126 Shortcuts to take your songs from good to great!

Posts Tagged ‘song songwriting tools structure lyrics melody’

WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF SONGWRITING?

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

by Robin Frederick

I share so many of my own songwriting gripes and difficulties in my articles and books, by now everyone pretty much knows what I wrestle with. But I often wonder what OTHER songwriters find difficult about songwriting. So, I decided to take a poll on my Facebook site. I’ve had over 180 responses so far. (In just a moment, I’ll give you a link to the poll so you see the results and weigh in, if you haven’t already.)

The question was “What do you think is the hardest part of songwriting?” I started out with just 4 categories – Lyrics, Melody, Chords, Song Structure – the usual suspects. I asked people to vote for the ones that were hardest for them and I invited them to add their own categories – which they promptly did! They added challenges like “Getting started,” “Making an old idea more contemporary,” “Getting song ideas down,” “Communicating with listeners,” and more. They’ll get no argument from me! These are all difficult aspects of songwriting and I’m always looking for ways to make them easier.

TO SEE THE POLL & VOTE: CLICK HERE

YOU ARE NOT ALONE
The most important insight I took away from the poll is that EVERYONE has trouble with at least one aspect of songwriting – often the same areas I have trouble with! Even successful songwriters know what it’s like to hit a wall! But pro songwriters have one advantage: they can work their way through the problem by relying on their command of song craft.

Songwriting is part inspiration and part hard, slogging work. The inspiration part is always fun. We all love that moment when a great line just pops out or the idea for a song is born in a flash of energy. But relying on inspiration alone to carry you through is not enough, especially if you’d like to market your songs to the music or film & TV industries. When you decide to make a living (or even a little extra income) from songwriting, you need to be able to bust through those trouble spots. Song craft can help you do it. So, here are 5 short song craft tips in the areas that poll takers say are the hardest:


#1. LYRICS I’ve been posting so many lyric tips lately, it’s hard to pick just one but try this… Listeners love to feel they’re witnessing an intimate, personal moment. Drop the listener right into the middle of a situation by using dialogue lines. “Go ahead. Keep talking!” or “Don’t turn away just when I need you” or “Let’s get out of here. Run away with me!” Mix these with emotional images, sensations, and details. Examples: “You’ve slammed the door a thousand times.” or “Your skin is warm and soft beneath my touch.” Pump up your action words: Instead of “You left…” try “You slithered off…” or “You skipped away…” phrases that convey more emotional energy. Rewrite a lyric using these ideas to create a lyric with more impact!

#2. MELODY When writing melody & chords at the same time, we tend to fall into patterns, like starting lines when the chord changes. Try recording or sequencing a chord progression first. Then write a melody to it. Experiment with starting on different beats, singing a phrase through a chord change, or adding syncopation by emphasizing upbeats.

Change the notes and rhythm patterns of your melody until you’re happy with it. Record it then take a break. Come back later with fresh ears and listen to it. If the melody feels too predictable, try lengthening a line, starting on a different beat, or adding a pause in an unexpected place. If the melody feels unfocused or hard to remember, try repeating a line more often. Finding the right mix of repetition and variation of melody lines is the key to writing catchy, memorable songs.


#3. FINDING A UNIQUE IDEA There aren’t a lot of new, never-before-heard song ideas. To give listeners something they haven’t heard before, try a unique approach to your theme or a new angle. Try a different attitude towards a situation (“You left me & I’m so glad!”) or an unusual Point of View. Remember The Beatles’ “She Loves You”? THAT was a fresh point of view – It wasn’t about “me,” it was about “she” and “you” – the singer was present as a friend. Pick a question or concern we don’t often put into words: Blake Shelton’s “Who Are You When I’m not Looking?” is a great example. Look at your honest reactions to situations and people and you’re likely to find new ways of saying things. You can also get ideas from TV shows, books, and tabloid newspapers. Don’t write the obvious. Look for something surprising!

#4. GETTING EMOTIONS INTO YOUR SONGS Instead of telling a story, go deep into a single moment when the emotions reached a peak. Put yourself into that moment and imagine it as vividly as you can. How does it feel? What do you say or do to express the feeling? Describe it in physical terms. (Like walking thru fire. Riding a wave. Flying. Falling.) The more you use physical images and senses to describe an emotion, the more the listener is able to experience it and share it with you. This type of emotionally focused lyric works very well for both radio and film & TV.

To find physical ways to describe emotions, play a simple “association game.” Choose an emotion and associate it with a color, a season, an object, a physical sensation. Then make a list of all the things that association reminds you of. Keep building wider levels of associations until you have three of four levels. Then write lyric lines using these associated images and sensations to express the emotion. (If you have my book “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV,” you can find out more in Shortcut #53.

#5. DEVELOPING / FINISHING THAT GREAT IDEA Just like an artist sketches the idea for a painting in pencil before applying the final paint, try roughing out a sketch of your song. Get an idea of the flow, the path of the WHOLE song before trying to write those perfect lines for your first verse.

Create the outline of your song based on a song structure. The most popular structure is: Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus.  Write a line or phrase in each section giving a rough idea of the content. For instance, the chorus will include your title, so write it there. Add another line to support it emotionally. Then write a line for each verse and the bridge, a line that indicates what you’re going to say in that section. Try answering a question suggested by the title in each song section. What do listeners need to know in order to understand the title, what it means, how it feels. If you sketch out your song, you won’t end up repeating the same thing over and over and you won’t run out of things to say!

Copyright 2011 Robin Frederick.

Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com.

by Robin Frederick

You’ll find more songwriting tips on my website:

http://www.robinfrederick.com

Build Your Song the Hard Hat Way

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Robin Frederick (author, Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting)

 

Let’s say that you’ve decided to build a house. You’ve gathered a big pile of lumber and you’ve got  a hammer and some nails. Good, that’s a start! But if that’s ALL you have, your house is probably going to end up looking very strange. Without a saw, a screwdriver, a level, and the rest of the homebuilder’s toolbox, your house will look very odd indeed. If you try to sell this house, most buyers won’t be interested. For some reason, they seem to like solid construction, square windows, and a door that works. 

 

It’s the same with songs. Your ideas, creativity, and imagination are the raw material, the lumber, from which you’ll build your song. But if you don’t have all the tools you need, your song is likely to end up sounding odd or uninteresting or so strange that listeners can’t find their way in. Songwriting tools can help you create a song that works for listeners, helping them feel the emotion, understand the situation, and identify with the singer. At the same time, the raw material you start with will ensure that the song is YOUR song, expresses what YOU feel.  

 

So put on your hard hat and assemble your songwriting tools. Here are just a few:

 

USE A SONG STRUCTURE: You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, so don’t build a song without a clear plan for the structure. The vast majority of today’s hit songs feature a verse and chorus structure that looks something like this: Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus. Listeners like this structure; it has enough variety to keep them interested and enough repetition to make them feel comfortable. Using this structure won’t make you sound like everyone else because you’re going to fill it in with YOUR thoughts and YOUR inspiration. 

 

USE IMAGES AND DETAILS TO COMMUNICATE THE SITUATION: Instead of saying “I remember that night,” try to show your listeners that night! They weren’t there. They don’t know anything about it. Let your listeners be inside the scene by telling them what the surroundings looked like, who was there, what they did, what they looked like. Choose those details that sum up the essence of what happened and the feelings that were going on.  

 

UNDERSCORE YOUR LYRIC WITH YOUR MELODY: Think of your melody like the music underneath a scene in a movie. Watch a few films with big scores, like Titanic, Notice how the music rises when the emotion intensifies. Now try something similar in your song. When you get to your chorus, which is where the big emotions in a song are often focused, try a melody line that slowly rises or suddenly leaps tgo a high note or changes pace.

 

These are just three tools you can use; there are dozens more (126 in my book “Shortcuts to HIt Songwriting”). But this isn’t about memorizing or parroting some rules! Pick a couple of these ideas and and go write a song using them. Just as a builder uses some tools every day and others only occasionally, there are some songwriting tools you will use more than others. 

 

When we listen to songs, they seem somehow magical and effortless.  It’s easy to forget that in addition to inspiration and emotion, it takes knowledge and hard work to build an effective song — the kind listeners will want to “move into.” So put on your hard hat, assemble your tools, look at your ideas as raw material, and get started!

 

Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” by Robin Frederick 

Copyright 2008 Robin Frederick. All rights reserved.