Songwriting Tips, News & More
One of the Thickest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make
by Anthony Ceseri
A lot of times when writing, songwriters will get too focused on forcing their lyrics into their songs because they like the specific words they’ve chosen and how they’ve arranged them. But if you’re not music-minded when you’re writing lyrics your song can sound wordy. Wordy lyrics can negatively affect your melody. For that reason, I want to address how you can write lyrics that can lightly being sung in a melody.
The Spoken Rhythm
The rhythm of a line happens as a result of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within a phrase. I’ll indicate the unstressed syllables with “ba” and the stressed syllables with “BUM.” For example, the phrase “Lonely and waiting” has this rhythm: BUM ba ba BUM ba. Hear that? The syllables “Lone-“ and “Wait-“ are stressed in their respective words, while “-ly,” and “-ing” are unstressed in those same words. The word “and” is also unstressed. If you say the phrase out noisy, you’ll hear it. The accented syllables are longer, louder and have a higher pitch. That’s what makes them stressed. The combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in the phrase “Lonely and waiting” (or in any phrase) create its natural sonic form.
If you need to figure out the stresses in a word with more than one syllable, you can usually hear them by sounding them out. For a word with two or more syllables, like “lonely” it’s usually best to listen for the accented syllable, and assume the remainder of the syllables are unaccented.
However, if you need help with this, you can always check a dictionary. It defines which syllables are stressed and which aren’t when you look up a word with more than one syllable. For example, when I look up the word “loving,” I’m introduced with this pronunciation: luhv -ing. The stressed syllable is given in bold.
Single syllable words aren’t as effortless. Some of them are stressed and some are not. Again, it’s best to listen to them within a phrase to determine which are accented and which aren’t, but if you get stuck you can reference this rule of thumb: Assume single syllable nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are stressed. In other words, words that carry meaning are accented. Other words are not. You won’t find the reaction in a dictionary for single syllable words.
Writing in Rhythms
As you know, music has a rhythm to it. A lot of times the words and phrases we speak aren’t very rhythmic. But since you know that your music will have a rhythm, you can write your lyrics to a rhythm, even if you don’t have any music yet. If you take this treatment, you’ll know that what you’re writing will more lightly fit into a song.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say I write two lines of lyric that say this:
Looking out into the sky
The night is so beautiful
If I write those lines out into their rhythmic patterns, I’d end up with this:
I highlighting the stressed syllables in bold. We could also take the words out and isolate the patterns:
The very first line doesn’t truly have a consistent rhythm. It has a strong stress, then a feeble stress, then two of each before ending on a strong stress. The 2nd line is better and more organized rhythmically (by having two powerless stresses inbetween each strong stress), but it doesn’t match the very first line. That’s not a requirement, but it tends to make things lighter, depending on how your melody will go.
So things might get a little chaotic when we begin to put these lines to music, because their rhythms are random. What if instead we commenced with a rhythmic pattern, and then matched our words to that pattern. Writing out your stresses very first lends itself well to writing catchy melodic motifs.
The rhythm of the 2nd line was pretty good, so let’s stick with that and use it twice. Let’s say we want our lyrics and melody to have this rhythm:
You can see that looks better already. Now we just have to find words that fit that pattern. We know the 2nd line from our previous example worked, so we’ll keep that. Since we want to stay with the same lyrical idea, we can attempt a very first line that’s something like this:
The sky is so magical
Which rhythmically works out to be:
Now we have two lines with a good, consistent rhythm that match each other. So we shouldn’t have much of a problem fitting these words to music:
The sky is so magical
The night is so beautiful. or
You can hear the consistency in the rhythm of these lyrics, just by speaking them aloud. They have a good rhythm that’s the same from line to line, which will make them pretty effortless to put them to a melody.
This is an treatment you can take whether you have a melody and you want to match your words to the music, or if you’re writing lyrics very first, and you want them to be written rhythmically before you even develop your melodies. Either way, this treatment will help you organize the stresses of your words to be more rhythmic, and lend themselves to being placed in music. It may be a little trickier to find the right lyrical phrases you’re looking for, but your melodies will drastically benefit from this treatment.
About Anthony Ceseri
Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter and performer who has traveled the country in pursuit of the best songwriting advice and information available. From classes and workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston, to Taxi’s Road Rally in Los Angeles, Anthony has learned from the most well-respected professional songwriters, producers and performers in the industry.
For much more information on improving your lyric writing(especially if your audiences aren’t consistently emotionally connecting to your songs), download our Two free lyric writing cheat sheets here, while they’re still available: http://successforyoursongs.com/go/writing-lyrics/
Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 22, 2017 @08:00 AM
[Pro ADVICE] Five Innovative Ways to Switch Up Your Songwriting Process
by Gary Ewer
One of the main reasons songwriters get stuck in a creative rut is an overused songwriting process. If you find that you’re always approaching songwriting the same old way, and using the same structural design and chords over and over again, just switching how you treatment writing can quickly break you out of a creative block.
Here are Five ways you can switch up your songwriting process, and the results may put your sense of creativity back on the prompt track:
1. Break out of the same old verse-chorus-bridge design. If every song you write starts with an intro, then moves on to a duo of verse-chorus sections, followed by a bridge and ending with a duo of chorus repeats… no wonder you feel devoid of creativity. What else can you attempt? How about kicking off with the chorus, like this: Chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-verse-chorus. Or how about: Solo-verse-solo-verse-chorus-solo-verse-chorus.
Two. Switch rooms. Songwriters are creatures of habit, and we all usually like to do our writing in the same location. So switch it up once in a while. Ever attempt writing in the park? On a bus? In the attic of your house? It will surprise you what a fresh location does for your musical imagination. So grab your smartphone or digital recording device, and get creative.
Three. Switch genres. You may not like, let’s say, country music. But have you ever attempted writing it? You’ll find that early in the process of writing your very first country tune, you’ll build up an appreciation and respect for it. You’ll find that you tap into a different part of your creative soul every time you switch genres. The payoff often comes when you switch back to your favourite genre. You find that you’ve got a fresh vocabulary of musical ideas that you can use, ideas that make your songs unique and fresh.
Four. Attempt a melody-first songwriting process. You may think that creating melodies without a chord progression underneath might be difficult, but it’s likely lighter than you think. Attempt this process: Take your smartphone and go for a walk. Begin singing random melodies into your phone. You’ll find that your capability to improvise melodies in this way is better than you think. Get as much of a melody working as you can this way. Don’t worry about lyrics yet. When you get home, create a chord progression that can accompany the tune you’ve written. Even if all you have is Four bars to demonstrate for your efforts, it will serve as the idea for the rest of the song’s melodies.
Five. Write a song on an instrument you’ve never (or infrequently) played before. You don’t need too be very good on an instrument to use it in this way. If you play guitar, you’ll find that many of your songs tend toward a “sameness.” So even if you don’t play keyboards, sit down at a piano and plunk out a tune or find some chords. The benefit of playing a different instrument when you write is that you don’t give way to “muscle memory.” You’ll find that the melodic shapes you find will differ from the ones you tend to always default to on your normal instrument of choice.
The moral of the story here is this: the sooner in your songwriting process you switch things up, the greater the chance that your song will sound innovative and fresh. The more you switch things up, the more creative you’ll feel.
Read more in Gary Ewer’s book, Striking Songwriter’s Block. Visit beatingsongwritersblock.halleonardbooks.com and inject the discount code AP2 at checkout to receive 20% off the list price and free domestic shipping (least expensive method)!
Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May Legal, 2017 @03:56 PM
[Accomplished Songwriting Advice] Concentrate On Your Own Strengths
by Ralph Murphy
Ralph Murphy is a professional songwriter who has written songs that hit the charts such as “Half The Way” by Crystal Gayle. It has become very clear now that the most successful songwriters today are those who have learned how to concentrate on and leverage their unique strengths. A good example is Elton John – he concentrate on his music composition capability (writing melodies and chord progressions) and not writing lyrics, he leaves the lyric writing to his co-writing fucking partner Bernie Taupin. Lesson to be learnt here: if you are presently excellent in writing music but average in writing lyrics, find someone who is fine in writing lyrics!
“If you spend too much time working on your weaknesses, all you end up with is a lot of strong weaknesses”…Dan Sullivan
One of the top ten questions I get asked by newcomers to the industry is, “How do I get heard in the music business?” Before I can reaction that, I have to know exactly what they want to be “heard.” When I ask them about their goals — whether they want to be songwriters or recording artists — the most common response is, “Both.”
Listen to the truth
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that, while many of the newcomers I counsel may be gifted as songwriters or as singers, very, very few are identically blessed with both talents. While one capability may come rather naturally, the other often needs significant honing.
The problem is, not everyone wants to hear the truth. Some fine singers (who are average songwriters) can make the indeed average songs they’ve written shine through the sheer power of their vocal capability. They make the phrase “I love you” sound so good that you almost believe they invented it. In equal numbers come the excellent songwriters (who are average singers) who have been told by family, friends, paramours, and late-night adoring coffeehouse/honky-tonk buffoons that, despite the fact that their tempo, pitch and teeth are bad, they have starlet quality. And no matter how badly they sing, their songs are still strong enough to sustain a mediocre vocal spectacle and sound like hits. (This is the only reason karaoke manufacturers are not hunted for sport!)
Check your ego at the door
The bottom line is: lose your ego. It’s called “absenting of self.” The person most likely to come inbetween you and your career aim is you. Don’t make the best of your talent a donkey for the least of your talent. Get some unbiased feedback from industry pros (available through a diversity of NSAI programs), and if you are indeed weaker in one area, concentrate on your strength.
If you’re a good singer — but an average writer — don’t be upset if someone loves your voice but wants you to sing someone else’s songs. Go find those excellent songs while you learn to become a better writer. By the same token, if you’re a superb songwriter — but an average singer — don’t be upset if someone wants to record your songs but passes on you as an artist. Recall, this is called the music “business,” and the business end of our industry knows that the majority of the G.A.P. (Good American Public) just wants to hear fine records. They don’t lie awake nights wondering who wrote and/or sang the songs they like on the radio.
If you have a sneaking suspicion that the preceding law even remotely applies to you, then do yourself this favor: picture the music industry as a large building with an entrance for singers on one side, and an entrance for songwriters on the other. Maybe you can’t go through both doors at the same time, but you can concentrate on getting inwards through the door that opens the most lightly for you. Who knows? Once you’re inwards, you can end up just about anywhere.
Ralph Murphy. hit songwriter and experienced, has been successful for five decades. He wrote gigantic hit songs such as Crystal Gayle’s “Talking in Your Sleep” and “Half the Way”. Consistently charting songs in an ever-changing musical environment makes him a member of that very petite group of professionals who make a living ding what they love to do. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the enormously successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. Achieving “hit writer” status has always been a formidable objective for any songwriter. *His fresh book Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting “The Book” arms the songwriter for success by demystifying the process and opening the door to serious professional songwriting. Hall of fame songwriter Paul Williams said in his review of the book “If there was a hit songwriters secret handshake “Da Murphy” would most likely have included it. To buy his book, please click here: http://www.songwriting.net/ralph-murphy-book
[Accomplished Songwriting Advice] How to Stay Positive About Songwriting
The road to songwriting success is almost always a long and bumpy one, paved with frustration and frustration. There are far more stories of successes that took many years, or even decades, to materialize than tales of overnight success. Some of my songwriting students navigate that road with smiles on their faces and hope, enthusiasm, and determination in their hearts. Others become bitter and disillusioned, spouting a stable stream of everything that’s wrong with today’s music and music business. While there might be some improvised satisfaction gained from blaming and complaining, it infrequently leads to success unless it serves as a motivator to take the deeds that can propel your career.
I understand frustration. For eleven years I took every songwriting class and workshop, read every book, and loyal every spare hour to studying my craft and furthering my career before I was able to earn a meager living as a songwriter. Five extra years passed before I had hits on the charts. During many of those years I worked long hours at pitiful temp jobs and day jobs I loathed. So I understand the exasperation of feeling that despite my best efforts my fantasies stayed just beyond my reach. But I also understand the power of determination, believing in ourselves, and perseverance, and I know that pessimism is not conducive to achieving our goals.
For some fortunate people, a sunny attitude comes naturally. But some of us have to cultivate optimism. I asked my songwriting students and social media friends to share the instruments that help them remain upbeat and optimistic on their songwriting journey.
The most consistent suggestion I received was to derive prizes from the process of writing, as opposed to waiting until some tangible aspect of success (such as having a hit single, signing a publishing deal, or securing a record deal) occurs in the future. These successes might—or might not—occur. But those who are motivated by a passion for creating music add richness to their lives every time they put pen to paper or compose a melody. Any accolades or successes their songs might achieve are a bonus.
Many songwriters who responded to my query voiced the importance of surrounding themselves with people who believe in their talent and encourage their creativity. These might be family and friends or they might be members of a songwriters’ organization. They also stressed the importance of interacting and networking with others who share their goals and enthusiasm.
Those who radiate a positive attitude tend to attract others like themselves who bolster and support each other, exchanging contacts and resources as they work to attain their mutual goals. Conversely, writers who spew negativity tend to be avoided by those who are focused on success.
Viewing their journey through a lens of gratitude is a common thread among writers who feast their creativity. Many of the respondents stated they maintain a positive attitude because they are grateful to have wishes and goals to pursue, regardless of any success that might or might not develop. They also felt gratitude for the bounty of being able to express themselves through lyrics and music, the challenges of improving their craft, and the creative people with whom they share their journey.
Celebrating the “little” successes, such as ending a song you love, recording a demo, receiving positive feedback, or winning a contest can all serve as validation that we are on the right road.
I’m positive that staying positive makes us more satisfied and more desirable to work with, and that positively gives us a better shot at accomplishing what we hope for. So seek ways to let your writing be its own prize; surround yourself with those who believe in you, and with optimistic people who are on similar journeys; remain grateful for the gifts and the desires you’ve been given, and for every success along the way; and as the Carter Family sang, “Keep on the Sunny Side.”
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inwards Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. www.jasonblume.com
A Cure for Writer’s Block in Songwriting
There are a number of ways you can draw inspiration for a song idea by listening to other songs. Lyrics are copyrightable, so you obviously can’t take something someone says and use it in your own music, but you can draw inspiration from stories you love. Especially if those stories are already popular.
Begin by listing a few songs with lyrics you indeed like. Think big picture here. Think about lyrics that tell a story you love, as opposed to songs that simply have a line or two you think is fine. It’ll be more adequate for this exercise. It’s the message that’s significant at this point, as opposed to how it’s being said.
I have a duo of examples of my own we could commence with. Two songs with ideas I like that came to mind for me were “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield and “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay. You can do an internet search for those lyrics, if you’d like, but like I said, this part is more about the story, and jotting down what the big ideas of these songs are to you.
With that in mind, the lyrics to “Unwritten” are about having a future that is totally within your control. It’s about being able to do whatever you want, and it produces this message in a positive way.
Conversely, “Viva La Vida” has a pretty negative message, and is mainly about being stuck in the past. It’s about once having had it all, then losing it and being left to look back to wonder how it all went wrong.
I could lightly use either of those ideas as a beginning point for a song of my own. If my music is more upbeat and I’m inspired by the positive message in “Unwritten,” my big idea could be about all the possibilities the future holds. If I determine to write music that’s more of a downer, and I want my lyrics to reflect that, I could write a song inspired by the story in “Viva La Vida,” which discusses all of my losses.
So just by spinning through some old favorites, I’ve already got a duo of overall ideas that could be the basis for a fresh song. These two ideas are opposites so I’ve got a entire range of stuff in inbetween them that’s available to me as well.
When you write a list of songs or other stories you like, don’t just limit yourself to two. Instead,write down as many as you can. The more big ideas you have, the lighter it’ll be for you to write lyrics of your own, since you’ll have options. Plus, writing down many ideas can only suggest you more choices later.
Altered Perspective Inspiration
What we just spotted was a pretty general way of getting ideas. But we can get more specific than that. A mechanism I learned from Shane Adams, who’s a teacher at Berklee College of Music’s online extension school, is to look at an existing song from a different perspective than it presently does.
Let’s attempt it, by going back to “Unwritten.” That song is sung in the very first person. It’s about someone with possibilities before her. She can do whatever she wants.
What if we desired to write a song where we were looking at a 2nd or third person perspective? What if the perspective was from the mother of the character in “Unwritten”? She’s watching her daughter grow up to realize her total potential. We could then talk about the joy we felt, as the mother, witnessing her daughter come into her own to discovering the limitless possibilities in her future.
We could even talk about how we once had those same feelings of limitless possibilities when we were junior too. And now our own limitless possibilities and hopes for the future have been realized in our daughter, who has just come to terms with the same possibilities. The daughter is keeping the cycle moving.
That’s just an idea. I’m riffing. It doesn’t have to be that. Another thought would be to look at “Unwritten” from the perspective of the current narrator’s arch rival. You can write lyrics from the perspective of someone who’s competitive. This person would see Natasha Bedingfield’s character in “Unwritten” reaching for fantasies and aspirations, and it would drive her crazy. In this perspective we’d be able to look at why it wouldn’t be good if Natasha Bedingfield’s character achieved her wildest wishes. That’s kicking off to put a negative twist on our originally positive idea, but that’s okay. We’re open to practically anything at this point.
If we choose either of these ideas, they’re certainly a departure from the original song’s idea. So, it’s not like we’re just copying the main idea from “Unwritten,” albeit that would be fine too, as mentioned previously.
Now let’s see what a different perspective can do for us when looking at “Viva La Vida” by Cold Play. In this song, Chris Martin’s character talks about how he once was king, and now he’s fallen. We could write a song from the point of view of one of the king’s servants who has witnessed the king’s decline. Did we love this fall, or were we on good terms with the king, and were saddened when it happened? What happened to our family now that’s there’s a fresh ruler? Are we left poor? Or maybe we were part of the movement that overthrew the king.
You don’t have to stop there. If you indeed want a departure from what the original song was about, or you just want to keep pushing it to see how many ideas you can come up with, you can. For example, now we have this idea about a boy who helped to overthrow a kingdom. What if we took the perspective of the wifey of the man who helped overthrow the kingdom? What did she witness while witnessing that all go down? If you keep pushing these thoughts, the possibilities you can come up with are endless.
When you switch the perspective of the song and determine who the speaker will be, you also have options of who you want to be speaking to. If we were Natasha Bedingfield’s character’s mother, would we be talking back to Natasha Bedingfield’s character? Or would we be talking to our spouse, who’s the father? Or maybe it would be more of a narration, where’s she’s just speaking to herself as she witnesses her daughter grow up through the years. Thinking about who is being spoken to, and switching that from the original reference song will also help give you fresh ideas to use.
For Three more fail-proof songwriting methods you can use today to make listeners want to own your songs, click here to download our free songwriting EBook: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/
[Pro Advice] Hey, Songwriter: Give Yourself Goosebumps!
by Diana Williamson
When you were a kid, did you ever have a sleepover with friends where you told scary stories? You’d woo each other there was a ghost in the attic or a spirit coming through the Ouija board. You’d conjure up scaring things to give you and your friends a rush. Stirring up a cauldron of emotion is also helpful when attempting to make magic with your art. For tips on how to tap into these creative emotions again, check out the following tips from a top-selling songwriter and author. She can help you to tap into a flow of energy—your unique passion—to fuel your songwriting.
• Look for a situation that gives you a rush, gets your blood pumping or causes butterflies, like meeting an attractive stranger out of the blue. Then write about it.
• When you can capture those special moments on the page, you’ll know you’ve got something. When you give yourself goosebumps, you are pretty much assured that you will be providing the listener the same.
• It can’t be compelled. The Muse is a wayward animal. She has to be seduced to stick around or she’ll flee at the very first footfall. Ever hear a song and find yourself turning it up without thinking? Or maybe some strains of music coming from a passing car bring you back to a special place and time? That’s what it’s all about. You want to budge your listener to laugh or sob or, best of all, be inspired.
• Arousing deep emotion is the ultimate for a songwriter. “The Way We Were” is such a touching, evocative song that it’s been voted one of the top Ten film songs of all time on every list imaginable. It was not only a hit on the radio but had an never-to-be-forgotten visual connected to it. Every time you hear it, you can picture Barbra Streisand shuddering as she meets up with Robert Redford.
• Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie says he wrote “I Will Go after You Into the Dark,” their best-selling single, in 15 minutes. He’s also said he can slightly take credit for it because he felt like he channeled it. He tapped into a dark, infrequently explored emotional theme about following his paramour into the afterlife. And he did it in such a hauntingly beautiful way that it wasn’t morbid; instead it was comforting and enchanting at the same time.
• And it doesn’t have to be about love. Other strong feelings, such as anger, can also be a excellent motivating force. If you deny an emotion, it just springs up anyway, so give it a voice. Channel it into a song. When Phil Collins wrote about a ruthless ex-lover in “Something in the Air Tonight,” he sent his rage into the world like a speeding locomotive. It’s powerful stuff.
• Songwriters live for the moment they get struck by the lightning bolt of inspiration. The beauty is that it can come at any time and from anywhere. You’re driving down the street and see an old gent cradling his wife’s palm and you commence thinking about that line you had for a ballad. The song starts writing itself and the next thing you know you’re pulling the car over to jot down some words before they slip away. We’re not talking about the craft and hard work of rewriting here, however of course that’s essential. But that’s another article. We are talking about those sacred moments when you’re in the zone, and everything flows.
• Songwriters never truly go on holiday. You can be lounging on the beach in Barbados, frolicking with a fruity cocktail when the tourist next to you starts talking loudly on her cell phone about her fresh paramour. As she throws out phrases left and right, you can’t help but note the line, “This ain’t my very first rodeo.” Next thing you know you’re looking about for a pen and tapping out a rhythm on your blanket. But let’s face it, you very likely won’t be able to stay on the beach forever. Soon you’re back in the real world and if you’re not careful you might find yourself tired, stressed or just plain running on empty. This can lead to a pesky phenomenon commonly known as writer’s block. But there is a cure. Like a farmer letting his field lie fallow every seventh year before planting again, sometimes you have to give your creativity a break. “Don’t manhandle the Muse.”
• And while you’re at it, don’t manhandle yourself, either. If you begin striking yourself up, you’ll be your own worst enemy. Take your mind off your writing so you can come back to it refreshed. Obviously if you have a deadline, you have to work through it. Waiting for the luxury of inspiration to hit isn’t always a viable option.
• There are many ways to unwind and replenish your creative juices. Movies permit your brain to rest while rejuvenating you with all sorts of storylines and visuals to stir creativity.
• Hiking, walking or working out is another way to boost your energy level. Prolific novelist Charles Dickens walked up to 30 miles a day. He said he would “explode” if he didn’t; it was his way of turning his brain off inbetween bouts of writing. Ludwig van Beethoven was another avid walker. He always carried a pen and paper with him in case an idea struck.
• Ernest Hemingway once said you should “let the pressure build” until you have no choice but to write it down. That way, you’re driving with fuel, not running on fumes and forcing the phrases out. Just let that pressure cooker blast off its rocker as words fly onto the page. Whatever it takes to get inspired, do it and do it some more. Your writing—and your listeners—will thank you for it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DIANA WILLIAMSON is the author of 101 Tips and Tricks of Successful Songwriting, available on Amazon. She’s written two No. Trio Billboard Hot Club Chart hits and placed songs in over 50 films and TV shows through her company, The Music Library. You can visit her at: 101tipsandtricksofsuccessfulsongwriting.com
[Songwriting Experienced Advice] What’s Up With Today’s Melodies?
by Jai Josefs
Melody writing has switched radically in the 21st century, and successful writers know exactly what that switch is and how to incorporate it. Their songs sound newer and more contemporary and, as a result, are the ones that more frequently get signed to film/TV licensing deals as well as publishing deals. Let’s examine specifically what the difference is.
Every melody contains two elements – pitch and rhythm. The pitches are the actual notes that are sung while the rhythm is where those notes land in time against the groove. In the 20th century more emphasis was put on interesting pitches and their relationship to the chord progression. But in the 21st century the rhythm of the melody has become the primary concentrate for creating listener appeal. That’s why so many songs today can use only a ordinary chord loop (instead of the rich multitude of chords used in the 20th century) and still remain scrupulously engaging and compelling. Listen to the very first 15 notes of Ed Sheeran’s latest hit “Form of You” for example. All 15 are the exact same pitch, but the intricate rhythm entirely engages you and captures your attention.
Writers tend to be influenced by the songs they listened to in their formative years when they very first discovered music. So the instinctive tendency of veteran writers who don’t stay current is to write in the 20th century style that emphasizes pitch over rhythm. On the other end of the spectrum, some friends of mine recently sent their 16-year-old daughter to explore with me, and at her very first lesson I asked her to play something she had written. Her creative process was totally instinctual and she didn’t even know a verse from a chorus, but at very first listen what she played sounded like it came right off the radio. That’s because the only melodies she had been exposed to in her youthfull life were contemporary and rhythmically based. For those of us who have been around a bit longer, it’s crucial that we investigate these modern melodic technologies so we can incorporate them into our writing.
A good way to begin that process is by analyzing the melodies of today’s hit songs. To illustrate how melody writing has evolved, I’m going to compare two songs written on the same theme – female empowerment. The very first one was written in the 1970s in the traditional style of that era. The 2nd is a latest breakthrough hit from 2016.
Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” has a very plain melodic rhythm. Almost all of the notes are eighth notes (two notes per strike) and the phrasing is relatively uncomplicated. The verse consists of two shorter phrases followed by a longer phrase all of which embark exactly one hit before the beginning of the measure. Then that same pattern is repeated. There is a bit more diversity in the chorus, but the phrasing is still basic and repetitive and most of the notes are eighth notes.
Let’s contrast that with Daya’s latest hit “Sit Still Look Pretty” (if you’re not familiar with it give it a listen – it’s also brilliant lyrically and has some very cool and remarkable rhymes). The verse phrases instead of being grouped in twos or threes like the basic short-short-long, short-short-long pattern of “I Am Woman” are actually in patterns of five that go short-short-short-long-long, short-short- short-long-long. In addition they all begin in different places. The very first and third begin after the downbeat of the measure, the 2nd is entirely in the last half of the measure, and the fourth and fifth commence before the measure with 16th note pick-ups. Then we hear the pre-chorus where the melodic rhythm shifts to all 16th notes (four notes per hammer) for the very first three phrases followed by a fourth phrase that is all eighth notes. The chorus that goes after embarks right on the downbeat with a phrase that lasts for two utter measures – twice as long as any phrase we’ve heard so far. It’s then followed by two off-beat 16th note phrases that are half a measure each and the hook/title which is one measure long. Notice the constant variation in eighth and 16th notes, phrase kicking off points, and phrase patterns. This creates a dynamic melody that is always fresh and grabs the listener’s attention. In terms of melodic rhythm and phrasing “I Am Woman” is like an old Chevy, and “Sit Still Look Pretty” is more like a Ferrari.
If you want to write songs that are relevant today, it’s a superb idea to listen to more tunes by contemporary hit artists like Ed Sheeran and Daya and concentrate on analyzing how they use melodic rhythm. It will make your songs sound arousing and up-to-date, and hopefully lead to more placements and airplay.
Jai Josefshttp://jaijomusic.com/is a world renowned songwritng coach as well as a successful songwriter/producer. He has instructed songwriting at UCLA, the Songwriters Guild, and dozens of seminars and conferences across North America. He is also the author of “Writing Music For Hit Songs” which is used as a text on contemporary music composition at universities worldwide. Many of his students have gone on to successful careers in the industry and secured major label record deals, publishing deals and placements in film and television.
Jai has also had a successful career as a songwriter/producer himself working with such well-known artists as Jose Feliciano, Little Richard, and Pam Tillis, and doing projects for such companies as Universal, RCA, Motown, and Disney. In addition, his original songs have been featured in over 60 TV shows on every major network as well as over 20 major movability pictures with such starlets as Harrison Ford, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Lange, Mark Wahlberg, and Denzel Washington.
Jai presently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where he leads a monthly workshop called SongShop, details of which can be found here:
He is also available for private coaching in the Bay Area and worldwide via Skype.