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Tips on writing a great song
The Anatomy of a Great Song
As a songwriter there are many things that need to be considered in the creative process of developing a song. There are many factors that need to be in place to have a great song. In this presentation we will go though a journey of these factors. This is a fairly comprehensive set of specific item a song needs to be really great. Learning How to Write Songs is about songwriter craft and skill.
Start with a Great Title
To start off a song must have a great title. The title should be written in such a way as to catch the attention of the listener. It should provide enough information that the listener can easily identify the song and create some curiosity of the songs content.
Keep the title simple. Long titles my give away too much information and prevent the listener from perusing the song. The title will also help set the scene, mood and story of your song. If you are stuck on getting a song title, the best way is to listen to conversations around you.
As you listen you will get more ideas that you can imagine. Keep a journal of the titles. The more you have the better. When thinking creatively it is best to have too much and then edit down to find the gems. It is a bit like gold mining. You start with a lot of dirt and as the dirt is removed the gold will be revealed.
When writing a great song it is important to start out with a great title. Having a great title will help you better develop your song ideas.
Once you have a great title, the next thing you must have is a Catchy Hook. The hook is the part of any song that is easily remembered by the listener. Often time the hook is found the song's chorus. It can even be the title of the song. Hook need to be simple and memorable. They also need to "stand out" in the song. Hook need to be repeated several times during the song. This reinforces the hook.
Hooks show up in songs in different forms. It could be the melody and title together in the chorus, It could be an instrument motif strategically place at the start of the song. It could also be a unique rhythm pattern. Also keep in mind that there can be more than one hook in a single song. It could be a combination of any of the previous examples.
Lyrics with a Universal Topic
When it comes to the topic of the song a great song will have a story that is relatable to wide audience. We write songs for different reasons. Sometimes these reasons are deeply personal. Be cautious for extremely personal songs. There is the danger that the topic will be too specific. If you are too specific it narrows down the number of people who can relate to your song. A songwriter is a communicator. As a communicator it is your duty to tell a story. You have a story don't loose your audience by creating something that no one can understand because it is too personal.
In addition to being too personal, beware that your imagery is too "out there". The imagery should reinforce the story line of the song. If the words describe something that is only relevant and understandable by a select few, you will lose your listener.
Melody a Common Person Can Sing
Melody is an important part of a song. When writing your melody, make sure that the average person can sing it. Keep the pitch within a reasonable range. A good melody will have these characteristics.
First, the melody will have a distinct shape. The shape should resemble a mountain range with high points and low points. Avoid staying on one note for too long.
Second, the melody for a great song should no more that 3-4 contrasting musical phrases. To make these musical phrases memorable these need to be repeated several times in the course of the song.
Third, the melody should have a "magical charm" note. This is an unexpected, unique note that really stands out. This note cries out "Here I am!"
Forth, the melody needs tension and release. This will make the melody interesting. To build tension use non-chord notes. Release notes will be chord notes.
Songs need some sort of rhyming scheme. Rhymes make songs sound better. They help make the song more memorable. Time should be taken to create rhymes that work well.
Writing song lyrics is not the same thing as writing poetry. These are different types of writing. Even so, lyric writing uses many of the techniques common to poetry.
Here are some definitions different types of rhymes...
- End Rhymes - Rhyming of the final words of lines in a poem.
- Slant Rhymes - Rhyme in which two words share just a vowel sound or in which they share just a consonant sound
There are many more types but these are the most common. Along with word rhymes there are also structural placement of the rhyme. These look like this…
The structure helps creates certain predictability to the listener and make the lyric sound pleasant to the ear.
Song Structure Build Strong Songs
A great song will follow a well defined song structure. The song structure will define the various parts to a song. Here is a basic list of the various parts to a song: Chorus, Verse, Bridge, Pre-Chorus, Intro, and Outro.
As the very least a song needs a verse. This is the part of the song where the story is revealed. Depending on the type of song, it will have either a refrain or go into the next section call the chorus. The chorus is basically a synopsis of the verse, whereas a refrain is a single repeating line at the beginning or end of the verse.
To be effective each section of the song structure should be contrasting. For example, the verse is short rhythmic phrases, where the chorus will be longer melodic phases sung in a higher pitch. Add to this a bridge where a new perspective is added to the story and the musical feel is different than the verse or chorus.
Here are some common song structures…
- Verse - Verse - Verse
- Verse - Chorus - Verse -Chorus
- Verse - Chorus - Verse -Bridge - Chorus
- Intro - Verse - Pre Chorus - Chorus - Verse - Pre Chorus - Chorus - Chorus
Chord progressions add harmony to the melody. Chord progressions are a series of chords that repeat though the course of the song. The progression can be the same throughout the songs. Or each section in the song form will have a different set of chord progressions.
The chord progression function is to enhance the melody. The melody will dictate the harmony behind it. Choosing certain chords with a specific pitch will change the characteristic of that pitch. It can change it from a release note to a tension note. This will add interest to the song.
When creating chord progressions there are certain chord that work well and others that don't. There is a whole subject on music theory and how to create chord progression that work. We can save that for another day.
Here are some common chord progressions in the key of C.
- C F C F
- C F C G
- C G Am F
- C Am F G
- Am F C G
This is only a small number of the chord progressions available. There are literally hundreds of different variations.
Set a Time Limit
As a general guideline a great song should be only 3-4 minutes long. This is especially true of most popular song genre. Make it your goal to make your song fit this time-frame. If you find that your song is less that this, chances are the story is not developed enough to create interest. If you find that your song is longer than this time frame, chances are you are giving too much information. Don't ramble on and bore your audience. Listeners will tune out songs that exceed this time frame.
Production and Presentation
Production and presentation is the art of producing a song. Keep in mind a great song will always be a great song. But, production and presentation can hinder the success of a great song. It is a vital part of the entire package. The most important part in song presentation is the singer. The song must have a singer that can sing in key and provide the right feel and emotion. Matching a song to a singing is an art. Next to finding the right singer is musicianship. The players on the song need to play in key and in sync. The musicians function is to support the singer and provide a groove. The next thing to consider is the recording and production of the song. A bad mix or poor mastering will make a great song sound mediocre. In the sequence of events production is the last thing. Before proceeding to this step make sure that the song is great.
When it comes to writing a great song there are several elements that must be in place. Several of the elements were covered here. Is this a comprehensive list? No it is not complete. But these are some of the major elements of a great song. Take these ideas and start creating your songs today.
Songwriting Process Flow Chart
Use this Flow Chart to Track Your Songwriting Process
This flow chart show you though the info-graphic the work flow of the songwriter. The process starts with an idea or concept. Then a decision needs to made. Start with Lyrics or Music. Once the choice is made, you start working on that element of the process. Once that process is complete then you will loop back to take care of the other aspect of the process. If you chose to write the lyrics first then you will need to write the music. After both music an lyrics are complete it is time to give create the harmonic background by writing a chord progress that fits the melody and mood of the song. After that the next process is to arrange the song into sections to create the song form. Once that is done you have the basics of a song.
Chord Progression Chart for Songwriters
Using the Chord Progression Chart for Songwriters
Chord progression are the foundation of any good songs. Use chord progression chart to create better song progressions. It is real easy to use. All you need to to is start at the Tonic (I) then move to any other chord on the chart, from that point follow the arrow back to the Tonic. As you go though the process make sure you write down you newly created chord progression. Take the chord progression and start writing a melody over it. Learn how to use the chord progression tool here