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.

=> Balance within each song element – We all love to write those beautiful, poetic lines but they can sometimes be hard for listeners to understand. Sp. 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 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”

Faster & Better: Pick Up Your Songwriting Speed

We all want to be more creative, have more songs in the catalog, and feel satisfied that we’re getting things accomplished. It’s just that reality doesn’t always work out that way. More often than not…

  • We don’t have any good ideas for new songs.
  • We’re not sure what kinds of songs we should be writing and for what market.
  • We get stuck working on one song that’s in trouble.
  • We’re scared our songs aren’t good enough so we don’t finish them.

We all know that good quality has to be maintained, but I bet you could write more songs and keep the quality at the level you want or even improve it. Here are a whole bunch of ideas for writing FASTER and BETTER.

The quickest way to get started.STUDY SUCCESSFUL SONGS
This is the quickest way to solve a lot of the problems I just listed. Spend at least one to two hours per week listening to songs on the music charts, or songs used in Film & TV. Of course, you won’t like everything you hear. You may have to dig a while before you uncover a song you want to learn from. But it’s worth it and it’s an essential part of the job of songwriting.

Too often we think of our songwriting career as ONLY the act of songwriting, but there’s so much more. Laying the groundwork for new songs, learning how others creatively use song craft, getting inspired, feeling like you could beat those songs – all of these are ways you can up your game. Get your ears used to hearing what’s successful out there and your songwriting will improve.

READ THIS: Here’s an article on my website with a list of resources where you can find successful artists and bands in a range of styles to listen to.

Embed current songs to give yourself an instant feel for the style
When you find a song you like, get a copy of the lyrics. (you can find them online or take them down by ear.) Practice singing along with the track until it’s comfortable for you. This may not be as easy as it sounds. Many current singer-songwriter songs have complex melodies and phrasing. Just learn it one section at a time. If the song isn’t in your vocal range, talk-sing along with it until you get a feel for the rhythm of the melody. These days, the rhythm of the notes is as important as note pitches.  Continue reading “Faster & Better: Pick Up Your Songwriting Speed”

Great Song Lyrics: Using Clichés

Have you ever noticed how some people can describe a simple, everyday event and make it sound hilarious or tragic or just plain interesting, while another person can tell the same story and have you snoring with boredom in an instant?

If the language you use to tell a story is vivid and fresh even a familiar experience or idea can come to life, but if you’re talking in overused, predictable phrases – in other words, if you’re using clichés – the most exciting story can become dull. It’s all in the words you choose.

People often speak in clichés.
Time flies!A cliché is a phrase that’s been used so often it has become a universal way of expressing an idea: “Time flies!” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “He’s full of hot air.” “You can count on me.” It’s often the first phrase that comes to mind and you can be pretty sure that everyone knows what you mean.

For example, here’s a description of a workday that’s filled with clichés.

  • I guess I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Nothing seemed to go right. I took the bus to work; it was so crowded people were packed like sardines. I was late getting to the office and the boss was hopping mad. The day seemed to drag on and on. I thought six o’clock would never come!

While this paragraph gives you an idea of what the speaker’s day was like, it doesn’t make you feel the boredom and frustration. Familiar phrases such as “packed like sardines,” “hopping mad” and “seemed to drag on and on” have been used so many times they’ve lost their emotional impact. Listeners no longer picture the images or notice the comparisons.

Give your clichés new life. 
1. Use a fresh or unexpected comparison: Comparisons are a great way to add energy to a description. There was a time when “packed like sardines” was vivid, fresh, and funny. Listeners really pictured it when they heard it and it made them react. Eventually, so many people liked it and used it that the idea became stale and listeners stopped reacting. Continue reading “Great Song Lyrics: Using Clichés”

Do Your Songs All Sound the Same?

by Robin Frederick

Q & AQ: I have one big problem and I’m wondering if you can help.  I have written over 160 songs. My words, melody, and my voice all seem to sound the same.  What am I doing wrong?

A: If you have a “signature sound” – your songs all have a recognizable style and sound –  there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. To my ears, many of Jackson Browne’s songs sound very similar in terms of music and vocals, and he’s certainly successful. He relies on powerful lyrics to tell unique stories filled with emotion and character. Vocals and music are secondary, while the lyrics hold the listener’s attention.

So, the real question is, do listeners respond to your songs and your sound the way you want them to? If you feel you’re not reaching them, then it’s a matter of upping your songwriting skills in one or more areas.  Continue reading “Do Your Songs All Sound the Same?”