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How to Write a Song that Connects In an Emotional Way

All songs are about feelings. If you’ve written a song that doesn’t make the audience feel something, you’ve missed the point of what you should be doing.

Generally when we talk about songs and feelings, we’re talking about the impact of the lyric. And that makes sense of course. It’s the lyric — the specific words and combinations of words you choose — that will tell the listener what the song is about. That topic, and then the way you describe things within the lyric, is either going to succeed or fail to make the requisite impression.

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But what about other aspects of a song? Is it important that melodies and chords make an emotional connection to listeners? And how do you achieve that?

Here’s a little guide you can use to help at least getting you thinking in the right direction with regard to creating song components that make an audience feel something.

Song Topics

  1. Choose a topic that’s likely to make someone feel, “I’ve thought about or experienced something like this before.”
  2. Dig down into a song’s topic and find something more specific and meaningful than “I want to write a love song.” It doesn’t need to be deep, just something a bit more specific, something that will set your song apart from others.
  3. Don’t obsess over a song’s topic. Remember, it’s the words and word combinations that are going to ultimately matter.

Song Melodies and Lyrics

  1. A melody that enhances emotions is usually one that explores a fairly large range. Melodies that move up and down allow the singer’s voice to display greatly varying levels of emotion.
  2. A melody’s effectiveness has a lot to do with the chords that support it. Sometimes the best editing you do on a melody is fixing the chords that are accompanying it.
  3. Downward-moving melodic shapes tend to enhance feelings of love, nostalgia, and introspection.
  4. Upward-moving melodic shapes and upward melodic leaps give a sense of power and excitement to a song’s section.
  5. Melodies that dwell in and around one note (like the verse of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”) work well when the lyric is expressing a strong opinion.

Song Chords

  1. A strong chord progression (one that makes the key of the song obvious) is great in a chorus hook. It usually partners up well with other characteristics of a chorus hook and makes the hook more memorable.
  2. A more creative progression (one I call “fragile”) is great in a song’s verse or bridge. Fragile progressions can take the listener through more interesting changes in mood.
  3. Chord extensions (the maj7 part of a Cmaj7, for one example) can greatly enhance the emotions that a chord progression offers. So do lots of experimenting on this sort of thing.

Song Instrumentation Choices

  1. Know what the demands of your chosen genre are, but be willing to expand beyond them. “Stairway to Heaven” is a great example of this. The song would have been fine without the recorders at the start of the song, but that simple instrumental choice adds so much to how we experience the song. Use your imagination.
  2. Think of instrumental choices as a way of “sculpting” the sound of your song. If your song is guitar, bass and drums from start to finish, you risk having the instrumentation quickly fade in importance. So find ways to change the ways that the instruments are being played as your song progresses, and modify the dynamics (how loud they’re being played.)
  3. When recording your song, get the best players you can. So much of making an emotional connection to listeners depends on musical choices that experienced players make. Excellent players can go way beyond musical muscle memory and come up with instrumental ideas that you might not have thought of.

Every time you write a song, you need to sit back and ask yourself, “Is this song making the best use of every element?” Remember that good songs are a partnership of ideas and components, and that no one part of a song works in a vacuum.

This means that fixing lyrics may change how your melodies and chords sound. Fixing the chords will change how we hear the melody, and so on. Editing and changing bits of songs is — or at least should be — the fun part. Take your time, and enjoy the process.

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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