Songwriting

It’s All About Contrast

Where the combination of lyrics, melody, harmony and groove make up the unique DNA of your song, it is essential that your song winds its way through a story, told through the music as well as the words.

Your song will have sections. Whether we call them verses and choruses, A’s and B’s, Hook, Bridge, whatever, they still represent the important chapters of your song, and they work best when we recognize them as being different parts.

Each part of your song has its own purpose when set next to the other sections. A CHORUS needs to deliver the key message of the song. Next to that, the VERSES will give the context that makes the message hit with impact. A BRIDGE will take us out of the song’s patterns for a moment, giving us a breath of something different before sending us back in for more of what we love.

In order for all of these parts to work effectively, they need to be:

  1. Similar to other parts of the same type (Verse 2 needs to follow patterns set in Verse 1)
  2. Different from parts of another type (Your Chorus needs to break free of patterns set in the Verses)

Since our brains absolutely love matching patterns in order to recognize the world around us, music is at its most powerful when it helps the brain recognize the parts of the song using patterns. Use the same rhyme scheme in Verse 2 as you did in Verse 1. Use the same melody in Verse 2 as you did in Verse 1. That will truly satisfy the pattern-matching in our brains.

But here’s where that patterning becomes more important – break some or many of those patterns for different parts of your song.

  • Where your verse uses long lines, make your chorus use short ones
  • Where your verse uses a low, narrow melodic range, build your chorus on a higher, wider melodic range
  • Make your chorus use a different rhyme scheme than your verses
  • Consider even using a different number of lines between your chorus and your verses

These are just some of the ways in which you can build contrast between the different parts of your song, and help our brains understand that the parts are meant to represent different parts of the story.

And the key here is contrast, because a greater recognition of what makes two things different will give us a greater appreciation for what is special about each of those two things.

Plus, if every part of your song seems to be another of the same thing, I’m probably going to get bored and switch it off.

BONUS: Three is Simply One Too Many

Whether you’ve heard this called the “Rule of Two” or the “Rule of Three”, it’s a well-recognized notion that our music-loving brains love recognizing a pattern through repetition, but become easily bored by too much repetition.

It’s for this very reason that we enjoy songs which deliver two Verses followed by a Chorus, more than we enjoy songs which deliver three Verses in a row. Our brains light up at the chance to recognize the pattern of a repeated Verse, but cringe at the thought of that repetition becoming unending.

Moving beyond the first Chorus, we typically hear another Verse (which our brain happily recognizes because of its similarity to the first Verses) and then another Chorus (because another Verse here runs the risk of unsatisfactory repetition). But, what happens next? Now we reach that crucial part of the song which goes by many names, but often in radio programmers’ terminology it is the “2-minute” mark of the song, a dreaded position at which something drastically different must occur: a Bridge, a Breakdown, a Musical Interlude, etc. Why? Because we’ve just experienced two blocks of Verse+Chorus and now our brain craves something else, anything else, rather than another repetition of Verse or Chorus which would stop the forward momentum of the song.

Applying this same principle to smaller pieces of your song, it’s the reason that we generally prefer fewer repetitions of a chord pattern, melody line, and rhyme sound without being offered a variation.

We can examine popular songs and recognize the moments of repetition in melody, words, rhyming, chord patterns, and also the refreshing changes in these elements once our brain has had a moment to recognize a pattern.

(Photo Credit: Jeremy Zero, unsplash.com)


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