Songwriting Tips, News & More

12 Ways to Get Yourself Unstuck in Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Dec 02, 2019 @08:00 AM

by Michael Dehoyos

Songwriting-Pic1

Writing songs is a personal thing, when you need to look inside yourself and find inspiration. When you’re truly stuck, here are some unusual tips you can try; we promise they actually work!

1. Play all your radios together.

When no one is home, turn on all the radios at once when you’re stuck songwriting. You can hear some interesting overlaps, progressions, and melodies. It’s a type of absurdist music composition, known as aleatory music, where the composition relies on chance. Put on all the radios and listen out for any moments of overlap as a way to find great inspiration.

2. Ask yourself the 5 w’s

Think about the subject of your song. What is it about? Who is the main character in it? Where did they come from? Where are you hoping they’ll arrive at by the end of the song? How did they get here? What are they looking for? What do they want to achieve? Remember, what, who, why, where, when and how. Answer those basic questions and the narrative of your song will start to emerge.

3. Listen instead of talking for one day.

Take an oath of silence for a day, and you’ll notice that your brain can reset. Talking actually takes a lot out of your creative brain so when you don’t, you can focus on writing. The silence also allows all your feelings and memories to rise to the surface. Spending the day listening will also be a great way to fuel your ideas. Have a notepad to hand and jot down any interesting snippets of conversation and dialogue that you hear. Listen out for any interesting sounds or fragments of melodies you can use.

4. Set a time limit.

Time can be difficult but if you have too much, you’ll second guess everything you write. Set yourself a short time limit, for less time than you normally need. This will force you to focus and streamline your creative process. If it’s too short, you’ll find that you get absolutely nothing done, so you might want to play around with the best length! You’ll find that you get better at writing great songs quicker. You can challenge yourself further by playing with the time limit each day. The key is to keep writing throughout the whole time; don’t censor yourself!

5. Create a routine

Songwriting is all about practice. The more you write, the better you will become. If you find that you are getting stuck, try writing every day, consistently at the same time. Start with a small amount of time, maybe just 15 minutes a day. You will find that by creating a routine, your brain will become more focused and the more you practice, the more natural the process will become. You will find that the quality of your songwriting will quickly improve and so will your confidence. You will start to beat your block, by knowing you have achieved some songwriting everyday.

6. Play around with song structure

Instead of writing in the conventional, intro-verse-chorus pattern, change it around. Try starting with the chorus, maybe followed by two long verses. You can add in a hidden chorus or a solo. Be creative and challenge your usual pattern.

7. Write from a different perspective

Imagine a scene, maybe one you saw or overheard earlier in the day. Write a verse from one person’s perspective, then the next verse from another person’s point of view. This can make your song sound pretty interesting. You also don’t need to search around for ideas to start with, because you already know what happens – you have already seen the scene! You can also play around with first person and third person narratives and see where it takes you.

8. Write and rearrange words.

Write down a bunch of words that you’ve been thinking about lately, cut them up and rearrange them into different ideas. This can be done for notes, melodies, and even pictures. David Bowie famously used this method for some of his most successful songs.

9. Read and Collect

Read all different types of content- magazines, blogs, tweets, books. Anything and everything! If you have a specific topic you want to write about, focus your reading around that. If not, create a mood-board or scrapbook (you can even create a digital version on your phone) and add to it every time you read something that interests you. News stories are great for giving you current topics to write about. If you’re more of a visual person, use Pinterest and photos from gallery websites, or even better, visit a gallery and get inspiration from the images. You can write a song about the image, or the events that led up to it or that inspired it. Or go a whole different route and write about the person who painted or created the artwork.

10. Listen to Mozart.

Studies show that listening to Mozart gives you more focus by affecting your spatial-temporal reasoning. When you start a writing session by listening to Mozart, you’ll immediately be more concentrated.

11. Use a title

Choose a film, book or song title. Use that as the prompt for your song and create a story to go with it. When you have finished, go back and create your own unique song title. Maybe your song actually took a different route and the new title reflects a whole different aspect of the story? You can use random generators online to generate a title for you or you can collect titles and put them in a jar. Whenever you are stuck, pull one out and get writing!

12. Play your instrument “wrong”.

When you play your instrument the “wrong” way, you’re using an extended technique. This helps you push the boundaries of what’s possible, like playing a piano with the strings modified due to other objects.

It’s normal to get stuck in the songwriting process. If that happens, take some out-of-the-box ideas to get the creativity flowing again. Sometimes, you just need to approach something differently to allow your brain to go where it needs to.

 

Michael Dehoyos, a content marketer and editor with PhD Kingdom, likes to help others find their creativity and maximize their potential. He writes about his own struggles with writing in the hopes that he will help others improve too. In his free time, he loves to play the piano and invent new melodies. Check out: https://phdkingdom.com/

 

For information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, Song Intro, song structure, post-chorus, Pre-Chorus, Outro, rearrange words

Songwriting: Elements Of Song Structure

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Nov 11, 2019 @11:21 AM

by Alex Bruce & Karen Randle

WhatItTakesToWriteAHitSong

Structure is of course one of the central elements of songwriting. And although it’s fair to say that structure has been used (or abandoned) very creatively by many artists over the years, there are still far fewer variables and options than there are in song content i.e. Chord pattern choices, instrumentation etc.

Song structure is also similar to music theory, in the sense that it’s better to know the rules and then consciously break them, than to break all the rules by simply being unaware.

So, as for precisely how to structure your song, unless you’re writing a highly-commercialized pop song it’s very hard to give you direct instruction.

Instead, you’ll see that below, each common ‘element’ of song structure is described and explained. How many of each to use, when, in what order, and so on, are all the calls the writer must make.

Here is a typical song structure includes a verse, chorus, and bridge in the following arrangement: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. This is known as an ABABCB structure, where A is the verse, B is the chorus and C is the bridge.

Remember, you don’t have to use every single one of these elements in every song. Think of this list as more of a palette of ingredients to select from.


Intro
Fairly self-explanatory here. Short for introduction, the ‘intro’ is the first thing a listener hears. It may be a riff, or establishing a theme that will then play out in full in the verse or chorus, but fundamentally it’s about setting the scene. One of its functional purposes is to establish the key for the vocalist too. Listen to various songs and critically question the intro’s purpose. Compare and contrast songs spanning different genres too.


Verse
Very often the first sung section you’ll hear (though not always as plenty of highly commercial songs start with a chorus), the verse is essentially the second-most-main section behind the chorus. It establishes the song’s theme, tone, lyrical style and content and ultimately sets up the chorus and continuation of the song. A great number of rock and pop songs begin Intro > Verse > Chorus, so study some and observe the role of the verse, expanding upon the intro, but not yet the chorus.


Pre-Chorus
Not always present, as some songs jump straight from a verse into a chorus. But when it is present, the pre-chorus acts like a pathway from the verse to the chorus. These sections can be at times maligned as gap-filling things designed to patch together a verse and a chorus that otherwise don’t really work together. However, when deliberately and consciously implemented in their own right they can provide fantastic build and tension and heighten the effect of the chorus. You’ll know if a song has a pre-chorus simply because there seems to be an additional section after the verse (and different to it) but before the chorus comes.


Chorus
The pay-off moment, and most-repeated section, of most songs. A song’s chorus is usually distinctive by being some combination of the following factors:
The most memorable section (or the ‘hook’)
The section that lyrically contains the song’s title
The main melodic theme of the song
A place where additional voices/instruments are added
The simplest lyrical section

The chorus is usually the section most people know and remember, and in commercial pop music is the section on which a song is almost entirely judged. It either pays for itself or it doesn’t. Even down to various pop producers and record labels having rules about the maximum number of seconds into a song that a chorus may happen!


Post-Chorus / Break / Tag
This is one of the less common elements of song structure. This shows in its 3 (and maybe more) different names, in that it is not so defined or established as verse or chorus for example.

This section is something that comes on the end of or after a chorus (but isn’t the chorus), but equally is not yet the next verse, or simply a repeat of the intro section.

Much as the pre-chorus can be a build-up to the chorus. The post-chorus can act like a warm-down or wind-down afterwards.


Bridge
The bridge is usually a songwriter’s chance to insert something totally different. It isn’t like a verse, or a chorus, or in fact any other of the sections above/below, most of which serve as a build-up or warm-down to the verse/chorus, or relate to it in some way.

The bridge is usually something quite different. Sometimes there’s a key change, a change in instrumentation, it may be acapella (voices only), or it may be a complete about turn in tone, mood and emphasis.

In pop/rock, the bridge is very often followed by a final chorus or final double chorus before the song ends. So for that reason, the art of writing a good bridge section is writing something that, when the section begins, feels totally different, but by its end point, flows naturally back into the chorus section.


Solo
Often the solo section is interchangeable with the bridge - it’s unusual to get both unless the song is very long and/or experimental.

Essentially an instrumental section, often played by instruments we might consider expressive, ‘lead’ instruments, such as electric guitar, saxophone and so on, this is a moment of instrumental expression, something different, a break for the vocalist(s) and a thrill for the instrumentalist(s).

Solos have been famously used across the decades from the very minimal, thematic, reserved iterations, to the full-blown, 3 minute long shredding guitar solos.

How the solo is executed is determined by the writer’s style, tastes, expression and intentions.

Outro
Another section that’s not always present, as many songs end after a final chorus, or in rock/blues after a guitar solo quite often too.

When an outro is present, it can vary from something quite short and simplistic, to an epilogue - a final, epic, concluding act.

It may be a continuation or adaptation of the section that has just come before it. Equally it may be a return to the theme of the intro, which provides a nice sense of symmetry.

Have a listen to 10 different songs and consider how they end, asking yourself - why is this song ending in this way? Does it refer back to another section of the song? What purpose does this outro serve? Is it a section in its own right? Do I like it? Why?

Alex Bruce is a writer for Guitartricks.com and 30Daysinger.com

 

For information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, Song Intro, song structure, post-chorus, derivative, Genres, Pre-Chorus, Outro

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