McCartney - My Brave Face

Songwriting in Chunks

Pop songs are relatively short. But despite that fact, it can be a daunting task to imagine and then create a complete three or four minute musical journey.

You have all sorts of ways that you typically create this musical journey. Most of the time, you’ll find a couple of chords that move back and forth easily. You’ll vamp away on those chords, and maybe try out a word or two, trying to find a lyrical direction for this new tune.

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All the while, you’re likely trying to decide other things: is this section of music that you’re spontaneously creating a verse or a chorus? Or something else?

And then you’re faced with another creative issue: what do you do to write the next section? As I say, it can be a daunting task.

If you find that your songwriting process grinds to a halt because you’ve gotten mired down in what to write next, you’re thinking too big. It’s time to think smaller.

And by thinking smaller, I mean this: It is possible to compose a verse that bears little if any resemblance to the chorus except for the fact that they use the same tempo, instrumentation and often key.

In other words, you don’t need to worry too much about writing a chorus that has an obvious connection to the verse that comes before it. Use the fact that verses and choruses can be very different, and just work on your verse as if it’s all you’re required to write.

A great example of how different a verse and chorus can be: Paul McCartney’s “My Brave Face” (McCartney, Elvis Costello). Listen and compare the verse to the chorus, and other than the tempo, the instrumentation and the general feel you get from the music, the chorus would have been successful with any number of other verses.

That fact means that your songwriting process doesn’t need to be laden with how to create a four-minute song; instead, simply think about how to create a short section of that song. If it’s a verse you think you’re writing, don’t overly worry about (or even think about) what the chorus should sound like, at least not for the moment.

Once you’ve written a verse you like, put it aside, and then it’s time to turn your attention to a new chunk of sound: the chorus. And once you’ve written something that sounds like a good, hook-based chorus, then it can be time to join the two sections together.

If they don’t naturally seem to be connecting well, check the following:

  1. Make sure that the end of the verse progression joins up nicely with the start of the chorus progression. So play the end of the verse and the beginning of the chorus a few times and make adjustments if necessary.
  2. Check that the end of the verse melody moves smoothly to the chorus melody.
  3. Double-check that the lyric of the verse is complemented by the lyric of your chorus.

And then of course you’ve got some production aspects that can make both sections connect well at the recording stage, primarily by ensuring that the instrumental aspect of your performance creates a nice musical build as you move from verse to chorus.

The benefit to thinking of writing “chunks” or sections of music separate from other sections is that the job will seem far less challenging. Also, you’ll finish a section of music in a much shorter space of time than you’ll finish an entire song, and that will keep you in a better frame of mind as you work to complete the entire song.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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