Songwriting Tips, News & More

How Words Change as a Song Progresses

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 01, 2019 @07:00 AM

How Words Change as a Song Progresses


by Gary Ewer

Songwriter2

Over the 4 minutes of a good song, it’s normal for some things to stay the same while other things change. The kinds of things that usually get set up at the beginning and resist change would be the tempo and the basic feel of the song. The kinds of things that change would be the chord progressions, the melodies, and of course the lyrics.

How do they change? Typically, they change depending on the song’s section. A verse melody tends to be lower in pitch than a chorus melody. A verse chord progression tends to be longer and have a more “wandering” quality than a chorus progression, which is usually shorter and tonally stronger.

And you become aware that the kinds of words—the way you’d say something – will be different in a chorus than in a verse. It may not be something you’ve noticed before, but if you struggle with words, and getting your lyric to sound strong and to have an impact, you’ve got to know how words change over the length of a song.

 

Verse Lyrics

Song lyrics can be neatly categorized as being narrative, describing people, situations and circumstances, or emotional, expressing feelings and reactions to whatever the story has been about.

In general, the telling of the story or describing of circumstances happens in a verse. So you’ll want to use your verse to set up a good story, and keep emotion to a minimum.

The verse lyric of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” is a great example. He uses the verse to sing about a situation that is, at its core, quite emotional, but he keeps that emotion controlled and minimal:

Now and then I think of when we were together

Like when you said you felt so happy you could die

Told myself that you were right for me

But felt so lonely in your company

But that was love and it's an ache I still remember.

 

As you can see, there is emotion, but it's controlled and measured.

 

Chorus Lyrics

A good chorus lyric allows the listener to generate and enjoy emotions that come from the story that’s been set up in the verse. That chorus lyric may add to the story, but its chief responsibility is to allow the listener to feel something. So that’s why you so often see exclamations (“Ooooh”, “yeah, yeah, yeah…”, or “whoa.” You’ll also see that a chorus lyric might use a catchy lyrical hook (“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”), but in any case, its main responsibility is to have the audience feel something emotional.

The chorus of “Somebody That I Used to Know” shows that the difference between verse and chorus is usually subtle, but it’s important:

But you didn't have to cut me off

Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing

And I don't even need your love

But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

No, you didn't have to stoop so low

 

Bridge Lyrics

If your song contains a bridge, you’ll notice that those kinds of lyrics are a little different again. Because a bridge (or middle-8) is used to finish the story and to get to the point of the song, it’s common to see bridge lyrics that give a narrative style “then-this-happened” line, and follow it quickly with a “so-then-I-felt-this” kind of responding line. Or it might be a series of lines that, while adding to the story, are filled with emotion.

In the hit song “Just Give Me a Reason” (Pink, Jeff Bhasker, Nate Ruess), the bridge is a perfect demonstrator of what the lyric is supposed to do. We get an important part of the story (our relationship is a bit of a mess, but “nothing is as bad as it seems…”) – a perfect blend of story and emotion:

Oh, tear ducts and rust, I'll fix it for us

We're collecting dust, but our love's enough

You're holding it in, you're pouring a drink

No, nothing is as bad as it seems, we'll come clean

 

Why This Is Important

Whether we’re talking about music, stories, or even just real life, we generate emotions based on what we hear or experience. Emotions don’t just happen without some sort of back story. So if you use your song lyric to basically say “I feel so bad”, but you don’t give any kind of background to why, it becomes an empty emotion, and audiences will feel confused and ultimately bored.

So as you write your next song, do this:

  1. Write your verse lyric on one page and your chorus lyric on another.

  2. Read your verse lyric to yourself, and try to assess it for its story-telling qualities. It doesn’t need to be devoid of emotion, but you should be aware that its main purpose is to tell the audience what’s going on.

  3. Read the chorus to yourself, and try to assess it for the emotions it describes and generates. A good chorus doesn’t need to add to the story as such, but should express emotions that make sense when compared to the story of the verse.

When it works well, a song lyric acts as a kind of musical seesaw, where we feel emotion rising and falling. That kind of change over time is vital to keeping audiences listening and interested.

A couple of years ago I did a video that describes this important issue, using the song “Losing Sleep” by John Newman. You can see that lyric here: https://youtu.be/m4USyNw6-gk

 

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” blog. Gary Ewer is a music instructor, clinician, conductor and composer. He has been writing about songwriting on his “Essential Secrets of Songwriting” blog for the past 11 years. http://www.secretsofsongwriting.com

 

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

 
TellUsWhatYouThink
  

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, Recording, lyric writing, song demo, bridge, demo recording, Gary Ewer, music writing

[Songwriting Advice] Choosing the Chords That Work With Your Melody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Choosing the Chords That Work With Your Melody
by Gary Ewer

Choosing the Chords That Work.jpg

You’ll notice that when you’ve got a melody, the notes of that melody imply the chords you’re likely to use. That’s not to say that you’ve got no choice in the matter, of course. For every chord you might use, there is a list of chords that could serve as substitutes. Just as an example, here’s two versions of the opening of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” each version using different chords:

VERSION 1: I  I6  |IV  I6  |V  I  |V  V7  I|| (C  C/E  |F  C/E  |G  C  |G  G7  C||)

VERSION 2: vi  iii  |V/V  V4-2/V  V6  |  IV6  I6-4  |  ii6  V  I  ||
(Am  Em  |D  D7/C  G/B  |F/A  C/G  |Dm/F  G  C  ||)


When songwriters get stuck at the chord progression stage — where they just don’t know what chords they’re supposed to be using — the main cause of the distress is a simple one: forgetting to listen to the melody!

The notes of your melody are going to be the main guide. After considering the notes, you then need to know a bit of chord theory. Not much, actually, just these following points:

  1.     Good pop chord progressions make great use of the circle of fifths. If you’re not sure how that works, give this article a read: “The Circle of Fifths Progression: Making It Relevant for Songwriters.” All that’s meant by this is that for most progressions, you’ll find many spots where the distance between the roots of adjacent chords is a 5th, like this progression: C  F  Dm  G  C. From C down to F is a 5th; from Dm down to G is a 5th; and from G down to C is a 5th. This is a vital part of good chord structure.
  2.     Good pop chord progressions target the tonic chord. The tonic chord is the one representing the key of your song. If your chorus is in C major (like the bit of “Twinkle Twinkle” I used at the beginning of this article), C is the tonic chord. Chord progressions should (usually) seek out that chord. They’ll often start on the tonic, wander away, but immediately try to find it again. In the progression C  F  Dm  G  C, you can hear the progression trying to find that tonic C chord again, certainly by the time you’ve reached Dm.
  3.     Good pop chord progressions tend to make most of the chords change on strong beats. To find the strong beats, simply tap your foot to the music. Your musical brain will automatically sort it out. Your foot will go down on a strong beat, and up on a weak beat. Start adding chords on strong beats.
  4.     Good pop chord progressions honour the function of the chords. Chord function can be a tricky concept, but for pop music, it tends to be rather simple, and you can get away with considering three basic functions: the tonic function, the pre-dominant function and the dominant function. The tonic function is typically represented by the tonic (I) and sometimes the vi-chord, the pre-dominant function by the IV or ii-chord, and the dominant function by the V-chord. Each function has a list of substitutes that can be used. To learn more about this, read “Creating Good Progressions: It’s All About Chord Function.”


You’ll find that occasionally putting a chord on a weak beat works well. In VERSION 1 above, the final bar has a chord on beat 1 (a strong beat), beat 2 (a weak beat) and then the final chord on beat 3 (another strong beat).
Don’t Forget to Listen!

There’s a lot of experimenting that goes into creating a chord progression for your melody. Here’s a summary of points to remember:

  1.    Listening carefully to the melody is the most important part about adding chords. Discover the notes your melody uses. Look at each strong beat, and then look at the weak beat that follows.
  2.     The chords you choose should use the strong beat note and most (not necessarily all) of the weak beat notes.
  3.     As you work out your progression, keep in mind the need for many adjacent chords to use roots that are a 5th from each other, and use the tonic as a musical target.
  4.     Find songs that you like and play or sing through the melody slowly without chords. Then play the chords and sing the melody. Notice how the progression targets the tonic, and make note of where the chords change. Most of the time, you’ll notice those changes happening on strong beats.

    Read more in Gary Ewer’s book, Beating Songwriter’s Block. Visit beatingsongwritersblock.halleonardbooks.com and enter the discount code AP2 at checkout to receive 20% off the list price and free domestic shipping (least expensive method)!

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


 
TellUsWhatYouThink
  

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, chord progression, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, Gary Ewer