Hey all, not sure if anyone can give me any advice/answer to my question or if there is a right or wrong way of doing this, but here goes...

So I have been writing songs on my acoustic guitar for a while, I am not the greatest guitarist but I do pride myself on my melodies and catchiness of the songs I write, but I feel I want to improve my song writing alongside my guitar playing.

I have been observing musicians when they play their songs and sometimes I see guitarist playing a simple chord progression but then changing vocal phrasing/melody phrasing over different parts of the chords, and also starting a new vocal line on a different chord... although the chord progressions/riff is still the same. For you to really understand what it is that am asking, I have a video of an artist performing a song but changing the vocals around but using the same chord progression, is this easy to do or is it something you learn in time? As I feel this could help develop my song writing.

The song has a clear (and pretty common) structure.

You could consider the end of the verses to be a prechorus which I'll discuss later.

He uses the same chords for the verse and chorus but it's not the same progression. The chorus progression is pretty much the verse progression backwards (almost).

Verse: | C#m A | E G# |

Chorus: | E A | C#m G# |

(Note how it's the chorus is the same chords as the verse except in the reverse order starting from on the E chord. The verse ends on G# then goes backwards so the chorus starts on E. Thus the chorus also ends on G# so simply reverses again back to the C#m to start the verse. It's pretty cool actually.)

I set them out above to show the bars. The vertical lines " | " are bar dividers.

Each bar is made up of two chords and each of those chords is played for two beats.

Throughout this post I will call the first bar of the cycle "bar 1" and the second bar of the cycle "bar 2". So when I say bar 1 I'm not actually referring to the first bar of the song just the first bar of that progression.

In the song he starts each new vocal line on beat two of the first bar. He tends to end the vocal lines on beat 1 either of the second bar or of the first bar of the next cycle of the progression. I'll explain...

The first two lines end on the first beat of the second bar (on the first beat of the E chord).
note: "/" means to repeat the previous chord for that beat.
  1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   
|C#m  /   A   /  |E   /   G#  /  |
      If I...    limb
      If I...    longer
  1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   

C#m       A           E          G# 
     If I go out on a limb

C#m       A             E          G# 
     If I wait a little longer

The next two vocal lines do the same thing but the lines are a little longer. The longer lines are achieved simply by filling in the empty space in the second bar of the progression and ending on the first beat of the first bar of the next "cycle".

"If I held you to your word" starts and ends on the same chords as the first two vocal lines. Then he adds "where would I be" which starts on the third beat of the second bar as he changes to G# and the last word "be" ends on the first beat of the C#m. This is the same for the following line "If I look a little closer... what would I see"

  1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   
|C#m  /   A   /  |E   /   G#  /  |
      If I...    word     where...
 be   If I...    closer   what... 
  1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1

C#m       A                E           G#            
     If I held you to your word   then where would I 

C#m       A             E          G# 
be   If I look a little closer     what would I 


So far it's all pretty simple really and rather repetitive with each line asking a question that starts with "If I...". The first two lines are not very static in that they are incomplete sentences. "If I go out on a limb" is an incomplete sentence so gives a sense of pondering.

In the third and fourth vocal lines he completes the question which adds a momentum and development. "If I held you to your word then where would I be If I looked a little closer, what would I see"

This momentum is continued into the next two lines of the verse are a "prechorus".

"I'm just asking cause I wanted to know where it's goin'"

Again the line starts on the second beat of the C#m just like the previous vocal lines. Also like the previous lines it ends on the first beat of the C#m with "goin". Only then he repeats the "goin" a few times over the rest of the progression ending with what sound like "boy ya go" (or something). Except this time when he gets to the end of the progression (the G#) instead of going back to C#m he goes to E for the start of the chorus (E A C#m G#) .

The line that ends "boy ya go" finishes on the first beat of the next bar, so "go" falls on the E chord as we go into the chorus progression.

  1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4...
|C#m  /   A   /  |E   /   G#   /  |C#m /   A   /   E   /   G#  /  |E   /   A   /   C#m /   G#  /...  
 see  Im just...          know     goin'   goin'   goin'   boy ya  go
C#m             A              E         G#             C#m    A     E      G#        E  
see    I'm just asking cause I wanted to know where ya goin   goin  goin ta go boy ya go

Then you're into the chorus progression.

|E / A / |C#m / G# / |

Do you wanna man do you wanna man do you wanna man I could be your man

There's not much there to really get into the chorus is pretty straight forward. Again if you think of the progression as two bars, he starts the vocal line around that second beat of the first bar of the progression.

So I'm not quite sure where you're coming from when you say that he's changing his phrasing and starting his vocal lines over a different chord.

He does change the phrasing by using incomplete and then complete sentences in the verses. He changes the register and the vocal melody in the prechorus to add momentum setting up the chorus.

But he's pretty consistent in where he starts his vocal lines. Also the chord progression changes between the verse and chorus. And maybe because he is using the same chords (although in a different order) you got the impression he was just starting his vocal line on a different chord?

Try counting through the song and see how almost all the vocal lines start on a two and typically end on a one (or on a 4 and carry over to the one).

Anyway if I've missed what you're talking about please clarify.


EDIT: There are other examples of singers changing the phrasing in a song. Or of starting their vocal lines at different places. Sometimes a song will have the lines in the verse start on beat two while the prechorus may start the lines earlier maybe even on the "and" of the previous bar. This is one of the ways a songwriter will introduce variation between parts in order to maintain the listener's interest.
^ G# major, not G#m, but whatever.
Quote by AlanHB
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The more melodies you write, the easier it gets. Your ear will get familiar with the chord progressions and you start to hear how the tendency tones resolve, etc.

When I compose a melody, I can usually immediately come up with a few counter melodies. (of which each could stand alone as the main melody)
Last edited by Elintasokas at Apr 23, 2015,
Quote by MaggaraMarine
^ G# major, not G#m, but whatever.

Absolutely right. I was playing G# major. I'll fix it.