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  • Noob

Hi folks,

I don't know if any of you will relate to my problem, or have a solution for it, but let me post it.

I have a hard time completing a song.

I must say I'm not that horrible at making 4 bars that sound really cool, but I'm not capable of turning it into a full verse or a full chorus, let alone a proper song.

So I'm constantly "writing", but I have nothing to show to people, other than tons of 10 second snippets.

Today I thought, there must be a formula.

No, I'm not looking for magic algorithms to shortcut the process of songwriting.

For example, if you want to write a standard news article, you have a formula: to precise when, who, why, what, where, how.

What would be your most basic formula to come up with a coherent song that has a verse, a chorus and a bridge?

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There's formulas, just listen to any songs on the radio these days :) ... question is: do you want to be limited by those? If you do, just write down what they do on a paper, like - 2 bar intro, 8 bar verse x2, 8 bar refrain a fifth up ... and so on. Then apply it on your own stuff.

However, my advice to you would be to just finish what you have without needing to have it "perfect" - then post it here for advice, and then (and here's the epiphany) - change it!. Writing music is often a very reiterative process - especially in the beginning. Writing a song in one go has only happened to me a couple of times - most of the time it's hard work combining themes and figuring out transitions.

Good luck!

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You'll find several useful articles in the songwriting part of the Songstuff library:


Improving your Lyrics Writing and Lyrics Critique For Songwriters should both be helpful in giving you process and a formal approach to help order your thoughts.

Apart from that... learning about standard song forms (structures) will help. Like a story songs have a plot, theme and message. They need a mechanism to help draw you through the plot (motivation) and a clear message. They need to be memorable, so an understanding of hooks is useful.

So you need an idea of what your song is about. What is the clear message you are sending (such as "I hate chips")? How does the song progress? Like a story songs seem to work best when there is an element of mystery to the song.. so for example the title for the chips song could be "kill chips"... now the listener is thinking "Kill chips? what does that mean? Is Chips a person? Do they mean potato snacks? What the hell is this song about?" Great. They have lots of questions and those questions will help draw them through the song.

People like to understand. When we hear a song we want to understand it, understand what is being said. The better songs tend to exploit this fact. So through the song the songwriter carefully unveils meaning, or at least elaborates on it.

I answered a similar post recently with an example.. I'll have a quick dig and see if I can find it.



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Lyric wise, I can tell you I end up with a lot of bits of ideas when I'm not sitting down and focusing on writing. If I'm in the car for example, something comes to mind so I write it down. But in a environment like driving there are so many distractions, or someplace like work, that it's almost impossible to spend the amount of time required to process through 3 coherent verses and a chorus. The environment is helpfull in a way, I find developing a simple hook is easy because there is so much stimulation. I sometimes go through the snippets to see what grabs me, if anything does, I sit down where writing is the goal and nothing else. I stopped writing a whole lyric in one setting long ago, understanding that it takes re-writes to gel the piece into something good. Even then, my interpretation may not be so obvious to others, so posting for critique is always a step, along with working to critique others'.



Edited by McnaughtonPark
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  • Noob

Hey folks,

thanks for your interesting responses.

My problem is sort of like, I can draw eyes, noses, hands, separately but can't draw a full body that looks proportional.

So lately I'm interested in the verse-chorus relationship.

Unfortunately I'm not seeing much progress because I haven't found any rules.

For example, I tried to analyze why someone's chorus sounded like a good chorus although he was using the same chord progression as the verse, but didn't find anything.


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  • Noob

The only advice I can give you there is to try and look at the chorus as a whole... not just as a set of chords. Concentrate more on the big picture. Forinstance.....

- how the primary melody itself relates to the chords? In other words, what notes are actually being sung over thoses chords & what relationship do they have to the underlying chords (5ths, 3rds, etc.)

- did they use a completely different melody for chorus than the verse?

- did they make the chorus melody appear to accend...maybe through the use of addtional harmonies added on top of the primary melody for the chorus?

- even though they used the same chord progression, did they employ different voicings of those chords in the chorus than in the other sections?

- look at anything else that was brought into the arrangement for the chorus (additional instrumentation, filler licks, a reoccuring motif, etc), how it all relates to those primary chords......chances are the reason you like it is more about how all the little choices end up contributing to one another, than it is about just the chords used.

Hopefully this helps out a little. The reason I asked earlier about your overall musical knowledge, was that most of the things I just listed for you wouldn't make much sense to someone who doesn't understand what a 3rd, motif, melody or voicing is. Hopefully I haven't assumed more than I should. Happy New Year!

Thanks for your reply.

Sorry, I forgot to answer your question: I can understand the basic notions, so your explanation made complete sense to me. Thanks. :thumb23:

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  • 1 month later...

There's no "magic formula." Those "10 second riffs" are exactly what you start with.

You write them down. You capture them. Then, look for ways to start stringing them together. (It may sound trite, but as they say, that's what jazz musicians are doing all the time.) If you put six of those ten-second riffs of yours together, in any order that sounds halfway decent, you've got yourself a one-minute song.

(If they don't sound halfway decent, then you still have a one-minute song ... it just needs more improvement.)

And so it will happen that, as you play those six riffs together, you might shuffle them around and discover that one arrangement sounds distinctly better. Or you might find yourself dreaming up something that "fills-in a little gap" between two of the riffs you've already got. Or you might just remove one of the riffs altogether.

Presto. Now, you're composing.

Even though you may have imagined each one of those riffs as the part of "some greater whole that you just can't manage to complete," maybe those seemingly haphazard riffs are actually (or can be made to become) part of something different. I sometimes think that the subconscious has great fun at the expense of the conscious, by doling out different pieces at different times and speculating whether the conscious will ever stumble upon how they all fit together. :)

If the song reaches the point where you really feel comfortable saying that it's become "A Real Boy," then sure, you can now get more rigorous, developing and refining and polishing the thing. But if you've got "riffs" now, then that (IMHO) is your source-material.

Edited by MikeRobinson
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