Nowadays, musicians fall into the trap of ‘I need to make my music stand out’ and equally, fall prey to the worst way to make it stand out - The Composition Elements. Now, where there are a lot of places to cover, and a lot of places that songwriters can play with their songs to make them stand out; but time and time again, they pick the hardest ones, only to see the release of the song fall flat in the eye of the public. Which is why we’ve decided to try and help composers overcome this hurdle with a little outside of the box thinking that doesn’t stray so far away from the typical thing a listener loves but has enough diversity to make it stand out!
Rhythm, and Repetition
These three key factors play a vital part in making sure your sections of the song not only sit correctly in the composition but are also the defining parts of the track creating the patterns and make the listener want to sing along!
A little can go a long way in the means of basic music theory as well regarding this. Knowing how to create a rhythm or polyrhythm (more than one rhythm coexisting in one part of a song) will bring your music to life and really push the recorded vocal from being average to world-class. For example, trap, hip hop, and modern rap utilize 3rd notes, or dotted crotchets/dotted semiquavers to create a rhythm over a beat that is usually 4 to the floor (a kick or snare beat at the start of every bar), or similar in pattern. This makes a groove that is pleasing to the listener and it’s simple to write to as well. Make sure you brush up on your knowledge of basic music theory if you want to push your tracks to the next level!
Lastly, repetition. This is something hardwired into our brains - for example, why do you have to repeat a task in order to learn? Like guitar - you don’t just know how to play, you have to practice. The same principle works in music and composition and this is where basic structure comes into play. Usually, composers like to have a strict format to their songs, but it's good to mix it up between tracks to keep the listener on their toes, so try the below patterns and see how they work for you - A quick note, but try to keep your verses written lyrically different to each other, and keep in mind this as a key for the below structures:
A = Verse, B = Chorus, C = Bridge/Middle 8/etc, D = Outro.
- A B A B C B
- A C B A C B C B
- A B C B A B D
Melody and Harmony
Harmony in simple terms is two or more notes, complementing each other to create an emotive response to the listener. Understanding this in its basic format allows you to change the mood of a song, the feel, the dynamic, pretty much everything!
The key parts with harmony are major and minor - Major being joyful, happy, etc, and minor being the opposite - sad, woeful, aggressive. If you wanted to create a pop song, major chords with a sprinkle of minor are the usual formula, for example, E minor, G Major, D Major, A Major - the overall of the song is mostly positive in sound. A great way to understand why this is, and why certain chords sound good together, and others don't, is the circle of 5ths, which we talked briefly about last week and is incorporated in the video on Harmony - which we’ve linked below for you to learn more about!
Many people struggle with this because of a lack of musical theory, but it can really be very simple. Let me show you a few steps that are a sure-fire way to make ANY track sound incredible - just bear in mind you will need to learn outside of this blog regarding the main point:
- The Circle of 5ths - This is a musical diagram build of the semitones that compliment each other within a chosen scale (see the video above)
- When I record, I’ll usually start with the main melody on the chosen instrument. I follow this up usually a 5th or a 7th above the main harmony depending on what the song needs and how it fits - try playing it on another instrument to figure out the harmony (my go-to is a guitar or a piano!)
- Then for emphasis, I add a 3rd harmony, sat center with the main recording, but an octave below and then dial this into the mix subtly to sit just underneath the main melody - this can really bring out a performance and bring a completely new life to the track even if it’s not obvious in the mix!
Cadences and Arpeggiating
Cadences are essentially an answer to a question. It’s a resolve to the end of a part, which either sounds like is finished or unfinished, or in musical terms, Perfect and imperfect cadence. Usually, upon listing to a song, you find the end of of the section sounds whole, finished, and resolved - however, in some places within a song, or the last chord in some cases, composers use imperfect cadence to lead into a new part, build suspense, or leave this listener wanting for more of the song. It’s difficult to explain without actually hearing, so below we’ve linked to a video that explains the movement of a scale, and how one-note and move a cadence from being perfect to imperfect very easily.
Lastly, arpeggios. This is a writing technique as old as music itself, but understanding how to use it can be less well known. An arpeggio is simply a chord where the notes are played individually, one after another, rather than at the same time. However, when you have one instrument play a chord, and another arpeggiated it, it can bring new life into a track - like a guitar on the right strumming, and the guitar on the left arpeggiating the chords in the reverse pattern (also known as an opposing melody). Vocals, being a monophonic instrument, are great to arpeggiate, as its bass, and lead parts such as violins and guitars, or synths and piano while a second bass chord is played. Next time you write a song, add some arpeggiated chords in the higher ends of the scale to add a glisten to your song, and don't be afraid to play with the notes in the scale you use - by that I mean the notes don’t need to be played in consecutive order up the scale, you can start low, going high and come back down again.
There is so much we could write on regarding these topics, like Turns, Trills, and much more in terms of musical theory and playing techniques - as well as how to stand out from the crowd! But for now, these key ingredients will give you much more to think about when trying to bring more life to your songs, we’re sure of it!