Troubleshooting your latest song

Pulling Your New Song Apart as a Troubleshooting Process

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Every song is a partnership of various elements. Practically every song you hear will be a joining together of melodies, lyrics, and chords, with instrumentation acting as a kind of musical glue.

I think it’s fair to say that most good songs are greater than the sum of their parts: they may have good melodies, lyrics and chords, but then when you hear them all working together, you could make a case for saying that they sound even better than they do separately.

And that’s the ideal. A particular song’s lyric, for example, might be its strongest asset, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to have a weak melody or weak chordal structure. You need them all working well.

One way to troubleshoot a song that you think you should be sounding better than it actually does is to take the time to think about each separate component and considering them on their own. This allows you to put your full attention on that one component without it being cluttered by the others.

So if you’ve written a song, but you feel it’s not sounding as great as you thought it might, try these ideas:

  1. Recite the lyric. Try this different ways. First, simply read it as either prose or poetry, depending on the nature of what you’ve written. Then try reading it by slightly exaggerating the rhythms: make the long words longer, and the short words shorter. Think about the meaning of what you’ve written, and be mindful of problematic words and phrases, like overused clichés or forced rhymes.
  2. Sing the melody unaccompanied. A good melody should work even without its chordal backing. A good melody typically moves generally by stepwise motion (up or down by step), with occasional melodic leaps. And even in this barebones rendition, your melody should be able to be described as interesting or even captivating.
  3. Play through the chord progressions. In the pop genres, most progressions use the tonic chord (the one representing the song’s key) as a kind of musical anchor, where each progression seems to get pulled back to that tonic chord.

By separating the various elements like this, you can concentrate on a single component at a time, and there’s a lot of good troubleshooting that can come from that.

Once you’ve considered each element on its own, you can add in one other one. For example, once you’re sure you have the melodies the way you want them, add in the chord progressions and hum your melody without the lyric.

Once that’s working, you’re ready to try everything back together again, and see what the changes have done. This kind of dissecting songs and then reassembling them will go a long way to ensuring that your song has the best chance for success.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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