Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in make sure you download my free songwriting cheatsheet, which is packed with more tips and tricks that will help you write songs like a pro. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.
Tip number one is to pay attention to stressed syllables. Now whenever we speak there are certain syllables within words that we stress, that we put emphasis on. So a great example would be the word ‘emphasis,’ right? Think about that word – EM-phasis. So there’s an emphasis or a stress on that first syllable, the ‘em’ in ‘emphasis.’ Now whenever we’re writing melodies, we want to try our best to mirror the natural stresses and emphasis of the words that we’re using within the melody itself.
So a great example of what not to do is there’s a song out there called “Unconditionally” by Katy Perry, and the chorus of the song – the melody – goes “un-con-di-TIO-nal-ly.’ So think about the word ‘unconditionally.’ Un-con-DIT-ionally, right? There’s an emphasis on that ‘dih’ in unconditionally. But the melody they’ve chosen for this chorus – uncondi-TION-ally, there’s emphasis on the “shun” in ‘unconditionally’. So they’ve basically created a melody that doesn’t necessarily mirror the natural stressed syllables in the word that they’re using.
So what would be a better melody? Well if we know that the ‘dih’ in unconditionally is that kind of peak, that emphasis or that stressed syllable, then maybe we want to come up with a melody where the peak of that melody is right on that syllable. So uncon-di-tionally for example might be something you could do. There are a million different answers, but the idea is that when you’re creating melodies you really want to pay close attention to these natural stresses within the words that you’re using. And if you can create a melody where the natural peaks and valleys of that melody correspond with the natural peaks and dips in the stresses of the words, that’s when the melody and the lyrics really feel like they gel together. And they feel cohesive, and we really feel like the melody is easily sung.
Tip number two is to reserve the highest notes for the chorus. Now I like to think of songs like rollercoaster rides. And if you’ve ever been on a great rollercoaster you know that it’s not just a straight drop all the way through, right? So we have this moment of suspense that’s happening as we climb up that first big hill. And then there’s that moment at the top where we’re just sitting there waiting for that drop to happen. And then the drop comes and we have this big release, right? Songs are the same way. And a lot of people make the mistake of starting too big at the beginning of the song.
So if your melody is right at the top of the vocalist’s range in the verse, then you really don’t give yourself any room to grow in the chorus. And the chorus needs to feel like it’s this step up. So by remaining reserved in your verses, by having the vocalist sing a little bit lower in their range – maybe leaving some of those top notes for the chorus – then when the chorus hits you can really have that moment kind of kick into gear where the singer jumps up into the peak of their range and we’re hearing more impact, and it just feels like the chorus arrives. So reserve the highest notes in a melody for the chorus of the song, or that moment of peak impact, and that way your song is going to feel much more like a rollercoaster ride. And when the chorus comes we’re really going to feel like we’ve arrived.
Tip number three is to create contrast between song sections. Now the idea behind contrast is that we don’t want each section of your song to feel the same. We want to feel like as we’re moving through your song different things are happening. There’s contrast going on between the different sections of your song. And there are lots of different ways that you can create this contrast.
One very simple way would be to vary the harmonic rhythm between sections. So the harmonic rhythm is actually the rate at which the chords change in your song. So for example in the verse maybe you have a chord structure where you’re playing a C for two bars, and then you go to an F for two bars, and then you go to a G for two bars. So the harmonic rhythm is changing every two bars. And then in the chorus you could double that. So maybe you have a G for a bar, and then a C for a bar, and then an A minor, so you’re moving every bar instead of every two bars, and so you’ve doubled the harmonic rhythm. That’s one way to create contrast between sections.
Another way that you could create contrast between sections is actually having the melody of your song start in a different place in the bar. So for example, maybe in the verse you start the melody on the downbeat right at the beginning of the bar line. And then in the chorus you have a melody that kind of jumps in, maybe on the second beat. So you’ve created this contrast between sections where different things are happening in each section. The melody’s starting in one place in the verse and another place in the chorus.
And another way that you can create contrast is actually starting different sections on different chords – one of the simplest things you can do. So if you’re starting the verse on the C chord, start the chorus on an A minor, something different so there’s not the same chord bringing us into each section in each section of your song, right? So by creating contrast between sections, you’re going to add interest to your songs and really pull the listener through your arrangement, which is what great songwriting is all about.
The fourth tip is to get to the first chorus fast. Now the chorus is the most important part of your song. It’s the part that everyone’s going to be singing in the shower and in their cars. So you want to make sure to get to that part of the song as quickly as possible. Now most people make the mistake of waiting too long to get to that first chorus. I hear a lot of songs from my students where the intros are so long they might spend twenty or thirty seconds setting up the song before that first verse even comes in, and then they have a whole nother verse and we all have to wait as listeners a minute and a half before we get to that first chorus.
So in practice it’s best to keep your intro short. Keep that first verse if you have one before the chorus as short as possible so that we get into that first chorus fast, we hear the hook as early on as possible, and that’s really going to propel us much more effectively through your song.
And tip number five is to make the first line matter. Now the first few words out of a singer’s mouth are the most important in the whole song other than maybe the chorus, so it makes sense to make those count, right? Ideally they should pull us in, they should be compelling. They should make us feel invested as listeners in what we’re about to hear.
So a couple great examples of good first lines of songs, the first is from “The A Team,” by Ed Sheeran. “White lips, pale face, breathing in snowflakes.“ Very vivid, compelling imagery, right? Really makes us curious about what this song is about.
Another great example, this is “Hotel California” by The Eagles. “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair.” Again, very vivid description, right? It really shows us what’s going on in this scene and pulls us into the narrative.
Another great example, this is “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele. “There’s a fire starting in my heart.” How compelling, right? It really pulls us in. The energy and the intensity of that first line is pretty profound.
So really the message here is that you should choose those first few words wisely. Pay attention to them, make sure they’re not throw-aways, and use them as tools to draw your listeners in. Make them curious about what your song’s about.
Now if you’re ready to dive deeper, make sure you also download my free songwriting cheatsheet, which includes some additional tips and tricks that will help you write songs like a pro. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.
And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – what’s your favorite song of all time? I’d love to hear your reply, so leave your answer in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more music-making tips like these right here on my YouTube channel or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.