Make Your Songs Better with These Songwriting Tips


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Do you write songs? If occasionally they seem “ho-hum" to you, take a look at these suggestions for writing good melodies and chords:


i) A good melody has to be memorable. It's no good if your audience can't remember it. So make sure your melody has repeating elements. If you can get a repeating rhythmic idea working for you along with a repeating melodic idea (like in “Born in the U. S. A"), you've got something that will snag your audience for good.

ii) Is your song in the right key? You'd be surprised what moving it up or down even by one note will do. Don't fall in love with the key of your song unless you're sure it's going to work for you. Moving a song up will generally build tension, and moving it down will allow it to relax. Put it where you need it.

iii) When should you add vocal harmonies to a melody? Chorus melodies should feature more harmonies than verses. When lyrics are personal observations or a recounting of events (like in verses), these will work better unharmonized. If the lyrics are “conclusive" like the kind often found in choruses, they accept harmonies more readily.

iv) Let your chorus melody feature the “key note" more than the verse. If the song is in A major, let that note A occur more often in the chorus, especially at the end of structurally important spots, like the end of the 8th bar or 16th bar. Let that key note be more of a focus. For verses, try letting the third (C#) or the fifth (E) be more of a focus.



Sometimes, just getting chord progressions that sound interesting can be a problem. Want some chord progressions to try out? Here are some samples. Each progression has a little harmonic “twist" which you may find interesting. Try two beats for each chord, but also try experimenting a little. There's no copyright on chord progressions, so feel free to use them in your songs if you wish:

i) A A/C# D D/F# F G C E (Note: A note after a slash means that it should be the lowest sounding note in the chord. So A/C# means play an A major chord, but have a C# note as the lowest sounding note. )

ii) D Gdim F#m B7 E9 A7 D

iii) Cm7 Fm7 Cm7 F Eb Ab Fm Gsus4 G (Note: Play each chord for two beats, and one beat each for the final two chords. )

These are just some ideas that will hopefully get your creative juices flowing. Beyond these tips, the best advice is to write every day. As author Ernest Newman has said, “The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working. "

Gary Ewer is a Canadian composer, arranger, clinician and music teacher. He has written for a variety of professional ensembles. His music has been performed by various groups, including Symphony Nova Scotia, the Elmer Isler Singers, Rhapsody Quintet, the Cape Breton Chorale, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and others. Presently Mr. Ewer is a full-time instructor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, teaching aural perception, music theory, choral techniques and orchestration, as well as conducting the Dalhousie Chorale and the Dalhousie Chamber Choir. He is the author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting" and “Gary Ewer's Easy Music Theory. "


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