.

And keep in mind: an audience being able to sing your song to themselves is a huge part of whether or not the song has staying power.

So if you’ve got a song that’s not making the kind of connection to audiences that you were hoping for, try recording yourself singing it unaccompanied, just melody and lyrics.

That stripped-down bare bones rendition should tell you a lot. Remember, audiences can’t sing chord progressions. They can’t hum musical arrangements or production ideas. They’ve only got the melody and the words that they can replicate and relate to.

No matter what you do to a song in the recording process, if it works as an unaccompanied song, it should work no matter what production treatment you apply.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks 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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  1. Pingback: The Daily Muse – April 10th, 2020 | All About Songwriting

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