126 Shortcuts to take your songs from good to great!

Archive for March, 2009


Sunday, March 15th, 2009

by Robin Frederick (author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting”)

Question: If I listen to a particular song I like, I feel inspired to write a song but when I sit down and try, I end up writing the melody I have just listened to. Do you have any tips?

Answer: Melodies can easily get stuck in our brains. A hit Pop/Rock or Country song melody is very catchy; that’s a large part of the reason it’s a hit. But you’re right; this can be a problem for songwriters. Try this exercise to send your melody in a completely new direction:

1) Start by changing the pitches of the notes in the hit song melody. Just sing or play a note that is higher or lower than the original. Your melody will start to sound slightly different from the original. Play with a lot of different pitch choices. If the hit song melody has an ascending melody line, try one that moves downward. If the hit song melody skips over a few notes you can try staying on the same note without moving at all. Doing this part of the exercise will help you start thinking about note pitch as a separate element you can play with.

2) Now, try changing the lengths of the lines (or “phrases”). A “phrase” is a melodic thought with a natural beginning and end. (Lyric lines often begin and end at the same time as a melodic phrase.) Chop a phrase into two shorter phrases by adding a pause in the middle. Don’t worry about interrupting the flow of the lyric; a pause can often ADD interest to a lyric phrase. You can also add a couple of notes and words to the end of a phrase to extend it.

3) After you play with pitch and phrase length, start exploring the timing of the notes: hold a short note longer, then speed up the notes that follow, or divide a long note into several short ones.

By now, your melody should sound VERY different from the original. Remember, this is just an exercise. You are using the hit song to start training your brain to think about melody in a new way, by identifying the three main elements of a song melody–pitch, phrase length, and rhythm. When you start playing with these, you can shape your melody into anything you want! Practice this exercise to get into the habit of thinking about the different components of melody. It will help you move past those melodic ideas that “just occur to you” but may sound dated or familiar.

Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com. Copyright 2009 Robin Frederick. All rights reserved.