5 Songwriting Tools That Change Everything

Handout

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Notes

Repetition, or melodic motif – 06:40

  • Sense of meter.
  • Sense of repetitive rhythm.
  • Sense of repeating pitches.
Repetition helps make songs memorable. Think of modern day pop songs. Most, if not all, have a decent repetition present within them!
speak so let’s start from the top we all
06:42
know that repetition is important if we
06:47
want people to be able to sing our song
06:51
we can’t just have a melody in terms of
06:55
repetition and melody that has no sense
06:59
of mirror no sense of repetitive rhythms
07:02
and no sense of repeating pitches
07:05
there’s no pattern there’s nothing to
07:07
remember so there’s also nothing to
07:09
identify this song by so what I’m going
07:12
to assert in these five tools is that
07:15
there are tendencies that can inform us
07:18
as to what level of commercial viability
07:23
you already go for or that you
07:25
appreciate and how you you might want to
07:28
use that information to craft your own
07:30
song my four-year-old and Ally I believe
07:35
that I fill our house with good music
07:38
police this is my this is my alternate
07:42
reality but he goes around singing I
07:46
just wanna shake shake shake shake and
07:52
it’s like now I appreciate the
08:00
repetition of commercially viable music
08:03
and I strive to involve repetition in my
08:06
own music I’ve nothing against Taylor
08:09
Swift nothing against the songs that use
08:11
repetition to that extent and I think a
08:14
broader idea though is to say how am I
08:17
going to use that idea of repetition as
08:19
a template for what I love you know not
08:23
as this is what I have to do or should
08:25
do but how can I use that information to
08:28
boldly go forth into the music I want to
08:30
create and I think I listed some song
08:33
examples on the handout that you can
08:35
look to to recall what we’ve talked
08:37
about in this session I would encourage
08:39
you to grab songs from the music you
08:43
love and look for each of these
08:46
characteristics so commercially viable
08:49
music in other words
08:50
memorable songs in and of themselves the
08:53
songs that are truly memorable have a
08:56
melodic motif motif is that small you
09:00
know common denominator that just
09:02
repeats the repeats repeats repeats
09:03
throughout the song and it’s a rhythmic
09:06
and a series of pitch those two elements
09:10
that create the melody if you can
09:11
identify what that is in your own song
09:13
then you have an issue with memorability
09:16
if I can’t sing your melody then you
09:20
know maybe we have an issue at least in
09:22
understanding what is the melody trying
09:24
to assert was it trying to be so one
09:29
thing that I’d noticed you know I was
09:32
examining this this common complaint I
09:35
guess in our commercial music these days
09:37
it’s so competitive and I was thinking
09:40
well let me take some of the iconic
09:42
songs that that I know and love and see
09:45
about that how does the repetition hold
09:47
up and it is that what kind of creates
09:50
this disdain for this top 40 stuff Anna
09:54
so I okay stand by me I love that song
09:57
you know yeah I mean who did who doesn’t
10:00
like that song really is I’ve never
10:02
heard anyone say god I hate that song
10:04
stand by
10:05
so on the end and lean on me you know
10:10
apparently we have to write a hit song
10:12
with me the end of the title three words
10:14
Beatles get back like that Tom Petty’s
10:19
free-falling I was here that one you
10:21
know it and countless more but that
10:24
melodic motif is so identifiable so the
10:28
first thing you might look for in your
10:30
songs do you have a melodic motif is it
10:34
repeated several times in the first
10:37
section of the song and each section
10:40
will have its own melodic motif many
10:44
times what songwriters will do it I’ve
10:46
I’ve done this as well is you’ll write a
10:49
very long melody and then you’ll vary it
10:53
a little bit the next line and then by
10:55
the third line you’re onto a new melody
10:57
and it’s like less repetition it now
11:00
again that’s not the tendency of easily
11:04
memorable songs the tendency is a short
11:08
melody you know like hello you know what
11:11
song I’m singing right all I said was
11:14
one word and two notes but these other
11:16
songs you know some times in our life
11:21
you know how simple is that don’t
11:24
they’re straight melody goes up then it
11:27
goes down you know and the word is just
11:29
some time like how often have you
11:33
written a melody where it’s that short
11:35
where it’s just one word isolated and I
11:38
think the key to walk away with here is
11:40
rest space do you give your listener
11:44
rest space try writing a melody like
11:48
that just for the sake of it and you
11:50
know you’ll educate yourself to on huh
11:52
that’s funny I do that longer thing
11:55
that’s okay too but then own it that’s
11:59
what I do I do the longer phrase thing
12:00
and that’s what part of what makes me me
12:04
but then get real you know how easily is
12:09
it going to be for us to remember it may
12:11
be for you you’ve got a life you’re an
12:16
artist you’re not trying to get other
12:18
people to sing you’re
12:19
songs and be able to sing them you
12:21
actually sing very well and you
12:23
captivate your audience because of many
12:26
strengths that you have so I’m not
12:28
saying that your melodies have to be
12:30
short they have to repeat and they have
12:31
to follow that’s that simple structure
12:33
not at all but it’s something to look at
12:36
to try to establish what do you do
12:39
that’s truly your own and then and then
12:42
examine how that holds up so the next
12:44
thing that’s number one melodic motif

Contrast – 12:46

Contrast between:

  • The chorus and the lyrics?
  • Between the notes and their length?
  • Between the beats?
  • Does the pitch vary?
  • The position of the aforementioned?
  • What of the shape?
next thing is contrast when you have a
12:50
clearly defined melodic motif that you
12:54
are repeating what that means is it’s
12:57
easier to write the chorus section that
13:01
contrasts with that have you ever had
13:04
that trouble you get to the chorus and
13:06
you you have the sense that you want it
13:09
to be something and there’s something
13:10
great that it can be but you tried a
13:14
number of different things and it just
13:16
doesn’t seem to be complementing the
13:18
verse doing something different enough
13:19
you might look to that did I clearly
13:23
distinguish a melody in the verse so
13:25
that I can do something different in the
13:28
next section again if you look at highly
13:30
commercial music there’s huge contrast
13:34
between the sections which comes from a
13:38
clearly distinguished motif to begin
13:41
with so we’ll often find that we can
13:44
create contrast through three different
13:48
ways so melody harmony lyrics certainly
13:51
rhythm is part of this but I put down
13:54
five melody there’s five basic melodic
13:56
ways to create contrast the phrase
13:59
length so the length of your melodic
14:02
motif you sing all the way through that
14:05
first line and it’s two measures long or
14:07
is it one measure long or is it two
14:09
beats out of a four beat measure so
14:12
we’ll often hear commercial music go
14:14
from a to measure long phrases in the
14:16
verse to a little pre-chorus where it
14:18
has dun dun dun dun short lots of rest
14:24
space very short phrases so that then
14:27
you can go back and create contrast
14:29
again in the chorus with long allotted
14:31
for
14:32
again again that’s the tendency of
14:34
highly commercial music note lengths big
14:37
one standing on a bridge I’m waiting in
14:42
the dark short short notes right and
14:45
then in the chorus then the long notes
14:52
right so again highly commercial music
14:56
has huge contrast that’s a very very
14:59
easy one to to deal with and just
15:01
recognize okay you know one day a
15:03
activity that you could give yourself as
15:05
a songwriter is to some and I try to
15:07
write extreme contrast the greater the
15:10
contrast the the sometimes the more
15:14
memorable defections will be the more
15:16
refreshed we will feel so you could
15:19
salmon or write a short note verse down
15:21
here in pitch and a long note chorus up
15:24
here in pitch and you just use two very
15:27
typical and effective contrasting
15:31
elements to do that pitch I just talked
15:34
about again a highly commercial way of
15:36
doing things would be lower pitch in the
15:39
verse you know higher pitch in the
15:41
chorus tendency certainly not something
15:47
that you have to adhere to position this
15:51
is a really big one and it’s so so
15:54
subtle get back
15:56
so is Jojo was a man who thought it was
16:00
a loner so where did I start that Jojo
16:03
found the downbeat right highly
16:08
commercial songs change where the
16:10
melodic phrase begins at the beginning
16:13
of each song section notice how the
16:15
chorus is two three get back get back so
16:21
you will find this over and over and
16:23
over again in highly commercial music
16:26
there will be a change in where the
16:28
phrase starts now if you layer these
16:31
techniques if you not only start your
16:33
melodic motif in a different beat of the
16:36
measure and we generate that you can
16:38
even if you don’t speak theory you know
16:41
which is fine for a songwriter
16:43
generalize it say well I’m feeling this
16:45
varies on that it’s like starts when I
16:48
start playing and I’m feeling this other
16:50
one is like I sing and then I play
16:52
before the measures starts or seems like
16:56
I always play and then I sing which is
16:59
another tendency you might notice that
17:01
with you we tend to go back to your
17:04
typical ways of writing and so you play
17:08
and then you sing and if you notice
17:10
every section is like this man it’s hard
17:13
to work against that and writes which
17:16
you with what you feel is a very catchy
17:19
hooky or commanding our attention once
17:23
again chorus because you’re making
17:26
choices without thinking that are slowly
17:30
shutting doors of opportunity so when
17:33
you can keep those ideas in mind then
17:36
you have more control over that idea of
17:40
contrast and then the last thing I said
17:44
was shaped and if we look at the shape
17:50
of songs here as far as the melody goes
17:53
will often be able to generalize those
17:56
two in lean on me
17:59
we Nami sometimes in our lives we all
18:03
have been you know we all have sorrow
18:05
it’s do did it it did it it do does it
18:09
or not so if you take out some staff
18:11
paper or just whatever way you want to
18:13
do this now pout your melody I like to
18:16
do it in terms of making lines the
18:17
shorter the line the shorter the note
18:19
and then it just shows the shape really
18:22
doesn’t matter what exact pitches you’re
18:24
singing I think far as a melody goes map
18:27
out the shapes when you get to
18:30
contrasting section if you notice you’ve
18:33
got lean on me when you’re not strong
18:36
you know if it’s all the same then we
18:39
have a problem
18:40
I think there’s a reason it’s lean on me
18:42
when you’re not strong it’s a different
18:46
shape it’s an octave up too which helps
18:49
create contrast through pitch okay more

Harmony – 18:52

  • Are the chords simple?
  • Are there too many chords?
  • Are there not enough chords?
on contrast harmony certainly we don’t
18:55
want to dwell on melody the entire time
18:58
per tick
18:59
if you tend to have a talent in harmony
19:02
and groove and that’s where you solve
19:03
your problems as far as songs go many
19:07
times I find that as songwriters were
19:09
constantly like what chord can I go to
19:11
do all of that I don’t know enough
19:13
chords give me chords chords and if I
19:16
think about you know some of my favorite
19:18
songs it’s it’s not as if they’re just
19:21
loaded with the more complex the chords
19:24
the more I like the song
19:25
no so its simplicity right
19:29
repetition once again just like melodic
19:31
motif you have to establish what it is
19:33
before you can contrast with what it is
19:36
and so beware of things like using too
19:41
many different chords in a single
19:42
section you know there’s beauty and
19:45
simplicity songwriters who know more
19:48
chords than I know an artist Stevie
19:51
Wonder John Mayer I mean they’re
19:53
commercial and memorable and what I
19:56
believe they’re beautiful songs often
19:58
rely on very simple chord structures
20:00
maybe until we get to a bridge where you
20:03
can break it out and really take it
20:04
somewhere else but again you have to
20:06
establish what it is so what does that
20:09
mean talking not just abstractly but
20:13
maybe that means that you look at your
20:16
own songs and you realize again you’re
20:17
involving a lot of different chords in a
20:20
single section so if you think about
20:22
that well how do I contrast with that
20:24
I’ve already kind of provided this
20:26
movement in the verse it’s hard it’s
20:29
hard to contrast what if you challenge
20:31
yourself to write a one chord groove in
20:34
the verse and that’s all you could do or
20:36
there’d be a lot of places to go for
20:38
your next section right what if it was a
20:40
two chord groove another thing though to
20:43
think about is how frequently do you
20:47
change chords and often as songwriters
20:50
again if we’re holding our guitar in our
20:53
hand or playing piano or something we’re
20:56
we’re relying on what comes naturally so
21:00
those are our tendencies and if our
21:01
tendency is to change chords every
21:03
measure you know you can imagine you’re
21:05
probably playing about the same tempo as
21:07
you pick
21:08
you that’s going to close off doors of
21:11
opportunity again it’s going to prompt
21:13
you to sing at the same rate you know
21:16
and then all of your songs begin to have
21:18
those same elements so look at how you
21:20
might be able to access the idea of
21:26
chord frequency how about changing
21:29
chords two times per measure and see
21:31
what that does to create a new groove
21:33
for yourself
21:34
finding chord frequency is interesting
21:36
also a contrast then if you change
21:38
chords twice a measure in your verse I
21:41
mean man if you do that for the whole
21:43
song that’s going to be a one
21:44
frantic chord heavy tune maybe then in
21:48
the pre-chorus you change once per
21:51
measure and then you go back in the
21:54
chorus to your initial feel look for how
21:58
you’re using contrast and again hold
22:00
that up two songs you love and how they
22:03
use chords and honestly if you know if
22:06
transcribing a song in terms of what
22:09
chords are they using is that very idea
22:11
prevents you for remember sitting down
22:12
and doing it don’t worry about what
22:14
chords are being played map out how
22:16
frequently the chords change get
22:18
yourself some staff favor and make a
22:20
little mark every beginning of the
22:23
measure where chord changes and then you
22:26
begin to see that structure how that’s
22:29
playing out contrast as far as lyric
22:31
there’s wonderful tools to designing the
22:36
content of our lyric and making sure
22:38
that we get contrast in that way too so
22:42
the chorus delivers the main message so
22:45
we often have more big thought feeling
22:48
telling summarizing language there which
22:51
contrasts with verses where we tend to
22:53
say here’s the detail here’s what really
22:55
happened here’s here’s a small moment
22:58
that proves that that big thought that
23:01
I’m saying is true and real so there’s
23:04
contrast in the way that we deal with

23:05

lyrics the third idea repetition okay
23:11
again when and how much have you ever
23:14
taken a song that you really loved by
23:16
another artist
23:17
and mapped out how often the title
23:22
phrase or where the title phrase occurs
23:24
or if there’s repetition within the
23:28
language for example yeah how do you
23:33
complete phrases you know it is line one
23:36
complete the phrase with line two and
23:38
that’s a full sentence noticing things
23:41
like that consistencies in the language
23:44
always starting with the verb and
23:46
finishing the thought can be a wonderful
23:49
way to make your lyric easier to take in
23:52
we should always read your lyric out
23:53
loud and make sure that it’s
23:55
understandable I’m not saying that it
23:56
should read like a story you know not
23:59
certainly not all there it does that but
24:02
if we’re asking our listener to sort of
24:05
be a detective and finish it off and add
24:07
the pronouns and add the prepositions
24:09
and conjunctions it’s very very hard to
24:12
do that while we’re experiencing that
24:15
all the information musically that’s
24:17
coming at us don’t ask your listener to
24:19
fill in the blanks say what you mean

Groove – 24:21

  • Do you start with different tempos when making a different song?
  • Does your tempo have something to do with the title of the song?
harmony and groove number four I talked
24:26
about tempo and how sitting down with
24:28
your instrument you might predispose
24:31
yourself to sort of starting with those
24:34
same temples which results in the same
24:36
groove same frequency with which you’re
24:40
changing chords and those those
24:42
unconscious decisions are resulting in a
24:46
style that’s wonderful that’s you but if
24:50
that’s all you’re doing as an artist
24:53
that gets frustrating one thing that we
24:55
want exercise we have in a course called
24:57
writing from the title is we choose a
25:01
title and then throughout the week
25:03
songwriters will set that title at
25:05
different tempos and at first you know
25:09
that sounds ok as I’m sure you know I
25:11
don’t know if that’s particularly
25:13
interesting or not but by the end of the
25:15
week man
25:16
some huge realizations come out some of
25:19
them are certainly that wow I just
25:22
assumed the title needed to be at a
25:25
particular tempo and the song developed
25:27
from there but we will try it at slower
25:30
tempos
25:31
absolute bastard tempos we start to
25:34
think about ways things that that title
25:37
can mean that we never thought before so
25:41
that can be a really cool technique but
25:43
that’s one thing that I mean by tempo
25:46
instrumental groove you always choose
25:49
the same groove I recently went in and
25:52
got real about my own lack of vocabulary
25:58
when it came to guitar and so I went on
26:02
a mad search to try to find what can I
26:05
do about that I think just facing those
26:07
issues is overwhelming there’s so much
26:09
to do as a songwriter that it’s um it’s
26:12
hard to know what to what to farm out
26:14
and what to do yourself but I think as a
26:16
writer that was a major area where I was
26:19
not inspired had to figure out what to
26:21
do chord frequency we talked about that
26:23
and there’s some song examples there

26:25 – Lyric

  • Do your songs have a tendency to have the same lyrics?
  • Do often have trouble coming up with lyrics?
lyric when it comes to lyrics many times
26:29
sensory lyric writing happy having the
26:32
ability to write with a sensory element
26:37
so taste touch sight sound smell and
26:39
movement is some serious power as a
26:41
writer many times we will say well I’m
26:44
not trying to write country music you
26:46
know because we often use that kind of
26:48
language in country it’s all over the
26:49
place though pop hip hop huge in hip hop
26:52
is it’s it’s presented a little
26:55
differently but it’s all there and when
26:57
you have the capacity to write with
27:00
highly sensory language you know then
27:04
when you’re going to say something more
27:06
generalized or stop feeling it’s
27:08
actually good language and it really
27:10
belongs there
27:11
[Music]
27:21
and
27:24
[Music]
27:28
you

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