Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle

Bicycle in your mindRemember when you learned to ride your first bicycle? It wasn’t easy. You fell down a lot, but you kept trying. At first you needed someone to hold on, keeping you steady. Then you used training wheels to help you stay upright as you pedaled. Then, finally, you were able to ride on your own. You had found that complicated thing called balance. After that, it was a breeze! The process of writing songs is a lot like riding a bike. It’s all about finding a balance!

=> Balance Melody, Chords, Lyrics – Writing a song that listeners will love involves finding a good balance between melody, lyrics, and chords. If you have a busy lyric with a lot of words and images then writing a melody that’s easy for listeners to follow might give your song more appeal. On the other hand, if you have a complicated melody with a lot of rhythmic interest and interval jumps, then keeping your chord progression simple might be a good idea. Try the chord progressions on this page to get things going.

When there are too many things demanding their attention, listeners don’t know what to focus on and that can be frustrating. If they’re feeling confused or overwhelmed, they’re  likely to tune out.

A good rule of thumb: As the complexity of one of your song elements goes up – lyrics, melody, or chords – consider organizing the other elements in easy-to-follow patterns or using more repetition.

We all love to write those beautiful, poetic lines but they can sometimes be hard for listeners to understand.

=> Balance within each song element – We all love to write beautiful, poetic lines but they can sometimes be hard for listeners to understand. So, try to mix in a few conversational  lines that come right out and say what you want the listener to know. If you don’t feel comfortable interweaving poetic and conversational within a single song section, consider making your verse the evocative, poetic section, then come straight to the point in your chorus. Let the singer come right out and say what he or she feels so the listener knows what’s going on.

The same idea can be applied to melody.  If you have a verse with a fast-paced, complicated melody, consider writing a chorus with a little breathing room. Stretch out the melody notes in the chorus and use fewer notes per beat. use a little more repetition or a simple melodic pattern. Give the listener a chance to absorb what’s happening before plunging into another verse.

=> Study the balance in your genre – Each genre has a balance of melody, lyrics, and chords that gives it a characteristic sound. For instance, the Pop genre tends to have a lot  of melodic interest. Verse, pre-chorus, and chorus all have different melodies with changing dynamics and rhythmic twists.  Pop lyrics  maintain a balance by staying focused on a single emotional situation that’s clearly defined in the chorus.

The Country genre, on the other hand, relies on lyric stories with more physical detail and development than Pop.  Listeners need to pay attention to the lyric in order to get the full impact. As a result, Country melodies tend to be a little less complex than in the Pop field. This doesn’t mean you can write a boring melody, ever! You’ll still need to keep your listeners interested with strong melody patterns and plenty of contrast between sections. But you might want to use fewer melodic twists than you would in the Pop genre.

=> Balance craft and inspiration – Balance is also an essential part of your approach to songwriting as a whole. Finding a balance between inspiration and song craft can help you express your deepest thoughts and feelings and in a way that listeners can understand and respond to.

Inspiration can be a very personal thing, sometimes giving you lines that may mean something to you but not to your listener.

Inspiration is the heart of your songwriting. It’s what guides you, tells you what’s important, and delivers that brilliant line out of the blue. But inspiration can be a very personal thing, sometimes giving you lines that may mean something to you but not to your listener. If you balance inspiration with an equal amount of song craft, you’ll end up communicating more effectively, surrounding those inspired gems with lines that support them and keep the listener involved.  Continue reading “Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle”

Interview with Ryan Tedder

Check out this excellent interview with Ryan Tedder, lead singer and songwriter of OneRepublic and an hugely successful record producer. It’s straightforward, useful information on everything from songwriting to producing to arranging. If you got my recent newsletter and tried the top-line writing exercise, you were writing to a track by Ryan Tedder.

Here are a few short excerpts from the excellent interview by Tom Cole for NPR. (A link to the complete interview below.)

On the importance of melody: “Melody is the single most important thing to any song, period. I don’t care what anybody says, it trumps everything. Not because that’s my opinion but because I think it’s actually indisputable fact. The human brain retains melody easier than it retains words. It’s that simple.”

I love this quote on the difference between Indie and Commercial artists: “I think the best songs are being written by the very under-stated, under-appreciated indie artists. The thing that separates them from mainstream success is they either consciously or unknowingly refuse to deliver on a big chorus.”

On instrumental hooks: “I think a riff can be complementary but when you go from complimentary to primary, then it becomes the hook to me.”

Don’t miss this. It’s worth your time. Here’s the complete interview by Tom Cole on NPR’s “The Record”: Ryan Tedder Interview: A Fan of Music Talks About the Craft of Songwriting

Make Your Melodies Memorable and Original

Today’s melodies and, in fact, many of the great melodies of past decades rely on a handful of techniques to create that special something that keeps them sounding fresh and easy to remember.

Here’s a checklist that will help you make sure your melody has everything it needs before you launch it into the world.

1. Does your melody convey the structure of your song?

If your song has a VERSE / CHORUS structure, make sure listeners know where they are by creating plenty of contrast in the melody between these two sections. Try jumping to higher note range for the chorus or changing from a choppy melody in the verse to a smooth one in the chorus, or from short melodic phrases to long ones. Contrast between sections grabs attention and keeps your melody from sounding like it’s wandering aimlessly. Listeners like to have a sense of “place” in a song. They want to know where they are.  Continue reading “Make Your Melodies Memorable and Original”

The Eight Note Dilemma

A songwriter recently asked me: Is it copyright infringement if I use eight notes of a hit song melody?

A: When you think about it, there are only 12 notes in an octave. And only a few of those sound good in a melody. So, really, any eight notes are going to be in plenty of songs. The trick is to make sure your eight notes don’t remind listeners of a song that isn’t yours.  If they do, that’s called “substantial similarity.”

Substantial similarity is one of the tests for copyright infringement. If your eight notes are in the same order and have the same melodic rhythm as a hit song then there’s likely to be too much similarity. And that’s not good.

The truth is there’s NO hard and fast rule that determines how many notes of someone else’s melody you can use in a song of your own. It may only take two or three notes if they feature a very recognizable interval jump or rhythm. But here are some ideas that can help you out.  Continue reading “The Eight Note Dilemma”