Ten Tips For Building Better Songs

by Peter & Pat Luboff

If you want your songs to stand the test of time, you have to build them solidly from the ground up. These are ten things you'll need:

  1. The cornerstone: a unique title, a dramatic situation.
    The title is the emotional center of the song. Come up with as suggestive a title as you can, one that conjures up a strong emotional situation. If the title itself isn't very dramatic, plot out the most evocative story and situation you can to bring fresh attention to an old title concept.

  2. The foundation: a well-defined structure.
    The structure gives the song shape and is key to making a song memorable. Know the two main forms of song structure: verse/bridge and verse/chorus and make a clear choice as to which one you are using. That will tell you where the title will be placed in the song.

  3. The building materials: associative words.
    Before writing a lyric line, brainstorm without judgment to come up with associative, provocative words and phrases that all lead to the title concept.

  4. The paint: visuals aid.
    Use imagery, metaphors and similes, to show us, not tell us, what the singer is experiencing. A song is really a mini aural movie. Again, every image and word of lyric suggests the central concept.

  5. Interior design: balance and contrasts.
    When writing lyrics, consider changing phrasing patterns from section to section. This will permit the music writer to create more interesting melodies. Once you have established a pattern, match it each time that section comes around so that strong melodic moments can be repeated.

  6. Architecture: harmonizing emotion.
    You want the melody to match the lyric (prosody). The melody of a song helps interpret the emotional intention of the lyric, so experiment to come up with the most emotional intervals and rhythms to set the words.

  7. Inner spaces: how does it feel?
    The feel of the music has a lot to do with how we respond to a song. Is it aggressive, tender, angry, good time, etc.? Don't just accept the first groove you come up with. Experiment, imitate feels of songs off the radio, 'till you come up with the best one. Too fast or too slow tempo also affects the impact of the song; is it dragging, is it too fast for the words to be sung, enunciated well?

  8. The columns: the chords that bind.
    Use chords that support the message and the emotion of the melody. Stylistically keep chords in the tone of the genre you're writing in (country, r&b, jazz, etc.). Also consider the frequency of chord changes line to line, section to section, as energy or intensity builds.

  9. The floor plan: varying spaces.
    Contrasting phrasing from section to section helps keep musical interest up. Maybe the verse is rapid fire, and the chorus spreads out with fewer words to let the singer wail heroically away. Think about this also when you're writing melody without existing lyric.

  10. Design details: little things mean a lot.
    Look for catchy melodic and phrasing "moments" in every section and, when you find them, make sure you repeat them when that same section comes around.

Songwriter/teacher/consultant Pete Luboff with his wife Pat, are co-authors of "101 Songwriting Wrongs and How To Right Them," published by Writer's Digest. (615) 596-3482.


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