Ten Tips for Songwriting Success

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6. Think about the rhythm and tempo of your song separately from the rest of the song.

Different elements of a song affect the listener in different ways. The rhythm and tempo of your song affect the physical body in a very direct way, much more than other elements like melody or lyrics. For that reason, it’s helpful to think about the rhythm and tempo of your song separately from the rest of the song.

Listen to the rhythm by itself. Does it make you want to move to it? Does it “feel” good? Try making it faster or slower. Try changing the style of the rhythm a little. Try making it more complex, or more simple. When the rhythm and tempo work well by themselves, attach the rest of the song to them.

In short, don’t let the rhythm and tempo be determined by accident, or by how fast you think the lyrics should be said. If the rhythm and tempo work by themselves, they’ll add that good feeling element to the rest of the song.

7. Don’t write a melody that only uses two or three notes.

When people communicate using their voices, the range of pitch that’s used tells us how much emotion is behind the words. For instance, when someone’s speaking voice stays almost entirely on the same pitch, we usually interpret it to mean that the person doesn’t care much about what’s being said. If a person’s voice ranges wildly up and down in pitch, we usually hear it as highly emotional. We assume that what’s being said is extremely important to the person, and that there’s a lot of emotion behind the words.

Melodic movement conveys emotion exactly the same way. A melody that covers an extremely small range will usually convey a very minimal amount of emotion. (Of course, it’s possible to compensate for this somewhat with other elements of the song.) A melody that covers a greater range of pitch expresses more emotion. Since most people listen to songs at least partly because they stimulate emotion, writing a melody that stays on two or three notes is a surefire way to minimize the impact of your song.

(Important note: Don’t get too carried away increasing the range of your melody! There’s a limit to the range most people can sing. Consider the Star Spangled Banner. Many people have a hard time hitting the high notes, and that song covers an octave and a half. If you want most people to be able to sing your song, don’t let your melody cover too much more than an octave.)

8. Avoid cliches in your lyrics.

It’s not that cliches are some terrible, monstrous beasts. They simply don’t mean much to people because they’ve been overused, which is why they’re called cliches. When people hear a cliche, “it goes in one ear and out the other” (to use a cliche!)

Basically, a cliche doesn’t have any impact. It’s not going to turn most people off (lord knows, lots of songs on the radio are full of cliches). And cliches make some people comfortable because they don’t have to think about what they mean. But cliches will fill your song up with air, instead of real content that would grab listeners and make them excited about your song.

The other problem with cliches was mentioned in Tip #2: The presence of cliches in your lyrics tells the listener that you’re not writing from first hand experience – or, at the very least, that you’re not giving any thought to your experience. So they make your song less believable, more boring, and they waste space in the song that could be filled with more genuine, powerful material.