Use Contrast To Grab Attention

Excerpted from Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting by Robin Frederick. Available at

Imagine you and I are standing in a room full of people. If I start yelling suddenly, I will get everyone's attention. But if I keep on yelling at the same volume level, what will happen? Pretty soon everyone will get bored and stop listening (and probably leave). It's natural to think that being loud is an attention-getter, but if loudness becomes the norm then it ceases to be something in which we are interested.

We are "hardwired" to notice change.

When something changes, we check it out. What's happening? What's different? It's buried deep in our brains, like the 'fight or flight' response. After all, for a few hundred thousand years, noticing a sudden brown patch of lion against the smooth green of the plains could save your life. Things are not so different now: a siren, or a shift in the traffic pattern, is all we need to put us on alert. Once we're satisfied that everything is safe, we no longer need to devote energy to it and we disengage our attention. When I started yelling, everyone noticed the change; when they determined that I wasn't a threat, even though the yelling continued, they disengaged their attention.

So, let's try this. What happens if I yell for 30 seconds, then speak softly for 30 seconds, then yell again? Each of those changes in volume level will attract attention. It's the change itself that creates the effect, the contrast between loud and soft. The greater the amount of contrast-the more difference there is-the more it will grab attention. By using contrast strategically within your song, for instance, between verse and chorus, you can keep listeners involved and interested.

You can create contrast in many ways beside the obvious one of volume.

Try adding contrast by putting your chorus in a higher note range than your verse. You can change the pace of the notes and words: a fast-paced verse (two to three syllables per beat) followed by a chorus in which a single syllable might be held out for two or three beats can help your song sustain interest. You can also play with a variety of phrase lengths; your verse or pre-chorus might feature a series of short phrases while your chorus could stretch out the phrases to three or four bars. Listen to U2's "Vertigo" to hear examples of all three kinds of contrast!

Contrast Articles

The Importance Of Contrast by Jai Josephs
Song Dynamics - Getting Their Attention by John Braheny