Songwriting 101: Lovedrug

Today I’ll be going over a song I wrote a couple years ago titled Lovedrug. This particular piece is a great example of how simplicity in songwriting can be effective. It uses the popular I, IV, V, vi chords which I previously discussed here. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading that article first in order to get a better understanding of chord relationships and why these chords work so well together. Let’s jump right in!

Lovedrug is in D# Major and is divided into two main sections using the following chords:

Verse: D# Major (I) – A# Major (V) – C Minor (vi) – G# Major (IV)

Chorus: D# Major (I) – C Minor (vi)

These chords can be very tricky to play on guitar, but there’s something we can do to make it more straightforward. We can place a capo on the 8th fret which allows us to play these chords in the open position. This makes the song easier to play because it allows us to use basic chord shapes. In practice, you could then use the following shapes:

Verse: G Major – D Major – E Minor – C Major

Chorus: G Major – E Minor

For those that are unfamiliar, these shapes look like this:

chordprogression2

 

 

 

Something to note is that we can easily transcribe songs to a different key while still using these same chord shapes by simply moving the capo up or down the neck. The reason I chose to use the key of D# Major (8th fret capo) for this particular song was because it was the best fit for my vocals. It’s often a good practice to experiment with your songs in different keys. While inexperienced singers may be limited with the keys they can use, it can provide a great deal of flexibility and even new ideas for how singers can perform the melody.  For Lovedrug I also experimented with using G Major and A# Major throughout the songwriting process.

Next let’s look at the song structure. I would categorize this song as ABABCBBC. Looking at each letter: A represents the verse, B represents the chorus, and C represents the bridge. My favorite part of Lovedrug was the chorus because the melody was particularly catchy, and therefore I wanted to emphasize this part of the song. To do this, I simply made it the most prominent part by repeating it four times in total. The only difference between the bridge and the verse is that the bridge uses a guitar riff instead of the verse melody.

Finally let’s take a look at the lyrics and melody:

I love to watch you squirm
Every time you lie
Feel the way it hurts

You get me high then you bring me down
Don’t know why I ever stick around
Hate to say, hate to say it now
Just a drug, just a drug, just a drug to me

Why did the fire die?
I want to watch it burn
Every single time

You get me high then you bring me down
Don’t know why I ever stick around
Hate to say, hate to say it now
Just a drug, just a drug, just a drug to me

The song is about an addiction to an unhealthy relationship. It highlights how we irrationally glorify the honeymoon phase with a partner and use it to justify lies and bad behavior. The lyrics are simple and easy to understand, but often times that’s exactly what a song needs to demonstrate its message clearly. I think I can accomplished that with this song.

For the melody I started with the simple idea of walking up a scale for the word “high” and walking down the same scale for the word “down.” After trying several variations I finally came up with the one I liked most. From there, I made several iterations of it and eventually picked one that ended up being the verse melody. Melody writing is often just coming up with 20 different ways to sing a single word- and then ultimately picking your favorite and expanding it.

Well that about wraps up Lovedrug. If you take anything away from this lesson I hope it’s that simplicity can do wonders with the right touch. It’s something you should always consider during the songwriting process because you may regretfully add too much. Thanks for reading.

Songwriting 101: Curiosity

Greetings! It’s been a busy month starting up a new band and beginning to wrap up school, but I’m back with a third installment of my songwriting 101 series! This time I’ll be going over another Electronica song I finished a couple weeks back titled “Curiosity.” Let’s get right into it!

Curiosity is a medium to fast tempo song rocking at 140 BPM. For this song I wanted to incorporate a variety of different elements: ambient pads, natural sounding piano, pizzicato synth, organic percussion loops and soft vocals. The collaboration of these elements resulted in a mellow electropop song which was something I’ve been interested in writing for a while.

To begin, I started by creating an ambient pad progression which can be heard from the beginning of the song and played throughout in entirety. The ambient pitches I use are (B, E, F#, G#) which I retrieved from the major scale of B using the infamous I, IV, V, and VI chords. These chords (The Power of 4 Chords) lay the foundation for the song and create an uplifting and emotive feeling.

Next, I incorporated a simple piano lick to go over the ambient progression for both the verse and chorus parts. The piano is ultimately what gives the song the mid to fast range tempo and further provides a strong backbone for the melodic parts yet to be added. With the backbone completed, I went on to create the song structure.

When first listening to this song one might guess I’m using the song structure ABABCB, but it’s actually a bit more complex than that. I would classify this song as ABAABBCBBD. The reason for this is because both the verse and chorus are double in length after (0:54). The greatest advantage of this song structure is that it gives a glimpse of the entire song early on (AB) and then it expands in more detail as it goes on (AABB). Finally there’s (C) which is just the ambient pad and vocals, the chorus once again, and (D) the outro of the song. You can hear the outro of the song with the change of percussion at (3:12) and the zoning out of multiple instruments.

With the song structure in place, I could focus on defining the main parts of the song: the verse (A) and chorus (B). For the beginning two verses, I wanted to define them by three things: the ambient progression, the piano lick and the vocal melody. The final verse includes these three traits as well, but adds percussion into the mix which you can hear at (1:22).

To define the chorus, in addition to the three elements and percussion, I added a second percussion element and two sampled melodic synth parts. Check out SamplePhonics for some great sample packs to add some flavor into your music. In addition, in order to focus purely on the instrumentation and let it shine, I removed all vocals from the chorus.

As per my usual songwriting habits, I finished with writing the lyrics:

Let’s lose our normality
And get a taste of insanity
Why do I flee from this feeling?
That world is calling

Everyone’s the same
Can’t seem to escape from their old ways
Free will’s to blame
But we weren’t born to regret anything

Forever and ever we live our lives on fire
Facetious desire we hold our dreams up high
One more step until I’m free
One last breath to breathe

Funny how the truth works out
When you open your mind and see
You can’t believe the simple things
If you have a bit of curiosity

This was an incredibly personal song to write. It’s a song about failure, passion, love and understanding. It’s a song about evolving as a person and reflecting on that growth. My goal as always, however, is to leave the interpretation up to the listener. To be perfectly honest, this has been one of my favorite songs to write lyrically in a while. I think my words reveal exactly what I wanted to say. That wraps up this songwriting 101 for the day. Until next time!

Songwriting 101: Goodbye

I thought it would be fun to start a new series called Songwriting 101. This series will consist of looking at and breaking a song down to see some of the fundamental ideas that make it whole. Today I’ll be doing a new acoustic song I recently wrote titled “Goodbye.”

 

For this song I used one of the most common song forms known as ABABCB. Each letter represents a different part in the song. “A” represents verse, “B” represents Chorus and “C” represents bridge. This standard song form is great because it’s simple yet effective. The verse and chorus create a strong foundation and the bridge adds just enough variation to keep the song interesting. It’s an extremely popular style used in both pop and rock music.

During the verse I use a swinging transition between 2 chords: G major and C major. To lighten the mood of the song, I palm mute the guitar and add a complete stop in the middle of each verse. This enables the vocals to stand out and places the primary focus on the melody and lyrics. If you need help writing melodies, check out my 3 Tips For Writing Strong Melodies.

For the chorus, I stop the palm mute and go into a more upbeat rhythm. I also add in two more chords in addition to the ones from the verse for a total of 4 (G Major, C Major, E Minor and D Major). Finally I give the chorus a bit of color by using a complex chord progression. The progression goes like this ( G – E – C – D – G – D – C). The chorus melody was created by taking part of the verse melody and adding its own variation. Just as an example, I hold out notes on the words “hate” and “goodbye” to differentiate them a bit.

Finally, for the bridge I wanted to keep a similar feel to the chorus so I stuck with an upbeat rhythm and the same chords. The major difference here is the change in rhythm and variation on the progression. In addition, I included some color tones in order to make the bridge stand out a bit more. The progression used here is ( G – D – C – G – E – C – G – D – C – E – D – C – D). The color tones are added in the last 4 chords of the progression.

Finally- the lyrics:

Every day, I know what you’re thinking
“I’m a saint, living life still believing
In a fate,” well I think I found a reason to try and change.
Rest assured, something I’ll never be cause
Lines blur, you love to hate the demon
Little words, can best describe the feeling “I’m free at last.”

But I’ll remember every single time
And I will never hate that life
But now it’s over, I’m looking for my voice
Just to say goodbye

It’s kind of hard, speaking the same old language
From the start, “10 candles light the way when
We fall apart,” Just wash the pride away and find a heart
You are, the enemy of reason
Cross scarred, can’t seem to breathe when thinking
In the dark, hands on the tree of treason to trust in fate

But I’ll remember every single time
And I will never hate that life
But now it’s over, I’m looking for my voice
Just to say goodbye

Effective songwriting allows the interpretation to be left up to the listener. Personally, I believe it’s important to find a balance between being vague and descriptive. Striking the right balance between the two will allow the general idea to be understood, but leave the listener curious and interested in digging deeper to understand the details of the song.

This is the first of many Songwriting 101 articles I plan on doing. For now I’m simply going to cover my own songs, but it’s very possible I may go over a few popular songs in the future. Remember: Dissecting songs is one of the best ways to improve your skills as a songwriter.

3 Tips For Writing Stronger Melodies

Writing a strong melody is arguably the most important aspect in creating a popular song. It also happens to be one of the most difficult. Often times this is one of the key reasons that prevents a good band or musician from reaching the limelight and their full potential.

One of the best ways to improve your own melodies is by looking at and identifying the melodic characteristics of some of the most popular songs over the last century. By dissecting these songs we can begin to understand why those melodies are so damn good and catchy.

After performing surgery on dozens of songs over the years I’ve come across a few consistencies between many of them. Here are 3 tips for writing stronger melodies:

1) Use Wide Interval Leaps

One of the most classic examples of using wide interval leaps is found in the song Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Notice the interval between the first two notes of the word “somewhere.” This interval is actually a perfect octave. This makes the melody stand out right away because it’s unexpected to the listener. Using wide interval leaps tastefully can help compliment the smaller leaps and turn an average melody into an outstanding one. This is a great technique to make the chorus shine, but don’t be afraid to experiment with it in other parts of your songs.

2) Develop a Rhythmic Theme

Paul McCartney is the master of developing rhythmic themes. One of my favorite examples of this is The Beatles song Eleanor Rigby.  Listen to the theme of the main phrase of the tune (“Eleanor Rigby picks up the..”). You’ll notice it’s broken up into an unusual length of 5 measures that uses a pattern of “1 + 3 + 1.” This strange combination gives the songs melody a very unique and stylistic feel. You can incorporate this technique into your own song by breaking up your melody into simple pieces and experimenting with various combinations in different orders.

3) Implement Color Tones

Color tones are pitches added to major or minor triads to extend the shades of either the major or minor tonality. In a C triad for example, a color tone might be Cmaj7 or Cmaj9. By adding color tones to your melody,  it provides richness to the song. One of the most popular examples of this is Radiohead’s High and Dry. You can hear the color tone note when the singer sings the word “high” during the chorus. The note isn’t within the chord that is being played, but it doesn’t sound like the note is wrong either. By adding color tones to your melodies, you can add a lot of texture which makes the song come to life.

Hopefully these tips were of some use to you. Cheers and happy writing!