Good songs represent a partnership of components. It’s not just that songs have melodies, lyrics and chord progressions; it’s that the melodies somehow make the lyrics sound better, the chords make the melodies sound better, and the lyrics make the chords sound better.
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In a very real sense, then, good songs are better than the sum of their parts. So when you talk about feelings, and the fact that a good song makes a listener feel something, it’s not enough to leave that up to the lyrics. The lyrics must have the ability to generate feelings, but that ability must be enhanced by the melody that the lyric uses, and then the chords that support the melody.
So everything needs to be supporting everything else in every song you write.
Thinking of that specific important aspect of songwriting — feelings — it’s an important question to answer: how do you get a listener to feel something when they listen to your songs?
TV Drama as a Metaphor
If you watch a television show, you’ll find that it serves as a good real-life metaphor, because, like songwriters, scriptwriters are focused on generating feelings.
A typical TV drama will start with laying the foundation of the story. If the ultimate climactic moment is the capturing of a bank robber, you’ll get a long lead-up to that moment. You’ll need background — a story — which will introduce and develop characters and events.
All along the way, you’ll get enough that keeps you watching. You get suspense, unanswered questions, and lots of emotion.
And you’ll find, as you watch the show, that the emotions rise and fall. The ultimate moment — the capturing of the robber — hasn’t happened yet, so the audience must wait. But they want to wait, because the emotional rollercoaster is fun to experience.
Songs use a very similar kind of construction. The ultimate moment is usually somewhere in the chorus (the chorus hook), but leading up to that chorus hook needs to be enticing enough, with enough feeling, that the listener wants to keep listening.
And like a good TV drama, it’s not just a steady rise in emotion: it’s a series of risings and fallings.
So if generating feelings in the hearts of your listeners is what’s missing from your songwriting, here’s a little checklist you can use to get your songs on the right track:
- Your song’s title has the ability to stimulate a listener’s interest.
- In verse-chorus songs, your verse melody stays generally lower than your chorus melody.
- Your verse lyric generates a lower level of emotion than the chorus lyric, but rises as the chorus approaches.
- Your melodies put important words (words with higher emotional potential) higher in pitch than other words.
- Your chord progressions show a good mix of major and minor chords.
- The rhythms of your chorus melody are simpler and stronger than those of the verse melody.
- Your song’s instrumentation becomes fuller in the chorus.
- Your chorus hook is catchy, and sounds like the focal point for the whole song.
Probably the most important part of getting your audience to feel something is the casual, conversational aspect of your lyrics, so spend a good deal of time experimenting with different rewordings of your lyrics.
Remember, it’s the up-and-down of emotion that generates the best response in an audience. And all components of a song have a hand in making the best song.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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