Edited By Robert Curtis
Provided by Roedy Black Publishing of CompleteChords.com
These songwriting tips clearly point out what often muddies up the writing of a potentially great song and show you what you need to do and what you need to avoid to optimize your songwriting for ultimate emotional impact.
The following songwriting tips cover both music and lyric writing.
The following songwriting tips discussion is taken from the 10 TECHNICAL BLUNDERS SONGWRITERS MAKE AND HOW TO AVOID THEM (RESEARCH FINDINGS) from Roedy Black Publishing.
It is important to bear in mind the following as you proceed through this songwriting tips article.
- To write great songs consistently, you need
both creativity and certain technical skills
which most songwriters lack.
We cant help you with creativity. But we
can certainly help you greatly improve
your technical skills.
- And no, you do not need to know how
to read or write musical notation to
write great songs.
The Top 10 Songwriting Tips For Avoiding
The Technical Blunders Songwriters Make
|Using Musically Unpalatable Chord Progressions |
Incorporating Too Much "Unique" Melody
Employing a Musically Unpalatable Melodic Range
Failing to Firmly Establish Tonality
Not Building In Enough Sequence-type Repetition
Paying Insufficient Attention to Metrical Concordance
Writing in 4/4 Meter Exclusively
Failing to Edit Lyrics That Go On and On and On
Not Utilizing Connotative Lyrical Elements
Spending More Time and Energy on Recording than Songwriting
1. USING MUSICALLY UNPALATABLE CHORD PROGRESSIONS
- Songwriters who have no knowledge of the Harmonic Scale tend to write, clunky, musically unpalatable chord progressions. Such progressions mitigate against the human brains natural tendency to want to process intervals and harmonies that reflect simple frequency ratios. (For more information, see How Music REALLY Works! (ebook coming soon to this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing).
- We found that the chord progressions of "Great Songs" tend to follow the natural clockwise flow of the Harmonic Scale to a much higher degree than "Ordinary Songs:
- The easiest way to avoid writing unpalatable chord progressions is to use the Harmonic Scale as your basic framework for creating chord progressions. You can find out how to do this by checking out How Chord Progressions REALLY Work (tip page coming soon on this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing).
2. INCORPORATING TOO MUCH "UNIQUE" MELODY
- When you take the entire vocal melody of a three or four minute song and subtract out all the repetitions of the melodic parts, you have the core "unique" melody of the song. In this study, Great Songs averaged only about 20 seconds of unique melody. Ordinary Songs averaged 38 secondsnearly twice as much unique melody:
- Human short term memory lasts only a five to seven seconds. Your short term memory (and the collective short-term memory of your audience) can only hold a few pieces of information. (Thats why, for example, telephone numbersexclusive of area codeare only seven digits long.)
- In preliterate times, songs served the purpose of transmitting news. Any successful song really functions as an elaborate mnemonic device. It employs as many memory-helping elements as possiblerhyme, regularity of rhythm pattern, repetition of catchy melodic phrases, etc.
- Songwriters who are not aware of the importance of short term memory limitations overload their tunes with too much unique melody. They do this to try to prevent the song from becoming monotonously repetitive. Big mistake.
- You can avoid this by repeating only a few unique melodic phrases many times throughout the song.
- You can use many other ways to create variety. For example, you can modulate to other keys, use variant chords, or introduce chromatic chords. These subjects are covered in How Chord Progressions REALLY Work (tip page coming soon on this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing).
3. EMPLOYING A MUSICALLY UNPALATABLE MELODIC RANGE
- We found that most Great Songs have a melodic vocal range of 12 to 17 semitones (the pitch range of the lowest lead vocal note to the highest lead vocal note, ignoring all vocal harmony).
- By contrast, Ordinary Songs tend to have much greater variability of melodic range. Many have a melodic range of fewer than 12 semitones or more than 17 semitones.
- Make sure your songs are singable by just about anyone, without being too limited. Keep the melodic range to a comfortable 12 to 17 semitones.
4. FAILING TO FIRMLY ESTABLISH TONALITY
- We found that Great Songs establish tonality quickly and maintain it throughout the song, even with modulating to other keys.
- Many Ordinary Songs often lose their way and fail to firmly establish tonality (40% of the time):
- You can avoid getting lost like this by understanding the meaning of tonality and its importance, and by using the tonic chord emphatically and "pointing" to it via use of the V or V7 chord. These topics are covered in How Music REALLY Works! (ebook coming soon to this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing).
5. NOT BUILDING IN ENOUGH SEQUENCE-TYPE REPETITION
- A sequence is a melodic or harmonic phrase or configuration that gets repeated at a different pitch.
- For example, in the Lennon-McCartney tune, "Eleanor Rigby," think of the melody that goes with the words, "Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been." The three notes corresponding to the words "rice in the" form a sequence that gets repeated on the words "church where a", then on the words "wedding has."
- Using sequences like this enables you to repeat melody, but not exactly note for note. Sequence introduces variety while preserving necessary repetition (unity). We found much more sequence-type repetitionabout three times morein Great Songs than in Ordinary Songs:
- The subject of using sequences is covered in detail in two books: How Music REALLY Works! and How Songwriting REALLY Works!, Volume 1. (ebooks coming soon to this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing)
6. PAYING INSUFFICIENT ATTENTION TO METRICAL CONCORDANCE
- We found that in Great Songs, the melodic line and the lyrical pattern adhere closely to the same metrical structure. We did not find this to be the case with Ordinary Songs:
- Songwriters find it easier to write lyrics that do not closely agree with the melody line. Its like writing prose. But in a musical context, its harder for a listener to remember such lyrics because the irregular meter keeps forcing revisions to the melody.
- To avoid this problem, take the time to sweat out lyrics that adhere closely to the same metrical pattern as the melody line.
- The subject of metrical structure is covered in detail in two books: How Music REALLY Works! and How Songwriting REALLY Works!, Volume 1. (ebooks coming soon to this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing)
7. WRITING IN 4/4 METER EXCLUSIVELY
- All of the Ordinary Songs in this study were found to be in 4/4 time. However, the Great Songs showed metrical variety. While most were in 4/4 time, nearly a quarter were in 3/4 or 6/8 time:
- If you usually write in 4/4, you might wish to try your hand at writing in 3/4 and 6/8 time.
- Metrical structure is covered in detail in two books: How Music REALLY Works! and How Songwriting REALLY Works!, Volume 1. (ebooks coming soon to this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing)
8. FAILING TO EDIT LYRICS THAT GO ON AND ON AND ON
- We found that Ordinary Songs have less lyrical repetition and are longer than Great Songs. With Ordinary Songs, the overall effect is verbosity.
- The cure here is pretty obvious: focus the subject matter more tightly, edit out trivia, repeat emotionally powerful words, phrases, and lines.
9. NOT UTILIZING CONNOTATIVE LYRICAL ELEMENTS
- We found that the lyrics of Great Songs demonstrate more and better use of the connotative elements of language. These include:
1. Words with high emotional impact.
2. "Personal" wordsi.e., words that specifically reference people, as opposed to ideas such as political messages, or inanimate elements such as landscapes.
3. "Personal" sentencesi.e., questions, commands, interjections, fragments, dialogue, etc., as opposed to straightforward declarative sentences.
4. Concrete wordswords that appeal to the senses (especially the sense of sight), as opposed to abstract ideas and concepts.
- These topics are covered in detail in the book How Songwriting REALLY Works!, Volume 2. (ebook coming soon to this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing).
10. SPENDING MORE TIME AND ENERGY ON RECORDING THAN SONGWRITING
- The Ordinary Song demos and independent releases we studied tended to be slickly produced. The songwriters who made them were obviously spending way more time and energy (and money) on getting perfect recordings of ordinary songs than the other way around.
- T-Bone Burnett, ace producer of dozens of great albums (including the movie soundtrack, "O Brother, Where Art Thou"), put it this way: "These days, instead of musicians playing instruments, instruments are playing musicians."
- Bob Dylan once commented: "See, when I started to record, they just turned the microphones on and you recorded . . . Whatever you got on one side of the glass was what came in on the controls on the other side of the glass."
- The truth is, anybody can write a song in 10 or 15 minutes. Writing "a song" takes no special talent whatsoever. The same goes for painting "a picture" or writing "a poem." Anybody can create a mediocre piece of "art" in a few minutes.
- The real question is the question of quality, substance, emotional staying power. Most songs written in 15 minutes, "in a burst of inspiration," actually sound mediocre to everyone except the songwriter and his or her family members and acolytes.
- The way to overcome songwriting mediocrity is to get educated about techniques you can use to compose effective music. For example, check out How Music REALLY Works! (ebook coming soon to this site in partnership with Roedy Black Publishing). When you understand pretty much everything you find there, you will be ahead of 99% all songwriters, and well on your way to writing songs with real "classic" potential.
- A truly great song will sound brilliant with nothing more than a guitar-and-vocal or keyboard-and-vocal presentation. Vocal skill matters little. Reverb matters less. Only the tune, the chords and the words really matter. If the song does not make it in a bare-bones rendition, it does not make it.
The Above Songwriting Tips are Courtesy of Roedy Black Publishing of CompleteChords.com
(Makers of handy chord chart systems for guitarists and keyboard players)
(Edited by Robert Curtis)