Published on August 4th, 2012 | by Tom3
5 Steps to Better Songwriting – 2. Developing Ideas
The first post in this series looked at the process of sketching rough song ideas.
This time we’ll think about developing ideas from your sketchbook
How do you turn those sketches into finished pieces?
If you’re lucky, all you’ll need to do is stitch together different ideas from your sketchbook to create whole songs. A lyric from here, a melody from there, chords to fit it all together and you’re done.
It’s rarely that easy.
Often your sketchbook ideas aren’t fully formed. You might have only lyrics with no melody, or two bars of melody that needs to become 4. So you’ll need the skills to develop and explore your sketchbook ideas.
To do that you need to understand musical structure – on both the micro and macro scale.
By Macro – I mean the whole song.
Will your song follow the tried and tested pop song structure(s)? Will you combine those structures to make a compound, or write something through-composed?
Common song structures include:
- The classic 32 bar AABA structure – an 8 bar melody, played twice, followed by a contrasting middle 8, then a return to the first 8. very common in the first half of the twentieth century – have a listen to all those jazz standards for example. You could expand this with an extended vocal intro (make sure to end the intro on the V chord) and a round it off with a coda.
- The standard pop song – verse chorus verse chorus Bridge Chorus – this developed from the AABA structure. Keep your verses more rhythmic and lower pitched, the chorus melodic and higher pitched, the bridge contrasting and higher still
Extra sections you could slot into these include:
- The pre-chorus – this most usually goes between the verse and chorus, it’s there to give us a rise in dynamics (in fact it is sometimes called a ‘rise’) and provide a bit of harmonic instability before the chorus. – Very common to move between chords IV and V, ending on the V before the chorus starts with a strong, stable I chord.
- The second chorus – second choruses seem to be quite common in current top 40 pop – very often built on an ‘Ooh’ syllable rather than lyrics and using a repetitive, singalong hook rather than a lyrical chorus.
Talked about less often, but vital when turning your sketches into fully formed ideas – by micro structures I mean structure at the scale of the riff, chord progression and melody.
You might have a great one bar hook – the smallest of snippets. How do you turn it into a melody?
First you need to know what makes a good melody, and again there are different common structures.
The basic unit you might hear in melody is the question and answer phrase. The first half ends unresolved – a question and is then answered by a resolved phrase.
Resolved and unresolved? – That simply means that the first half doesn’t finish on the tonic ‘home’ note, like the C in C major and the second half does.
String together a few questions and answers and you’ll have a melody that works. Throw in a high note as a climax somewhere in the second half and you’ll have a more effective melody. Find an interesting, syncopated rhythm that works with the words and you’re there.
There are lots of ways to structure melodies, and of course much of your melody might be dictated by the words. Remember to have a good mixture of questions and answers, and that the chorus tends to have higher and longer notes than the verse and you can’t go far wrong.
For the comments:
So developing your ideas is often about fitting them into a structure that makes sense. What other tactics are there for developing your sketches into fully formed ideas?
- Songwriting Form – Stealing ideas from Michael Jackson
- 5 Steps to Better Songwriting – 1. Sketching
- A Brand New Old Song and Why You Should Never Throw Away Songwriting Ideas
- Stealing Ideas from Madness – House of Fun
- Stealing Ideas From Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark