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This may come off as humour, but I was wondering if anyone has songwriting rules for lyrics or otherwise... for the avoidance of cliches. For example:

1. Do not rhyme 'girl' with 'world'
2. Do not rhyme any of the following as they have been done to death... night, light (or morning light), all right, out of sight, tonight, e.g., stay with me tonight until the morning light.
Last edited by logicbdj at Dec 29, 2010,
It's been done to death....

A fast, hard beating song that suddenly slows down to synth for a verse or chorus, and then ramps back up to a fast, hard beat.
Does anyone know what a 'tape stop' sound is... like a reel-to-reel machine being turned off and the sound dropping off quickly. This effect was used in a song by Ke$sha, or some name like that. Now, about 50% of rap or dance songs use it somewhere in the song. If you want to compose a unique piece of music, don't copy what sounds cool because chances are so are dozens of other song writers.
A tip on being creative... if you use music software to help you compose (such as Band in a Box), select a genre of music that you are not used to or used to composing in... then insert as the first chord something obscure (e.g., c7sus#5#9), and see what you can come up with. If you keep composing within your comfort zone, then you tend to stick with certain habits (same lead licks, same rythms, same chord progressions).
In support of the last point, listen to music outside your typical listening genre. What makes songwriting interesting is when you can take musical concepts from one style and integrate it into another, as ELO did with orchestration and pop music. Or considering taking a jazz swing style of music and writing a hard rock motif to it.
It's always good to show off skills, but for a song to be enduring, there needs to be a strong melody. Moreover, the most popular songs tend to have a range of one octave or more, which is the case with most Beatle songs... a wide enough range of notes that focus on a melody. For metal groups, this same principle still can apply. Both melody and a wide enough range of notes within the verse/chorus makes the song more interesting to the ears and not so mundane as is the case with a lot of metal songs that hammer away at a few bar chords... songs soon to be forgotten.
I should add, a strong melody or a pretty darn cool riff, e.g., Purple Haze, Voodoo Child, Zeppelin's Rock and Roll, etc. If the 'hook' isn't in the vocals, then certainly in an instrumental riff.
Distortion and layering of music is like adding hot sauce to one's food. Eventually, too much and all you can taste is hot sauce in a burning mouth. Likewise, any instrument should be distinct from the other so that the music does not sound like mud. This is true whether playing slow ballads or metal.
A good way to separate sound in music is to dedicate eq ranges among instruments. Satriani's guitar is very distinct from the bass since he rolls off the highs and lows, and pushes a lot of midrange. It sounds a bit trebly, but that is because of increasing the overdrive, which accentuates harmonics. Regardless, it's still a lot of midrange that he's pushing through his amps. The song The Traveler, can be found in my mps on my page... it is written in the style of Satriani and has a lot of midrange and little treble or bass, and yet the pinch harmonics come through clearly due to the 'drive' being turned up on my effects module.
If something doesn't sound right (lyrics or music)... or if it sounds less than you want or expect, then it likely will sound as 'bad' to others. Give it a rest... move onto a new song or take a break from composing. Writer's block also affect musicians, and trying to force the issue will result in less than stellar work.
Improving guitar chops... listen to vocal albums, or work done for the sax, flute, or other instrument... then try to emulate the phrasing or instrument style. How a trumpeter or saxist attacks the notes is very different from how a guitarist would (and how a jazz guitarist plays is different from a country guitarist, different from a metal guitarist, etc.). Learning to play as though you are controlling a different instrument helps to create new phrasing and fingering techniques, which spills over into your songwriting and soloing.
As you compose and record music, listen critically to the chord progressions, what licks or riffs you use, etc. It is likely that you are habitual, using similar ideas or sometimes the same idea more than once without realizing it. What I liked about Led Zeppelin is that every song stood out on its own... you don't listen to their songs and think "I just heard something similar on the last album" (or even among songs on the same album). Following some of the above points (playing and listening outside your genre) will help.
Jus like that

Quote by logicbdj
Distortion and layering of music is like adding hot sauce to one's food.

this line was awesome and true too...
Vocal pieces need to be sung in the correct register relative to the singer. For those who may have seen the Karen Carpenter Story (made for TV movie) several years back, in the beginning she sung in a higher register and it never quite clicked (she sang popular songs of the day at parties, etc.)... her brother then had her sing in a lower register and appropriate key changes of the songs, and the rest is history... her voice came alive with emotion. Most people will find a comfort zone and once it is found, the quality of the song(s) improve... just ask Frank Sinatra.
Here's an idea to improve your song-writing chops. Take the chord progression of any song... if you're talented, then the more obscure and complex (e.g., jazz) the better. Now, using that same chord progression, whether in the same or different style of music, create an entirely new song/melody.
Even the most skilled musicians will perform several takes in a song, whether the whole song or sections of it. Although you may figure out a way to play a solo, verse or chorus (with a particular instrument), practice improvising your song while recording the outcomes. Often a note change here or there... a string bend in the right place... makes a difference in the overall quality and intent.
Above I noted that one way to break free of typical song writing is to work with different styles of music. Here is one I threw together (on my profile page) entitled Batucada.

Batucada is a substyle of samba and refers to an African influenced Brazilian percussive style. I plan on working with various cultural mixes of music, but apply a modern guitar style to them.
Improving song-writing/progression skills....
When developing a song, it's easy to stick with standard type progressions (a 12-bar blues progression is an example). To improve your diversity, there are two things you can do (although this works best with instrumentals). First, make chord changes when it's least expected and randomly within a song. Second, try inserting chords that don't seem to work or sound best to the ear... and then try working the melody over those chords so that the progression does work. This will mean switching between scale modes or altering the mood of playing to shift suddenly from one sound/chord to the next.
Be careful with 'epic' songs (those 5+ min songs that attempt to be too drawn out and artistic). A song is like a book... it often has a climax somewhere near the end (guitar solo or the chorus goes up a 5th, etc.). But in ALL instances, a good song will grab a person's attention almost immediately. An intro is fine, but I often hear upward of 60 seconds of intro in some songs on this site, whereas any intro should be 4-8 bars at most, before getting to a hook of some kind (a good guitar riff, the vocals... something).
Quote by logicbdj
Be careful with 'epic' songs (those 5+ min songs that attempt to be too drawn out and artistic). A song is like a book... it often has a climax somewhere near the end (guitar solo or the chorus goes up a 5th, etc.). But in ALL instances, a good song will grab a person's attention almost immediately. An intro is fine, but I often hear upward of 60 seconds of intro in some songs on this site, whereas any intro should be 4-8 bars at most, before getting to a hook of some kind (a good guitar riff, the vocals... something).
The intro ends on 0.38, but it's still one of the greatest.
But I agree that this is an exception. Most long intro are not executed like a long intro should be: building up to a climax, and never losing tension.
That is, in pop music.
If you listen to Debussy, tension is the last thing you will hear...
And Debussy often uses enough melody and intricacies to catch one's attention very soon within the song. I have found that some metal songs try to be more than they are... you lose interest after hearing the same few chords being pounded on after 50-60 seconds and move on. The rest of the song could be great, but it took too long to get there. It's different when a person buys a song or it's on a record/CD, etc., since having it often has the person listening to it all eventually. But when it comes to songs on this site, with thousands to listen to, it has to be pretty catchy pretty fast.
I have found the best way to be creative and to come up with new ideas is to play around with the guitar in a haphazzard manner with no expectations. Pick it up and have fun with it. If you have the luxury of a computer program that allows the input of any chord sequence and music style, punch in 'whatever' and then attempt various fretboard patterns with no rhyme or reason while improvising (obviously having a band is a bit better IF the members can play various styles and rhythms and are not closed into a mental and creative box). Today I came up with this:

Quote by logicbdj
In support of the last point, listen to music outside your typical listening genre. What makes songwriting interesting is when you can take musical concepts from one style and integrate it into another, as ELO did with orchestration and pop music. Or considering taking a jazz swing style of music and writing a hard rock motif to it.

dude! im doin the hard rock swing thing and hard rock reggae
A good exercise in song writing is to develop a song based on typically 'odd' sounding chords (a few of the more 'usual' chords can be in the mix). I strung together a group of chords with no particular direction in mind:

EmMaj7... EMaj7b5... EMaj7Lydian... Edim... Em9b5... E13+... E7#11b13... E7#9#11b13... e9susb5b13... E13sus#5#9#11... Esus... Em... E4... E7sus#5#9... Eaug... Emaug... Edim... Em7... Em.

It took me about 3 hours to record this, based upon improvisation and the use of a modulation unit I bought Saturday (Eventide's ModFactor). I posted the song results in the original song section, entitled How Odd, but here is the direct link:

Guidelines merely help people out (guidelines from others' perspective), to help steer people in direction, whereas the extent of creativity is governed by the individual and where they can take it. If you look at the post just before your post... it gives ONE suggestion of many of how to play around with a concept to develop one's ability in any possible direction. Certainly no boundary there!
Last edited by logicbdj at Nov 8, 2010,
Every songwriter has his or her strengths and weaknesses in song development. Be good at what you're good at, by working at those skills often, and almost daily if possible. Becoming talented at what you're good at (e.g., guitar instrumental, lyric writing) is what will separate you from others. Conversely, putting some work into areas in which you are weak will improve your overall quality of your composition and help break you out of ruts when your material begins to sound repetitive.
When an author pens a book or magazine article, it is developed relative to the audience s/he is writing for. A technical piece is not meant for the layperson, but one's peers (otherwise, it would need to be re-written as one of those 'idiot' guides so that complex ideas are simplified).

Music, likewise, is written for an audience in mind. To attract a Death Metal crowd, soft ballads may be appreciated by some in that genre at best... otherwise, it needs to sound like Death Metal. And lead solos involving that music need to have sufficient distortion, speed, and usually a particular tone to the guitar work. This is one obvious example of writing within a genre.

If music is a hobby, then it usually is written for the enjoyment of the musician and anything goes (and it's easier to be experimental with no concern of a fan base). But if trying to break into the music industry, an element of uniqueness within the genre one is writing for is a must. In other words, your music may be categorized, and it needs to be developed and written for the audience in question, but there has to be something unique about your tunes... if not, then strong melodies and good guitar hooks are a must and a minimum necessity.
Although the listener may enjoy hearing the same concept or melody, any riff or idea should be repeated only twice; after that, move onto the next musical phrase or idea. This is not to say that any idea within a song cannot be repeated more than twice (e.g., the chorus), but that a particular phrase at any particular point in the song should only be repeated twice. This helps to make a song more intricate and interesting to listen to, since even a very strong melody can become boring to the ear and particularly if a song is played multiple times. I'm certain some of you have noticed this with the odd radio song that keeps going on and on with the same tune and even choice of words (Euro dance/trance music can be guilty of this); it may be kitchy at the time, but the brain grows weary quickly.
Not all songs will have a chorus, but certainly a section that is of greater emotion or some other context. The verse or 'section' prior to a build-up will lead to that build-up or chorus.

The more affluent chorus often is done in a few different ways, such as saving the more melodic part for the 'chorus.' But there also can be a difference in the complexity, layering or coloring of the chorus. A simple example would be to add a string section or extra heavy guitar rhythm during the chorus to make it sound more 'full.'

And because the chorus tends to repeat, or be the same (it doesn't have to), the verses or sections between the choruses should be different... not just the wording (if there are words to the song), but slight variations on a verse's theme.

Following the above points help to create greater diversity and interest from the listener.
To make a song memorable, or to have a person want to listen to it, there must be an emotional connection. This involves good story telling within the song, whether describing a jilted love or the anger and frustration of dealing with your boss.

I tend to write a lot of instrumental music (I have about 20 vocal songs not uploaded on this site), and so I need to focus on melodies that a person can hum... a catchy riff is remembered, whereas speed-demon lead is not (it can be appreciated, but it is different than a melody as found in vocal work). For those who write lyrics, there are a few tips to make the song more memorable or powerful.

One, use proper nouns, such as people's names or names of places. The use of a person's name (e.g., Peggy Sue) has been a powerful tool in song-writing for years, and people like Springsteen has integrated the names of places in his songs. Both of these increase the listener's response and connection to a song.

Two, ask questions within the lyrics, e.g., Dust in the Wind, The Star Spangled Banner. Doing so gets the listener's wheels turning while listening, which increases the emotional connection.

Three, the action and order of the words make a difference. "Mike drove his car" is better than "the car was driven by Mike." The subject followed by the action often is better than the other way around (passive voice, for those into grammar).
Many successful business require employees to submit an 'idea' every day (sometimes it's more like three ideas a day). This serves to help the company become better and, at the same time, to hone the critical and imaginitive skills of the employees - the better those skills, the better the ideas become over time... and the more successful the company.

Writing songs is no different. Every day you should try to come up with a new guitar riff... or melody... or a few lines of poetry. It does not have to be anything extensive, but a creative try at something new and/or different. Keep a notebook for poetry/lyrics; keep a tape recorder to quickly lay down a few licks or riffs that catch your attention as you improvise.
OK, I'll be the first to admit this... I develop a song, record it, then walk away and never look back (with only a few exceptions). That's me. But for a song to be at its best, it should be written then left alone. For how long, it's difficult to say, but what can sound good now may not sound all that great later on... or there could be areas that could be improved upon (e.g., lead solo, choice of words, the key of the song for the vocals, etc.).

Develop and polish a song in three stages (more than that, and the composer tends to get bored or tired of the process... and the song can become worse).

First, write the song with good effort and intentions. Then after a few weeks of not practicing or listening to it, listen to it from the perspective of a third party (and if possible, have people listen to it who have not worked on the song)... develop a second draft at that point based on feedback and your critical analysis. A few weeks after that, perform the same process, thinking how you can make the song more complete or detailed, such as layering in strings or extra drum fills, etc., but without taking away from the original intent and sound of the song (unless doing so makes it better).

In effect, the first 'polish' session is about making the song more rounded and professional, whereas the second 'polish' session is about adding a few missing details or song layering to make things pop.
Planning to write a book, logicbdj? I'd buy it..

Great advice, thanks!

I used to run a fitness certification company... wrote 5,000 pages worth of technical based information over 12 years. I pretty much had enough of that aspect for a while. I'm constantly learning myself, and so maybe in 10 years or so I might write something. To keep this thread going... here is another tip:

Be stimulated from a wide variety of influences and information. Read articles or books on science, philosphy, politics, etc., and do the same with television shows/documentaries. The more wide-ranging one's knowledge and understanding of various topics, the more likely songs can be written about various topics and ideas... something out of the ordinary from the usual love/hurt songs. Being mentally stimulated from a number of sources also has a positive effect on brain health and creativity in the arts.
Unless you're new to playing an instrument or song writing, it should be obvious when some aspects sound less than they can be.... mediocre pharsing in a lead solo, typical word choices and rhymes, song is too long or parts of it boring (too predictable or expected). For those who ask feedback of a song or solo, try writing up your own critique, as if you are a music critic writing about the latest album/song. The more critical you become (in a structured way, e.g., actually writing something), the better your compositions and playing will become.
Being good at writing lyrics involves choosing the right words, while not making them sound too cliche. The other aspect is the structure of the rhyming, such as ABAB (viz., the last words of the first and third lines rhyme, whereas the last words of the second and fourth lines rhyme). Song writers often get caught in a pattern of rhyming, using the same formula over and over, and as a result, things begin to sound all the same (just like using the same type of chord progression formula). If writing poetry, develop as many patterns or formulas as you can and practice writing words for each (tell the same story, but put the rhymes in different places). If putting words to a song, do the same thing... one pattern may sound more pleasing to the ear, but a different pattern could sound more interesting and challenging to the ear, making the song more unique with longer staying power to the listener.
I posted the section below in the Original Recordings forum, but thought it worth repeating. I have found that mixing music genres can add much spice to music, just like changing key signatures. This can be simple, from drum beats, to actual genre styles, e.g., hard rock to new age...............

I enjoy mixing different beats/rhythms and genres of music. As I whipped this up in a music program, I thought it interesting and whimsical to develop a song based on the effects Hendrix's death had on a musician. This vocals are in three parts... Part 1 is the depression. Part 2 is the jubilation that Hendrix's work had on this person's life. Part 3 is the jubilation and celebration of Hendrix moving on to guitar heaven and immortality. The words incorporate some of Jimi's song titles (Purple Haze, Stone Free, Can You See Me, and Red House).


Oh, Jimi, why?
Why must you die?
You’ll lead the way, through Purple Haze.

Once in a lifetime, you think that you’re dreaming.
I feel the change when your axe is screaming… to me.

Oh, I’m Stone Free.
Oh, Can You See Me?
Off to the Red House, I see you playing.
Off to the Red House, I hear you playing.
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