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5 Tips for Improving Your Song’s Melodic Hooks

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 01, 2019 @07:07 AM

5 Tips for Improving Your Song’s Melodic Hooks

by Jason Blume

 songwriting2015

Melodic hooks can be the heart of a song. These tasty bits of ear candy can make the difference between an “almost” – and a life-changing hit. They can be instrumental or sung and can occur in any section of a song – the intro, verse, chorus, pre-chorus, post-chorus, bridge, or outro. Catchy musical phrases hook in your listeners and keep them on the proverbial line. They can occur in multiple sections of a given song (i.e., a verse, a pre-chorus, and chorus) and although it is not typical, there can be more than one musical and/or vocal hook per section. But they are most frequently found in choruses and post-choruses.

Ideally, unforgettable hooks pop into our heads–or pour out of our keyboards or guitars–spontaneously. But when they don’t, we can apply craft to create these extra-memorable melodic moments and add additional hooks to maximize our songs’ chances for success.

Let’s look at five ways to embellish our melodies and help them burn into listeners’ brains.

1. Use a Stutter

A stutter in a song occurs when melody is crafted so that part of a word—typically the first syllable—is repeated one or more times by the vocalist. A perfect example of a song with a st-st-st-stutter is Carrie Underwood’s smash hit, “Undo It” (written by Underwood with Kara DioGuardi, Marti Fredericksen, and Luke Laird). The title is sung “Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Undo It,” turning the stutter into the primary hook in the chorus. For another example, listen to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” (written by Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin). It’s hard to imagine that #1 song without its signature stutter, the “Buh-Buh-Buh” that precedes the name “Bennie.”

2. Repeat a Rhythm

Write a melody that includes a unique, instantly memorable rhythm in the vocal melody of a given section of your song (i.e., verse, chorus …). Then repeat this rhythm multiple times within the same part of the song. In order to accomplish this, each line that has the same rhythm needs to have the same—or approximately the same—number of syllables in the lyric that accompanies it.

This technique resulted in a powerhouse hook in GRAMMY winning Best Rock Song, “When I’m Gone” (recorded by 3 Doors Down and written by band members Brad Arnold, Todd Harrell, Matt Roberts, and Chris Henderson). Note how the last note of each line of the chorus is emphasized, and that every line of the chorus melody repeats almost the same rhythm, creating a melody that delivered it to the top of Billboard’s Top 40 Mainstream and Hot Mainstream Rock charts.

To hear another great example of the power of this technique, listen to the quirky rhythms in the melodic phrases that repeat in the verses of Old Dominion’s “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” (written by Jesse Frasure, BMI’s reigning Country Songwriter of the Year, with Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen, and Brad Tursi). Also note the musical phrase that repeats in the choruses.

3. Include a “Nonsense Syllable”

In this context, a nonsense syllable refers to a sound that is sung but has no meaning. These include: “Ooh,” Oh,” Yo,” “Ay,” “Ahh,” “Ooh,” and “I.” These (and other sounds) can be joined together to create vocal hooks that combine melodies with sounds such as, “Oh-I, Oh-I, Oh,” “Ooh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh,” and “Ay-Ay-Ay-Ay-Oh-Ay-Oh.”

Camila Cabello’s breakthrough smash, “Havana” (featuring Young Thug, and written by Cabello with Jeffrey Williams, Frank Dukes, Brittany Hazzard, Ali Tamposi, Brian Lee, Andrew Watt, Pharrell Williams, Kaan Gunesberk, and Louis Bell) added the sound “ooh-na-na (ay, ay)” to the title to create an unforgettable hook.

Similarly, Sugarland used “Whoa-oh, whoa-oh” to take their song, “Stuck Like Glue” (written by Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush, Kevin Griffin, and Shy Carter) to the #1 slot on Billboard’s Country Digital Songs Chart, racking up more than 2.6 millions digital sales along the way.

4. Add a catchy post-chorus

A post-chorus can be defined as a part of a song that occurs after the chorus, providing an additional hook that typically includes vocals. It introduces melody that is not heard in the chorus or elsewhere in the song, and in many instances, it has few lyrics that have not previously been heard in the song. It often reiterates the title and incorporates nonsense syllables.

Examples of strong post-choruses include Keith Urban’s “Wasted Time” (written by Urban with James Abrahart and William Wells). For more information about post-chorus references, check out “The Power of Post-Choruses.”

5. Include a Catchy Instrumental Lick

A musical motif, sometimes referred to as a signature lick, is a melodic phrase that is typically introduced in a song’s intro and recurs throughout the song. Some hit songs, such as Vanessa Carlton’s “Thousand Miles” and Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" have multiple instrumental phrases that serve as hooks. Carlton’s #1 hit includes a motif that is played on piano during the intro and in the verses, as well as the instrumental hook played by the strings in the second half of the verses.

One of my favorite instrumental hooks is the guitar lick that introduces Rascal Flatts’ recording of “What Hurts the Most” (written by Jeffrey Steele and Steve Robson). This version of the song reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Adult Contemporary charts and received a Country Song of the Year GRAMMY nomination. The same lick can be heard (with slight variations) played on a synthesizer in Cascada’s pop/dance recording of the same song.

At a recent songwriting workshop, I led my students through an exercise during which they applied each of these techniques to one of their songs. They explored including a stutter, repeating hooky rhythms, adding nonsense syllables, writing a post-chorus, and incorporating a catchy musical lick.

One unforgettable hook can be your song’s ticket to the top of the charts. But why stop at one, when multiple hooks can maximize your chances of success?

Try these tools in your own songs. Not every song will be benefit from each of these techniques; the decision needs to be made on a song-by-song basis. But you won’t know whether one or more of these melodic tools might take your song to the next level unless you try.
 

(Reprint Permission granted by BMI)

 Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee College of Music. For information about his workshops, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com

To enter the 24th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Recording, lyric writing, song demo, Jason Blume, demo recording, Instrumental Hooks, Catchy Rhythm, syllables, music writing, Instrumental Lick, Melodic Hooks, Stutter, post-chorus

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 @08:00 AM

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner (Part 2)

by Jessica Brandon
Beatles.jpg

The song writing styles of John Lennon and Paul McCartney not only differ from each other fundamentally, but also change over time, affected and influenced by each other.  The songwriting partnership between Lennon and McCartney is extremely legendary. They employed so many tricks that anyone can add to their songwriting arsenal. Here are some secrets and tricks of the Beatles:
 
 
1. Change up your chorus
This shows up in their hit "She Loves You". Unusually, the song starts with the hook right away, instead of introducing it after a verse or two. "She Loves You" does not include a bridge, instead using the refrain to join the various verses. The chords tend to change every two measures, and the harmonic scheme is mostly static.
 
 
2. All Blues to Your Melody
When recording “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, On Track 3, McCartney played bass while Harrison played the Bass VI, sometimes doubling McCartney's bass line and sometimes playing full chords. (This capability was one of the benefits of the Bass VI; it could be played as a bass or as a regular 6-string guitar.)
 
 
3. Mode mixture & Delay The Root Chord
"Eleanor Rigby" is played mainly in staccato chords with melodic embellishments.
 
The song is a prominent example of mode mixture, specifically between the Aeolian mode, also known as natural minor, and the Dorian mode. Set in E minor, the song is based on the chord progression Em-C, typical of the Aeolian mode and utilising notes ♭3, ♭6, and ♭7 in this scale. The verse melody is written in Dorian mode, a minor scale with the natural sixth degree. "Eleanor Rigby" opens with a C-major vocal harmony ("Aah, look at all ..."), before shifting to E-minor (on "lonely people"). The Aeolian C-natural note returns later in the verse on the word "dre-eam" (C-B) as the C chord resolves to the tonic Em, giving an urgency to the melody's mood.
 
The Dorian mode appears with the C# note (6 in the Em scale) at the beginning of the phrase "in the church". The chorus beginning "All the lonely people" involves the viola in a chromatic descent to the 5th; from 7 (D natural on "All the lonely peo-") to 6 (C♯ on "-ple") to ♭6 (C on "they) to 5 (B on "from"). This is said to "add an air of inevitability to the flow of the music (and perhaps to the plight of the characters in the song)".
 
 
4. Use non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants & Utilise The Outside Chord
"Strawberry Fields Forever" was originally written on acoustic guitar in the key of C major. The recorded version is approximately in B♭ major; owing to manipulation of the recording speed, the finished version is not in standard pitch (some, for instance, consider that the tonic is A). The introduction is played on a Mellotron, and involves a I–ii–I–♭VII–IV progression. The vocals enter with the chorus instead of a verse. In fact we are not "taken down" to the tonic key, but to "non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants" combining with "chromatic melodic tension intensified through outrageous harmonization and root movement".
 
“I Want To Hold Your Hand’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ Voice leading in the Plagal cadence Here is a summary of the action in a IV–I change (in the key of C), highlighting the important ‘inner’ voice leading.”
 
 
5. Restate Your Lyrics
Lennon's lyrics "A Day in the Life" were inspired by contemporary newspaper articles, including a report on the death of Guinness heir Tara Browne. John Lennon wrote the melody and most of the lyrics to the verses of "A Day in the Life" in mid January 1967. Soon afterwards, he presented the song to Paul McCartney, who contributed a middle-eight section.
 
 
6. Take Risks
Example: Here There and Everywhere(1966)
In many ways, the opposite of Eleanor Rigby in that it is rich and complex harmonically speaking.  The first time Paul really spreads his compositional wings and takes bigger risks with ascending major chord sequence.
 
The introduction beginning "To lead a better life" opens in the key of G and involves a I–iii–♭III–ii–V7 chord progression. The ♭III (B♭ chord) on "I need my love to be here" (arpeggiated in the melody line) is a dissonant substitute for the more predictable VI (E7) that would normally lead to the ii (Am) chord.
 
 
7. Change of Keys from Minor to Major
The song as originally issued by the Beatles is in the key of A minor, changing to A major over the bridges. Aside from the intro, the composition is structured into two rounds of verse and bridge, with an instrumental passage extending the second of these verse sections, followed by a final verse and a long instrumental passage that fades out on the released recording. All the sections consist of an even sixteen bars or measures, which are divided into four phrases.
 
The chord progression over the verses includes a shift to a ♭7 (Am/G) on "all" (bass note G) and a 6 (D9 (major 3rd F♯)) after "love" (bass note F♯) to a ♭6 (Fmaj7) on "sleeping" (bass note F). According to musicologist Dominic Pedler, the 8–♭7–6–♭6 progression represents a hybrid of the Aeolian and Dorian modes. The change to the parallel major key is heralded by a C chord as the verse's penultimate chord (replacing the D used in the second phrase of each verse) before the E that leads into the bridge. Musicologist Alan Pollack views this combination of C and E as representing a sense of "arrival", after which the bridge contains "upward [harmonic] gestures" that contrast with the bass descents that dominate the verse. Such contrasts are limited by the inclusion of minor triads (III, VI and II) played over the E chord that ends the bridge's second and fourth phrases.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, songwrite, lyric writing, song demo, The Beatles, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, syllables, key change, non-diatonic chords, Mode mixture

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 03, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric
by Cliff Goldmacher

TomKimmel.jpg
I’d like to introduce you to Tom Kimmel. Along with releasing several major label albums as an artist himself, Tom has written songs covered by Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt and Randy Travis among others. Tom’s insights into the lyric-writing process are well worth a good read. Enjoy!

Re-writing A Lyric.jpg

For some of us, a lyric rushes out into the world before we can think much about it and sometimes it’s a fine lyric, just as it is. Other times, even if we feel a strong personal connection with the lyric, it could be strengthened with a little work.

On the other hand, often a lyric comes in dribs and drabs, and once we have a complete draft we might be so relieved that we declare it finished prematurely.

In both cases, a lyric might benefit from a fresh perspective and a willingness to tinker a little.Songwriting Tips

Ted Kooser, one of my favorite poets, says that even when one of his poems comes out in one piece he still plays with it a bit to see if it might be improved. He hastens to add, however, that no matter how much or how little re-writing the poem requires, he wants it to read as if it flowed from the pen.

We songwriters have a similar goal. We want our songs to slide by easily without calling too much attention to themselves even if the lyric has real content and depth. To that end, there are a couple of references I return to.

When I’m re-writing a lyric I first ask myself if the song has what I call a strong through the door factor. In other words, I want the words to sound good and to sing well so well, in fact, that if someone heard the song through the door they’d enjoy it!

In order to achieve that, I may record a working version of the song-in-progress and listen to it softly or from a distance not analyzing the words, but listening for the sound and flow of the words. Do the words seem to roll off the tongue or do I stumble over certain sounds, words or phrases?

Chances are that if a lyric doesn’t sound good from the other side of the door, it won’t sound good up close either. So, in my book, it’s very important that a lyric sound and feel good. If it doesn’t, I can begin my re-write by asking these questions:

1. Do the syllables I emphasize when singing my lyric coincide with the notes emphasized in my melody? If not, I’ll try to adjust.

2. Do the number or words or syllables I’m placing in my lines and phrases make it easy for me to sing the song? If I’m cramming in too many syllables in a line or phrase, I can experiment with simplifying by making my phrasing less busy.

3. Likewise, I may need to add words or syllables to more closely coincide with notes of melody that I’m emphasizing.

4. Are most of the vowel sounds in my words easy to sing? For example, I’m probably going to avoid placing the words hat or it over a very high note!

Of course, strong lyrical content is extremely important to most songwriters, so the second way I approach a re-write or edit is by examining how the lyric unfolds as the song develops. I may ask myself, “Does my lyric and song unfold in a way that is satisfying, that holds the listener’s attention as well as my own?”

To consider this when I coach songwriters and lead workshops, I suggest that a song is very much like a three act play. Some of the story – be it a literal tale or an emotional or spiritual narrative – is revealed in the first act, which most often is the song’s first verse and chorus. The second act usually the second verse and chorus is a new beginning; more of the story is introduced and then summed up in the second chorus. The remainder of the story is then told in the third act often the bridge and final chorus.

In my own work, if I then see that I reveal too much, too soon in my songI make changes. One technique espoused by a friend of mine is to take the first verse and make it the second verse… and to write a new first verse that is more of a prologue… so that the story has somewhere to go! Likewise if the song is slow to develop, I have the option of trying my second verse as the first verse. Experiment!

Bottom line: a song is not a painting. It doesn’t exist all at once. It has a beginning, middle and end, and it needs to flow, rise and fall throughout its lifespan. (In filmmaking they call this advancing the narrative.)

So let’s say I’ve got my song sounding good and I’ve got my story unfolding in a nice way. There’s still one question I ask about my lyric and that is, “Are all the lines in my lyric relevant to my theme?” In other words, does my whole lyric support the point or theme of my song? If I have some filler lines or phrases I’ll probably want to work on the song a bit more.

Finally, I have found that considering the above questions gives me a context for my writing. There are numerous details I can attend to, but if I don’t place the work of re-writing into this larger context, then all my work on the details likely won’t bring about the hoped for result.

In closing, I’ll share a technique I use over and over in the process of finishing or re-writing. If I’ve come to feel that I’ve been trying too hard to complete something that I’m using too much mental muscle because I’ve lost the creative thread then it’s important that I step away from the song, let it rest and come back to it fresh.

The single most helpful way I know to do this is to make a rough recording of the song, singing only the words I’m happy with and humming in places that might need a stronger lyric. It’s important that I don’t force words that don’t sound right or make sufficient sense. Then and this is keyI listen to my rough recording at bedtime. (And by that I mean listen last thing before I turn off the light.)

It’s amazing how often the right words will bubble up from the subconscious the next day… or soon thereafter.
 

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, songwrite, lyric writing, song demo, Cliff Goldmacher, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, Tom Kimmel, syllables