February 2017

Myself? I like 'Songs', that is, music that is 'sung'. I like the personality I perceive in the voice. I like the poetry of a 'Lyric'. I like the story it tells. I like the emotion of the 'Melody' to which the words are sung.

Words without the Melody are a poem. With a Melody words become a Lyric. That combination of a Lyric and a Melody is the definition of a 'Song'.

The Lyric and Melody are what you register to secure your copyright. Because it is a federal law, registration is the ONLY way to get a hearing in federal court if someone infringes on your 'right' to 'copy' your intellectual property. Songwriting can be a pleasant hobby to make your life more interesting. But a song can be worth a fortune, so register if you think you've got a good one. ( http://www.copyright.gov )


SONGWRITING: You, the first listener.

As a songwriter YOU are the first listener. Your interest should be 'hooked' and 'sustained' the same way you hope other listeners will be. If you're getting bored with the length of a Movement, the sameness of the Melody, or the blandness of the Lyrical content, so will they. You should sense when it is time for a change to the next Movement. You should be aware of when the Lyric is not moving the story forward or when enough story has been told to go on to the next Movement.

A Song must have enough repetition to give it structure, and enough change to keep it interesting. The combination of repetition and change can keep it interesting.


STRUCTURE: Musical Movements.

The structure of Musical Movements can keep a listener interested. Each Movement has a function in the Song.
I define the Movements as:
1) the Introduction,
2) the Verses,
3) the Chorus,
4) a Bridge if appropriate, and
5) the Coda (final passage),


INTRODUCTORY MOVEMENT: Hook Factor. Hooking and Sustaining.

The Introductory Movement is whatever sounds the Song starts with to 'hook' listeners' attention. The 'hook factor' may be in the percussion, the beat, the tempo, the Rhythm, given by drums or the strum of a guitar, the arpeggio of a banjo, piano or a riff of notes given vocally or by a wind instrument. It may be a 'special effect', wind, rain, breathing.

Study Introductory Movements of Songs you like. What hooks you into staying with your own Song? You should have an expectation that others will be hooked the same way.

How much is enough? How much is too much?

The Introductory Movement might go on a long time, IF it is very interesting. If it is NOT extraordinary it is best to limit the 'intro' to 10 to 14 seconds, just enough to serve the 'function' of introducing the Song. That brevity may qualify it as just a 'Musical Passage' instead of a Movement. Going on too long risks losing listener interest before you get to the Verse, instead of 'hooking' and 'sustaining' interest.


A VERSE :Musically and Lyrically.

Musically, a Verse is a 'Movement' in the composition. You should be able to discern the beginning and the end of the Movement. You may be able to percieve two or more discernible segments in the Movement, sensing that they are complete within themselves. .

The Melody of Verse 1 should repeat in Verse 2 and Verse 3. Repetition supplies structure listeners can relate to.

The Chorus Movement should be Melodically different than the Verse Movement. The Chorus may have a change of Rhythmic dynamics and a change of Rhyme-Scheme too. That change renews interest.

Lyrically, Verse number one is like the opening act of a play. Someone called Songs "Three-minute movies.' Your Lyric should serve that function, getting listeners to 'suspend disbelief', imagining the story as reality, to 'see' the movie.

The Verse does 'exposition', exposing the storyline, the situation the characters are in. The Lyric 'exposes' the 'character' of the Singer-Character as he tells his story, first person. It may introduce other characters, perhaps the Love-Interest Character.

A third-person narrator-singer may not be in the story, but exposes the characters who are. He's the story-teller.

You can study your Verse to see if every word and line bring the story logically along to get to the Chorus. No word or line is just there to occupy space. Each should serve a function.

Writers often 'Grab a Rhyme', putting in lines that don't advance the story much; just Rhyme. A common Grab-a-Rhyme is 'going insane'. Unless the character is actually going insane it is just a Rhyme, and a bad one. If you just tell the story, you can find Rhyme in ideas that are logical and relevant in that story.

Other Grab-a-Rhymes: pain or feelings deep inside.

A 'laundry list' of items that go together aren't very interesting, to me. Writers throw in the dog, rain, trains, momma, tobacco and whiskey, put on a cowboy hat and call it country. It ain't!

It is a judgment call on the part of the songwriter, YOU, the first 'listener', to decide when ENOUGH exposition has been done and it is TIME to get to the point. The 'rule' is, "Don't bore us; get to the Chorus." Is one Verse enough? Do you need two? Are four lines enough? Do you need five, or six, or eight?

Within 47 to 60 seconds in you should be ready to go to the Chorus. Exposition in the Verse, if it goes on too long, can get boring, and lose listeners. You should sense that. The Musical Movement of a Verse, if it goes on too long, without stepping up to that more emotional change of a Chorus Movement, can lose listeners. This emphasizes the logic for a short Introductory Movement.


THE CHORUS: 'THE' Hook.

The Chorus is another Musical Movement in the overall composition. Writers often compose a Chorus with a Melody very similar to the Verse. That monotone of Melody and sameness of dynamics can lose listeners. The fact that it is different from the Verse helps renew interest. A common cause for rejection of a Song submitted to a publisher is, "Lack of contrast between Verse and Chorus."

Melodically, the function of the Chorus is to renew listener interest. Higher pitch helps accomplish that. The vocal delivery sounds more emotional, more urgent. The increased emotional intensity of the Melody may match the emotional meaning of the words

Percussion may help do it. The more percussive effect of short, summary lines of Lyric can help, contrasting with the longer, expositional lines of the Verse. Distinctive instrumental work may help.

Lyrically, the function of a Chorus is to sum up the story of all the Lyric that has come before; to make the point of the story begun in the Verse(s). That summary point is THE hook, the main idea.

It may be a Refrain-type Chorus, a single line ending each Verse, a structure common in folk music, often in blues. That line is THE hook, the one that sums up the point of the Song.

It may be a Stanza-type Chorus, comprised of multiple lines like a Verse. The last line of the Stanza-type Chorus, the one left ringing in listeners' ears as that Musical Movement ends, is a strategic position, ideal for THE hook, the summary, title line.

THE Hook should be repeated in the Song a minimum of three times, driving home that idea as the point. That implies three repeats of the Chorus at least. More 'hits' on THE Hook can be stronger. It may be two hits in the Chorus, for a total of six. It may be repeated in the Coda many times.

THE Hook can come in other places in the Chorus, line 1 or other positions, but, unless it is very strong in meaning in the story or evoking imagination, it may be forgotten by the time the Chorus ends. The last line is the strongest, most strategic position, left ringing in listeners' ears as the Chorus ends.


SECOND VERSE:

Lyrically, the function of a second Verse is to continue exposition of the story. Like the second act of the play, it carries the story forward, explains and exposes more of what the Song is about. In the movie, "About Last Night", the screenwriters employ changing Chicago weather and holidays to show a progression through time. Songs can employ similar techniques. Something in the Lyric can give that sense of forward motion through the story.

Musically, if the Lyrical lines have the same (or nearly the same) number of syllables (notes) as the lines in the first Verse, then the Melody can also match. Repetition of Verse Melody functions to supply structure the listener can relate to. The listener gets the new words of Verse 2 more easily because they're sung to that Melody they are familiar with from Verse 1. They 'learned' it the first time and now enjoy hearing it again.

The second Verse leads to a repeat of the Chorus, and a repeat of THE Hook. The composition might now be comprised of the Musical Movements in the order of Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus. Or it may be Verse, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, again, mindful of the timing. Don't bore us; get to the Chorus. Some Songs start with the Chorus. Just don't go too long, too long for radio, too long for sustaining listeners' interest.

One Verse may be enough exposition and lead directly to the Chorus. Two Verses might work. A third repeat of the Verse Melody, BEFORE getting to the first giving of the Chorus, even with more Lyrical exposition of the story, may be too much repetition. Remember, it must have ENOUGH repetition to give it structure, and enough change to keep it interesting. You, the first listener, must decide how much is enough; AND, how much is TOO much.


A THIRD VERSE? OR A BRIDGE?

Songwriters often despair of writing a third Verse. They can't think of a satisfying way to end the story. They call it the 'Third Verse Curse'. There are good Songs that found that ending. (Bob Dylan's "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat" and The Beatles' "Baby You Can Drive My Car" are two, each with a delightful sense of humor.)

Some Songs resort to a Bridge, a Musical Movement different Melodically from either the Verse or Chorus. Ideally, it is brief, hopefully with pivotal information in the Lyric. The function of this change is to prevent the threat of monotony by a third repeat of the Lyric and Melody of either or both the Verse and the Chorus.

That new Musical Movement functions as a 'bridge' to set up for a final repeat of the Chorus and THE hook to end. The diversion to the new, as yet unheard Melody of the Bridge functions to renew listener interest and then cause the listener to welcome the repeat of the familiar Melody of the final giving of the Chorus.


THE CODA:

The Coda is a final Musical Movement. It ends the Song. It may end suddenly. It may be a brief Passage. It may be dramatic. It may be a continuation of the 'jam', going on for as long as is practical. It may fade in volume, leaving listeners trying to sing along even after it stops.


TIME:

The function of music on radio, like a show on television, is to keep you tuned in until they can play the commercial advertisements that pay the bills. If radio is your planned mode of reaching consumers, you want to accommodate the demands of radio by keeping your songs brief, 'radio-friendly'. In the 1950's and 1960's songs were often a little over two minutes. Study those older songs. You'll be amazed at how much they get done in those short minutes and seconds.

In the early 21st century, three minutes and thirty seconds is about maximum. If you've got a great song you can go on for seven minutes or more ("Hotel California", The Eagles; "Stairway To Heaven", Led Zeppelin). Whether you get airplay depends on whether the people who run radio agree that it is indeed a great song.


RHYME:

Nursery Rhymes Rhyme because that makes them easy for children to remember, to 'get' the story. In a Song, the function of Rhyme is to help listeners 'learn' the Lyric and the Melody. Some writers create Lyrics that DON'T Rhyme. Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell" album didn't Rhyme and sold 20 million copies, staying on the sales charts for 20 years!

The Rhyme-Scheme established in the first Verse should be the same pattern later employed in the other Verses. If you Rhyme lines 2 and 4 in Verse one, you should Rhyme lines 2 and 4 in the other Verses. The pattern can change in the Chorus and Bridge, but should be the same in the Verses. Rhyme hits the beat. It helps set the Rhythm of the Song. It emphasizes the main ideas of the story.

Nursery Rhymes are good examples of alternative Rhyme-Schemes. Some use a pattern where they Rhyme two lines and then leave a third line hanging, un-Rhymed. That comprises Verse one. Then they repeat the Rhyme-Scheme, rhyming the first two lines of a second Verse, and picking up the Rhyme for the un-Rhymed third line of Verse one in the third line of Verse two.

"Little Miss Muffett, Sat on her tuffett, Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider, Sat down beside her, And scared Miss Muffett away."

Nursery Rhymes are good examples of 'Internal Rhyme', words Rhyming within the lines; not JUST the last word. Too much becomes a tongue-twister. A little can make your Song more interesting, more Rhythmic, more memorable Finding these alternative patterns can keep Songs from being predictable, maybe monotonous, losing listeners.

Rhyme is a tool you can employ to make your Song memorable, hooking listeners and perhaps convincing them to pay to hear it again. Employ it. Enjoy it.

Your Songs can take great liberties with structure and Lyrical subject matter. The 'rules' are very flexible. You should be listening to discern what actually hooks you and what is just entertaining for you to execute. It is entertaining to sing and emote, to play and write. But whether it is entertaining to others demands your discrimination between what YOU get out of it and what another listener gets. Explore. The possibilities are endless.