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Reviewing Aspects of Song Writing

One can begin a song in any order (i.e.: starting with Lyrics, Melody, Harmony, or Rhythm).


Relation To Rhythm: Understand its Poetic Meter (the number of Syllables in a line and the Stresses within these words). This can be connected to the number of Beats per Measure and which Beats are Accented.

Relation To Melody: A singer's voice is a Melody (i.e.: the Vowels within each Syllable are Notes within that Melody). Multiple singers at the same time can be thought of as a Harmony. Use Counterpoint to keep multiple Melodies distinct from one another.

[Comment: "Syllabic" = one Note per Syllable; "Melismatic" = multiple Notes per Syllable, a sliding into other Notes on the same Syllable]

Relation To Harmony: The quality of the Chords within the Chord Progression can be used to highlight certain feelings within the meaning of the words that make up the Lyrics.


1. Pick a Key Signature

2. Use that Scale to make Motives (while paying attention to the Meter* and the Contour of the Melody - Steps or Leaps?) [*see Rhythm]

[Comment: A Melody also has "Phrasing" - i.e.: there should be both sound and silence, places to breathe. Do not make it a continuous wall of sound, but also use Rests.]

3. Vary Motives by moving Notes around, removing them, repeating them, and adding or exhcanging them with others in the Scale. [Use techniques like Inverting the Intervals between Notes, Inversion (switching whether a string of Notes is Ascending or Descending), Retrograde (reversing the order of Notes, making the sequence backwards), or Retrograde-Inversion (switch and reverse at the same time).]

4. Use Non-Diatonic Tones when desired (while paying attention to Tone Tendencies - e.g.: the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Tones of the Scale are usually the Notes that end Phrases, points on which to pause)

[Comment: According to "Musical Interval Theory", a "strong" Melody is usually one that falls within the range of the "untrained female voice" - i.e.: from C4 to C5. If we need more Notes, then we can extend it three "Chromatics" in each direction - i.e.: the range becomes A3 to E♭5. If we need to finesse get a Scale to fit within this range, we can begin on the 5th Scale Degree instead of the 1st.]


1. Make a Chord Progression from a Scale* [*see Melody]

2. Use Chord Substitutions, Borrowed Chords whenever desired (while paying attention to Chord Functions); insert extra Passing Chords

3. Aim to create a balance between producing tension with Dissonant Intervals and resolving them with Consonant Intervals throughout the duration of the piece* [*see Form]

[Comment: We are literally guiding the listener somewhere, not only lyrically, but also musically. Different uses of Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony can produce different feelings.]


1. Pick a Time Signature and a Metronome Mark or BPM range

2. Pick Accented Beats

3. Use Syncopation ("crossing the Barline", holding a Note across the end of a Measure) when desired; use Crossrhythms / Polyrhythms (two Beat patterns superimposed on one another)

Harmony + Rhythm

Determine Harmonic Rhythm (i.e.: the speed at which Chord Changes happen in a Chord Progression - more Chords per Measure or less?). It also includes whether a Chord falls on a Beat ("Ictus") or between Beats ("Anacrusis").

[Comment: Ictus often creates a sense of forward movement.]

Harmony + Melody

• Find Voicings which allow Chords to work with the Melody. Usually the top most Note of the Chord is in the Melody. Pay close attention to whether the Notes in the Melody are Non-Chord Tones (i.e.: are not within the Chord that is played underneath them). If necessary, use Non-Chord Tones (e.g.: Neighbors, Escapes, Passing Tones, etc.) to get the Melody to mesh with the Harmony better.

• Develop Motives into Periods or Sentences with a Chord Progression.


• Continuously knit together smaller structures (e.g.: Motives and Phrases, Periods and Sentences, etc.) into larger ones (e.g.: Themes, Sections, and so on, or if we are considering Lyrics then Verse, Chorus, Bridge, etc.).

• Repeat to produce familarity, vary to give contrast. Explore new concepts and revisit old concepts as necessary.

[Comment: Follow "The Rule of Three" when in doubt - i.e.: repeat twice, then vary once "AABA Form"]

Other Considerations

Orchestration: instrument choices based on range (i.e.: "Register"), unique sound quality (i.e.: "Timber"), and purpose (e.g.: is it playing Accompaniment, Lead, or something else)

[Comment: Usually "Closed Harmony" (a Voicing with Notes closer together) is only done with voices in the "Upper Register", and "Open Harmony" (Voicings with Notes spread further apart) is only done with the Bass in the "Lower Register" because the Overtones or Harmonics of lower Notes can interfere with those of higher Notes. In short, Closed Harmonies in Lower Registers often produce a "muddy" sound.]

Texture: are there multiple Melodies, or are we using Accompaniment instead?

• Misc. Associations:
Contour - Large Leaps have a tendency to create energy, excitement, etc. For example, music intended to give "heroic" vibes may have some.
Quality - Major Scales and Chords are generally considered "happy", and minor Scales and Chords are generally considered "sad". However, there are more complex emotional associations depending upon how they are used.

[Comment: Whenever encountering a Scale or Chord of any kind, we should always ask ourselves what it makes us feel. These associations are useful for Composing as they give us an "emotional palette" to work with!]