April 1, 2023; No foolin'!
Myself? I like 'Songs', that is, music that is 'sung'. I like the personality I perceive in the voice. Maybe it's the singer, or just the Singer-Character in their story. 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 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 Copyright Law 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 (IP).
Songwriting can be a pleasant hobby to make your life more interesting.
But a Song can be worth a fortune. Register if you think you've got a good one.
( http://www.copyright.gov )
Then start studying how to take it to market as an entrepreneur. It's a transition from avocational hobbyist to commercial endeavor, a company, engaging in commerce with other companies. Your signature on a piece of paper can secure you, or leave you hanging. Know the difference.
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 may be enjoying the emotion, the emoting of singing, your sense of the story in the Lyric, more than a listener would. So it demands some deliberate attention to make those judgment calls.
You should sense how much 'duration' or Repetition is 'Enough', and when it is 'Time' for a 'Change' to the next Movement.
How long should the Introductory Movement take to accomplish that 'function' of Introducing the Song?
You should be aware of when the Lyric is 'Not Enough' in moving the story forward or when 'Enough' story has been told to justify going on to the next Movement.
The perception of 'Enough' is the Songwriter's judgment call. Listeners will make their own 'Enough' judgment too. You, the first listener, can be sure their judgment is a good one, in your favor.
A Song must have 'Enough' Repetition to supply Structure listeners can relate to, and 'Enough' Change to keep it interesting. Your combination of Repetition and Change can keep listeners 'Hooked'.
How much is 'Not Enough'? How much is 'Too Much'? Your call, YOU, the first listener.
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 Introductory Movement,
2) the Verse I Movement*,
3) the Chorus Movement,
4) Verse II,
5) Chorus Repeat,
6) a Bridge Movement, if the Song needs one, or
7) Verse III, if you can think of one, and
8) the Coda (Final Musical Movement),
* Some Songs start with the Chorus instead of Verse I.
INTRODUCTORY MOVEMENT: Hook Factor. Hooking and Sustaining Interest.
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. Whatever it is, how much is 'Enough'? How much 'Not Enough'? How much 'Too Much'?
Study Introductory Movements of Songs you like. What Hooks you into staying with their Song? How about your own Song? You should have an expectation that others will be Hooked the same way, or get bored, the same way. What you enjoy may last longer than what they enjoy. Your focus may be on the execution of playing the instrument, or hitting your cues, distracted from Judgment Calls.
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 7 to 14 seconds, just 'Enough' to serve the 'function' of Introducing the Song. Going on too long risks losing listener interest before you get to the next Movement, instead of 'Hooking' and 'sustaining' interest.
What you can do in live play is different than recording for radio. Radio likes short Songs, leaving more time to play the commercial ads that pay the bills. Live, people came to listen, and will, within reason.
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 Verse Movement. You may be able to perceive two or more segments in the Movement, sensing that they are complete within themselves, component parts that go together to make the whole Verse.
Sometimes the later part of the Verse is discernible as a 'Pre-Chorus', as it ''lifts' Melodically toward the more urgent emotion of the upcoming Chorus.
The Melody of Verse I should Repeat in Verse II and Verse III. It can be Melodically identical, or nearly identical.
The listener should recognize it is a Repeat of the Melody heard in Verse I.
Repetition supplies Structure listeners can relate to.
The Chorus Movement should be Melodically different than the Verse Movement. Change renews interest.
The Chorus may have a Change of Rhythmic dynamics and a Change of Rhyme-Scheme too. The 'emotion' of exposition, simply telling the details of the Storyline situation, and getting to the point, summing up the Singer-Character's 'complaint' or main expression of how they feel has Hook Factor.
Lyrically, Verse I 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. After 'seeing' a little bit of it they should be Hooked, want to see more, the rest of the Story.
The Verse does 'exposition', exposing the storyline, the situation the Characters are in. It may put 'props' on the stage, setting the scene with imagery. The Lyric 'exposes' the 'character' of the Singer-Character as he/she tells his/her story, First Person. It may introduce other Characters, perhaps the Love-Interest Character, the Other-Woman/Other-Man Character. Any of these may be a Conflict-Character, who complicates things, making for an interesting story.
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; 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.
I promise! Or your money back!
Other Grab-a-Rhymes: 'pain' or 'feelings deep inside'. As opposed to feelings outside? Another common one, 'realize'. Also, 'what can I say?' Exactly. Say something.
Clutter: Often I see words like 'and', 'but', 'because/'cause' as cluttering up a Line, on the page, and in the mouth of the singer. They can often be eliminated and the Line reads the same. Long Lines break into two short ones, which may be more effective in Hook Factor. They are 'connector' words writers employ to connect ideas, Line to Line. But listeners 'get' the connection without the word. You can give your singer time to breathe by eliminating these common words.
A generic '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!
Time: 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/tool' is,
"Don't bore us! Get to the Chorus!", said with exclamation points because it is of strategic importance!
Is one Verse Enough? Do you need two?
Are four Lines Enough? Do you need five, or six, or eight? Would three work?
Within 47 to 60 seconds your Song should be ready to go to the Chorus. Exposition in the Verse, if it goes on too long, Too Much, can get boring, and lose listeners. You, the first listener, should sense that. You, the Songwriter, have to make that Judgment Call. The Musical Movement of a Verse, if it goes on too long, without stepping up to that more urgently emotional Change of a Chorus Movement, can lose listeners.
This Time factor emphasizes the logic for a short Introductory Movement.
THE CHORUS: 'THE' Hook.
The Chorus is another Musical Movement, a component 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 Melodically different from the Verse renews interest. A common cause for rejection of Songs submitted to Publishers 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. The Lyric can be obviously summing up what the exposition of the Verse has set up for. Listeners 'get' it.
The more percussive effect of short, summary Lines of Lyric in a Chorus can contrast with the longer, expositional Lines of the Verse.
Distinctive instrumental work may help. Guitar riffs, percussive dynamics, keyboard, other instruments. You decide.
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.
Refrain-Type Chorus: It may be a Refrain-Type Chorus, a single Line ending each Verse, a Structure common in folk music, often in blues. That Lyrical Line and its Melodic Refrain is THE hook, the one that sums up the point of the Song.
Stanza-Type Chorus: 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: 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, and not crowded in with many other Lines, 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.
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. More 'hits' on THE Hook can be stronger. It may be two hits in each giving of the Chorus, for a total of six if you sing the Chorus three times. It may be Repeated in the Coda several times. Repetition Hooks interest.
SECOND VERSE: Verse II
Lyrically, the function of Verse II is to continue Exposition of the story. Like the second act of the play, the Verse II Lyric 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. Screenwriters have Sixty Major Moments, each lasting 1 to 3 minutes, to show their two-hour movie. A Songwriter has three minutes to show their three-minute movie. A novel has 50,000 words. A Song may have less than 100.
Musically, if the Lyrical Lines in Verse II have the same (or nearly the same) number of syllables (Notes) as the Lines in Verse I, 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 II more easily because they're sung to that Melody they are familiar with from Verse I. They 'learned' it the first time and now enjoy hearing it again.
Verse II 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 Introductory Movement, 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', or how much is 'Not Enough'.
A THIRD VERSE? OR A BRIDGE?
Songwriters often despair of writing a Third Verse. They can't think of a satisfying way to end their...or the Singer-Character's...Story, a denoument'.
They call it the 'Third Verse Curse'.
Often the flaw is in the Lyric. It isn't a story, just a Rhyme, that generic laundry list of imagined relevant items, 'props', 'properties' they 'put on the stage' to set the scene.
Songs are written without a Singer-Character, the actor, to do the action.
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 losing listeners in 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, its Melody, its Lyrical information, 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, instead of being bored by the Repeat.
An Instrumental Bridge, as opposed to a Lyrical Bridge, may serve the function.
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 continuing to sing after your Song stops. Hooked! That's a good thing! Hook Factor. Did you get in their head? Is it an 'earworm' they keep hearing? It might be a hit!
The function of music on radio, like a show on television, is to keep you tuned in, Hooked, until they can play the commercial advertisements that pay the bills. If radio is your planned mode of reaching consumers, a good one, 'broadcast' to them in their millions of cars, 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 Leadership Decision-Makers who run radio agree with your Judgment Call that it is indeed a great Song.
Nursery Rhymes Rhyme because that makes them easy for children, with a limited vocabulary, to remember, to 'get' the story. A child has no idea what 'bells on bobtails ring' means, but they can sing Jingle Bells.
In a Song, the function of Rhyme is to help listeners 'learn' the Lyric, the story, 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 Verse I should be the same pattern employed in the other Verses. If you Rhyme Lines 2 and 4 in Verse I, you should Rhyme Lines 2 and 4 in the other Verses. If you Rhymed Lines 1 and 3 and 2 and 4, you have set yourself a challenge to Repeat that pattern in Verse II.
The pattern can Change in the Chorus and/or 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. Consistency of Rhyme-Scheme sustains listener interest.
Singers often 'drop' the execution of the Rhyme-Word at the end of Lines, dropping their voice volume, and pitch, perhaps to 'resolve' the Melody as per Music Theory.
That Rhyme-Word is of strategic importance to make the whole Line comprehensible, to make the whole Verse or Chorus comprehensible, the whole Song, the Storyline. If you lose them there you may not get them back.
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 I.
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 I in the third line of Verse II.
"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. 'Enough' can make your Song more interesting, more Rhythmic, more memorable. How much is 'Enough'? Too much is a tongue-twister, and may not be interesting to the listener. Finding these alternative patterns can keep Songs from being predictable, maybe monotonous, losing listeners. Same old four-Line, Rhyme 2 and 4 pattern as every other Song.
Rhyme is a tool you can employ to make your Song memorable, Hooking listeners and perhaps convincing them to pay to hear it again. Enjoy it. Employ it.
Your Songs can take great liberties with Structure and Lyrical subject matter. The 'rules' are very flexible.
"Rules are tools." Andy Rasmussen, Songwriting Tips, on JustPlainFolks website.
You should be listening to discern what actually Hooks YOU, the first listener, and what is just entertaining for you to execute. It is entertaining to sing and emote, to play and write. Whether it is entertaining to others demands your discrimination, your Judgment Call between what YOU, the first listener, get out of it and what another listener gets.
Despite thousands of years of Songwriting, the possibilities, Lyrically, Melodically, have not been exhausted. There will always be another Song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? Explore. The possibilities are endless.
Gary E. Andrews, The First Listener.