So are there only seven possible errors? In my experience as a teacher, the seven
errors listed below represent the most common errors committed by students of
songwriting. Addressing these shortcomings is essential to making your songs
The advice in this article comes from The Essential Secrets of Songwriting, a
popular website and downloadable e-book.
ERROR #1: THE FORM OF THE SONG IS CONFUSING.
SOLUTION: Strengthen the form of your songs by carefully controlling the energy.
Usually, an intro should have the same or more energy than a verse, not less. A
chorus should have more energy than a verse. A bridge should have more energy
than the chorus that came before it. This chart shows the general energy pattern
that works for most songs:
ERROR #2: THE MELODY LACKS SHAPE.
SOLUTION: In a verse, the range of the melody should generally be higher
immediately after the middle point, to help it gain momentum as it gets ready to
connect to the chorus. The old standard, “Under the Boardwalk,” by Resnick and
Young, is a perfect example.
ERROR #3: CHORDS SEEM TO WANDER AIMLESSLY
SOLUTION: The chord that represents the key your song is in (i.e., the “tonic” chord)
should be featured more in the chorus than in the verse. (And the actual tonic note
should also be used more in a chorus than in a verse.)
ERROR #4: STRONG AND FRAGILE CHORD PROGRESSIONS ARE USED HAPHAZARLY.
SOLUTION: Chord progressions that feature chords four notes away from each other
(i.e., in the key of C major we’re talking about G7 to C, C to F, Dm to G, as
examples) form a strong progression, and should be featured in a chorus. Other
chord progressions (let’s say Dm to Em, F to Dm, G to Am, for example) form what
are called “fragile” progressions, and can be featured more in a verse.
ERROR #5: LYRICS ARE NOT SUPPORTING THE FORM OF THE SONG.
The kind of lyric
determines the kind of chord progression you use. Strong, conclusive lyrics need
many strong progressions; introspective lyrics work well with fragile progressions.
And remember, writing a good lyric does not necessarily mean writing a good poem.
Rather, it’s better to write a working title for your song, then start brainstorming
words and short phrases that relate to that title.
For example, if you’ve written, “All I’ve Ever Wanted” as your working title, you might
come up with these words as relating text: love, hand-in-hand, touch, satisfaction,
emotion, my heart, for you, warm… etc. You will find that even though many of
these words won’t necessarily make it to your song, they get you thinking in the
right direction, and start you formulating a working lyric.
ERROR #6: YOU’RE RELYING ON A HOOK TO SAVE A BAD SONG.
Adding a hook to a
bad song gives you a bad song with a hook! Composing a song and then trying to
find a hook that makes it really come alive is a really difficult thing to do. Try
writing the hook first. Improvise on a couple of chords, or a few notes, or a rhythm
– something short and attractive. Once you’ve got something that really catches
your attention, try using it as an intro to your song, and something that keeps
recurring between verses and choruses. A hook needs to draw an audience in, and
keep them coming back to your song.
ERROR #7: WAITING FOR INSPIRATION.
I can say it no better than the musician/author Ernest Newman: “The great
composer… does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired
because he is working.” Waiting for inspiration is, quite frankly, a waste of time!
You need to be writing daily in order to make your songs better. If something isn’t
working…. don’t throw it out. Just put it away, and start something new. Keep
everything you try to write in a scrap book. You’d be surprised what will eventually
make its way into a song.
These are just a few examples of the kinds of things that will make your songs work
better. If you want even more advice, you need to visit “The Essential Secrets of
Songwriting. And start making your songs into winners!