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Song Writing Techniques
Song Writing Techniques
Song Writing Techniques Skill level: advanced Introduction It is possible to develop, improve or perfect your song writing techniques. A good technique can be adapted and modified to meet requirements of different clients, or at least to avoid having too many of your songs sounding similar. Many song writers have a personal style, and may even be famous for it, but here are some thoughts; 1. Clear musical emphasis Each song has an ‘element’ that stands out. For example, if intending to write a dance song, it must be perfectly clear that the dance is Waltz and not Salsa. The lyrics and the music must not work against each other, they must emphasise the same mood or message. This may seem obvious, but it is a very common trap. Performers need to know what they must do when playing your songs; whether to follow music perfectly or not, emphasise notes or keep plain, to exaggerate style or keep subtle. Do not leave these to performance directions like piano, forte, rubato... All these can be seen from your song writing technique. If not using music notation, then your demo must be immaculate, and express the musical form as intended. 2. Keeping it ‘simple’ Song writing is not always about being clever, complicated, academic or professional. If people can easily learn a song, love to sing it or even talk about it then what you are doing is probably working. Unless you are required to write one of the most sophisticated and technically demanding songs, keep things simple. There is always the temptation to impress other musicians, or behave like some musical Professor is coming to evaluate your songs. Some of the most successful songs of all time are very simple, not because they are rubbish, but they have a special appeal to listeners and music lovers. Of course a song writer must show some genius, but not at the expense of simplicity. 3. Flexibility of technique It is possible to write songs in a way they showcase your own performance skills or playing technique. No matter how good your playing skills are, do not hold all your songs ransom to the way you play. A great song remains great irrespective of who plays it, or how it is played. In your song writing make the elements that make your song to stand out very flexible, such that the song can be ‘simplified’ for less skilled players. The secret is to show the main chord progressions, and indicate where neighbouring and passing notes are so that they can be left out when necessary. If you have harmonised a neighbour note, please make it clear as well. 4. Working with melody Melody gives a song its shape or form. It is often argued that if someone cannot get the tune of a song into their head, then they cannot hear the melody. It goes without saying that a songwriter must write a melody that is memorable, both because it can be heard, and that it is very special. Use melody to evoke emotions; sadness, joy, pleasure, victory, or anger...Study and practise how to use melody well. If a song is dull and lifeless, start by looking at the melody. It does not matter if you are writing for a specific musical instrument, a voice or full blown production. It is the unique use of melody that makes many songwriters be considered original. 5. Working with harmony Harmony gives a song its depth, and can simply make a song awesome. It is often mentioned that harmony is more felt than heard. If you already have melody worked out, you can build harmony around it. When you get more experienced it does not matter whether you start with harmony and work melody from it, both methods work just fine. Beautiful harmony keeps the song moving forward; do not think of harmony in terms of chord progressions but anticipation. Once a performer picks your harmony, they know what to play next and how to play it. Great harmony directs the song; it becomes natural to play skilfully, make smooth transitions or modulation, and to know how to end the song in a brilliant way. 6. Working with rhythm Rhythm holds the song together, everyone performing knows when to play; Use good technique when writing a song such that it becomes very easy for an instrumentalist or singer to get the right feel for any changes in time signature, tempo and note timing. Do not think of rhythm in terms of beats, but how a performer can see what changes in the melody or harmony the song requires. When sight reading music most early learners concentrate on ‘seeing’ the notes on staff, but with time begin to see the actual rhythm, they know when to play what. When your rhythm is good, hardly anyone will rush or drag your song. There are songs with impossible rhythm, but ensure to creative, allowing as many instrumentalists as possible to be confident when playing the song, and flow with it. 7. Working with vocals One of the most difficult things to understand is that singers do not want to hear music, they want to use or be invited by it. It is like a clean bathroom, as much as it can be admired, hardly anyone will feel put off. Always think of how a singer will respond to accompaniment, anything that distracts the singer or reduces their confidence can be a problem. Write songs that can invite vocalists to go for it and sing to the best of their ability. Treat the voice like a musical instrument that needs to be challenged and be inspired by both the music and the lyrics you write. It is one thing to write boring songs, and completely another to write songs that a singer wants nothing to do with; singing them is a chore, they cannot relax or be free. Work with vocalists if you must, and there is a lot to learn. 8. Song arranging skills Arranging is bringing different parts of a song to work together; it is an element of genre or musical style. As an example you can distinguish songs from two different Composers who belong to the same genre by the way they arrange songs. This is not ‘studio’ arranging, but how a composer uses intro, prelude, interlude, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge or other sections of a song. What to avoid is overdoing things, like all your songs starting with a sixteen (16) bar chorus and ending with a woodwind solo. Do not limit your song structure or form too much, and one sure way to do this is write songs for different musical instruments. Arranging a song around a transposing instrument like a saxophone, a vocal and piano will completely require a different arranging technique if writing a song for guitar, woodwind and percussion.
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