How to write a pop song - 8notes.com

How to write a pop song


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The most important elements of a pop song are the lyrics, the melody, the chords and the structure. Choice of backing instruments is hugely important too, but this can be, and often is, left to a later point in the process.

Many experienced singer-songwriters will approach the main elements symbiotically, which is to say at the same time. A common method is to jam over some chords, singing whatever is in the singer's mind. In this way sometimes a whole song may emerge with all four elements already defined.

For those starting out, however, it can be useful to break these elements down into their separate parts.

Lyrics

Pop musicians have been known to set pre-existing lyrics but, because songwriting is an act of self-expression, more usually they will write them themselves.

You should probably, then, choose to write about something that means something to you. Here are some common themes in pop music:

Heartbreak


Love and Romance


Coming of Age


Death and Bereavement


Feminism


Friendship


Politics and Protest


Find your chords

For some songwriters, the melody will come first, the chords then being fitted to it later. It is probably simpler, however, to think of a good chord sequence from the start. The good news is that many of the world's most famous pop songs share similar, often repeating, chord progressions. Here are a few that work really well.

1.
I-V-vi-IV (C major: C, G, Am, F)





2.
I-vi-IV-V (C major: C, Am, F, G)





3.
I-IV-V-I (C major: C, F, G)





4.
I-IV-V-IV (C major: C, F, G, F)





5.
I-IV-ii-IV-V-I (C major: C, F, Dm, F, G, C)





You could use these chord backings when working out a melody, but you will find it more satisfying if you can learn to play them yourself. Even if you're not trained on the guitar or piano (the most common chord-playing instruments), they are surprisingly easy to pick up.

You can more about piano chords here, and guitar chords here.

Finding your melody

A good first stage is to say the words to yourself in order to work out their rhythm. Let's try this with the opening of a well-known poem by Englishman William Blake, adapted to include a chorus:

Verse 1:


Tiger Tiger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


Verse 2:


In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

Chorus:

Oh tiger, oh tiger....

Read this poem to yourself. Can you feel the rhythm inherent in the words? Here's one interpretation of that rhythm (yours may differ - there's no right or wrong answer!)






The next step is to choose a chord sequence and try and turn that rhythm into a melody. Let's choose one of pop music's most common chord sequences, I-V-vi-IV (no. 1 in our list, above), and start with the two verses. Your melody might sound something like this:





The chorus might sound a little bit boring if we use the same chord sequence again, so for that, let's turn to I-IV-V-I (no. 3 in our list), sometimes called the 'three chord trick' because it is possible to harmonise almost anything with them:





So now our whole song section will sound like this (with some added instruments to give you a feel for how it might sound when finished):



Find a structure

The opening of the song we have composed forms the structure AAB i.e. verse (A), verse (A), chorus (B). This is a common opening for a pop song, as you can see in How to Write a Pop Song - Part 2.

That lesson should also give you enough information to suggest how you might elaborate Blake's poem into a complete song structure.

With that in mind, here is a possible structure that would work with the whole of The Tiger:

INTRO

(A) Tiger Tiger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

(A) In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

Chorus:

(B) Tiger, oh tiger....

(A) And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

Chorus:

(B) Tiger, oh tiger....

(C Middle eight–new material) What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

(A) When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

(A) Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Chorus:

(B) Tiger, oh tiger....

OUTRO

There are other elements, to consider once you have your complete song. These will include riffs, drum patterns and the addition of other instruments.

The essential elements, however, are all covered here.

Time to write that hit!



















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