How To Write Songs Like The Pros Using Unity And Variety

author: Ysrafel date: 03/04/2013 category: songwriting
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How To Write Songs Like The Pros Using Unity And Variety
Whenever you sit down to write music, do you have a hard time creating something that sounds exactly how you want it to? Do you want to have the ability to accurately express yourself in your songs? Would you like to know how the pros write music that sounds so good and why your songs don't seem to reach the same level in quality? No matter who you are, you will have a difficult time at some point writing songs that accurately express your ideas. This is common for all songwriters. However, you can drastically improve the quality of your songs by learning how to effectively use unity and variety in your music. Unity and variety are very important and foundational concepts which will apply to every area of your songwriting. As soon as you have mastered the ability to use them, your songwriting will improve by leaps and bounds and you will gain the power to write music in a much more expressive manner.

What Is "Unity And Variety" In Music?

Whenever someone listens to a song, they are judging how good the music is based on the creative use of unity and variety by the songwriter. This happens either consciously if the person has prior musical understanding or subconsciously in the case of most casual music listeners. So what is unity and variety in music? "Unity" refers to the idea of repetition, staying the same or using similar ideas during a piece of music while "variety" refers to creating a sense of novelty in a song by adding new ideas, patterns or musical elements. By maintaining a solid balance between both unity and variety, you can effectively engage the listener and keep them interested in your music for a long time. A good balance will essentially utilize the "safe" comfortable feeling of repeated ideas while also mixing in the surprise of new ideas to add tension and interest. If you have ever had the experience of writing a song that seems to lack interest or doesn't transition well from section to section; you most likely have a poor balance of unity and variety in one or more elements of your music. In fact, many people struggle with this problem. For example, here are various ways that songwriters write music that is "unbalanced" by using too much or too little unity or variety: 1. A melodic idea is repeated over and over with little or no variation. [overused unity] 2. The different sections of a song are repeated many times and start to become monotonous. [overused unity] 3. The songwriter writes song lyrics that utilize very predictable ideas that follow clichs with little or no innovation [overused unity] 4. Note rhythms are changed frequently in a way that has no obvious relation to the music. For example, if a musician uses songwriting software and simply programs in a bunch of random note rhythms without thinking things out. [overused variety] 5. The music contains many notes that are not "in key" and don't seem to have any clear function in the song; taking away the music's sense of direction. [overused variety]

How You Can Use Unity And Variety In A Balanced, Effective Manner

If you want to start writing songs that are more creative and expressive, you must (of course) understand not only how unity and variety are misused but how to use them effectively to engage the interest of those who will listen to your music. In order to do this, you will need to learn how to both create and change the expectations in the mind of your listener. The basic idea of this is that you use "unity" to build up one set of expectations and then add in a sudden change by using "variety" to present the listener with something they had not anticipated. This idea is simple on the surface, but its complexity comes in the fact that you can apply it to literally any musical element or situation. The truth is, unity and variety is not exclusively used only in the realm of songwriting. This idea of balance in musical ideas or patterns exists because of our universal ability to perceive symmetry in nature. In basic evolutionary thinking, our mind has adopted the idea of seeing symmetrical patterns as something noteworthy because we have been in continual interaction with other animals over the course of our existence. This symmetry for one reason or another has provided us with distinct benefits to help us locate food, avoid our enemies and take advantage of other useful opportunities for survival. Since unity and variety are not exclusive only to music, you can learn a lot about it by looking into other non-musical outlets. To help you gain a better understanding of this important concept, I have provided a list of examples outside of the musical realm that use unity and variety in an effective manner. Additionally, I have made an effort to tie them together with music to help give you ideas that you can use right now to enhance your songwriting:

Unity And Variety In... Playing Sports:

Sports and other games that involve competition are ripe with examples of unity and variety. Take for instance: baseball. In this sport, the essential most important part of the competition comes down to the pitcher versus the batter. Both sides have various opportunities to utilize information in their head in order to 'best' the other side. From the side of the pitcher, there is one crucial concept that must be understood and mastered in order to achieve success: The pitcher must know "how to change the batter's expectations". To do this, the pitcher needs to change the location of where he throws the ball and/or change how fast he throws the ball. By combining these two together, he can successfully increase his chances of getting the batter out. One way to do this is to consistently throw "fastballs" to make it so the batter must be on his toes and ready to react as soon as possible. Once the batter is in this state of mind, the pitcher suddenly changes the batters expectations ("adds variety") by throwing a pitch that is about 11 miles per hour slower than the previous pitches. This change causes the batter to miss the ball with his swing because he 'expected' the pitcher to continue using the same pitches as before.

How To Use This Idea To Write Better Songs:

By "changing speed" in your music, you can effectively throw your listener a curve ball and engage their interest through the element of surprise. One way you can do this is by writing a song in a slow tempo and creating a section within that song that either speeds up the tempo or uses "faster" note rhythms. For example, consider the song "One" by Metallica that uses a slow/moderate tempo throughout until the end of the song where a drastic contrast is created.

Unity And Variety In... Writing A Script For A Movie:

Have you ever seen a movie that has a surprise "twist" ending? This technique is a very effective way that movie writers can turn your favorite hero or bad guy into a totally new character; in the process changing your entire perception around him/her. There is certainly an art to doing this and the more unexpected the twist is, the more you will be surprised (and in effect tell your friends to go check out the movie for themselves).

How To Use This Idea To Write Better Songs:

One highly effective way of changing emotions within a music listener is to use the "Picardy Third". This refers to the basic idea of altering the "quality" of a chord at the end of a section in a piece of music to provide contrast and convey an different mood. In other words, if your song was mostly in a minor key, rather than ending it on the main minor chord in the key (as the listener would expect), you can end it on the major version of that chord instead. For example, ending on A major instead of A minor. This will create a totally different mood in the listener and provide a heavy contrast to the rest of the song.

Unity And Variety In... Working Out To Gain Muscle:

If you have any experience with weight lifting and muscle gain, you understand that your body becomes used to the same exercises if you repeat them enough. As a result, your muscle gains will diminish until you can find a way to surprise your body by forcing it to do something it is not "prepared" for. This surprise can come in the form of suddenly adding in new exercises that you aren't used to and/or using a strategy to gradually increase weight resistance over time.

How To Use This Idea To Write Better Songs:

To make a correlation here between music and the weight lifting example I mentioned above, I am going to describe a common, yet highly effective formula used in songwriting. If you have ever listened to a ballad, you may have noticed the following pattern: The beginning of the song uses only vocals combined with other instruments like guitar, piano, synthesizer etc... but NO percussion. The song then proceeds through the verse and chorus without percussion. Then, after the chorus has finished for the first time and the verse repeats, the percussion comes in. This provides a sense of surprise, contrast and direction the music. Similar to suddenly increasing the weight resistance during your work out, this common ballad formula first creates a pleasing soft feeling for the listener and then provides a sudden contrast with the percussion instruments (which often make the music louder overall) in order to continue to engage the listener and provide a sense of growth in the song direction. This transition helps the song proceed before the novelty of the repeated sections wears off.

Unity And Variety In... Painting A Picture:

While painting a picture, you can effectively direct the person who is viewing your art to notice a specific idea using unity and variety. One way to do this is utilize a contrast between light colors and dark colors. For instance, imagine a painting that contains some kind of stereotypical depiction of "Heaven and Hell". This painting takes place from inside a bunch of dark caves with various pits of fire, demons and other monstrosities. As you look "up" from the bottom of the cave toward the very top, you can see a clear blue sky in the distance with the sun, clouds, angels and so forth. If you are viewing this picture, you will have no choice but to notice the contrast between the mostly dark elements in the painting (unity) and the small patch of light with bright colors that represents being outside of the cave (variety). This effective use of unity and variety causes you to think about why the contrast was created (even before you start thinking about the actual idea being presented itself).

How To Use This Idea To Write Better Songs:

To use a similar method of contrast in a musical context, identify a part in a song you are writing that has been used several times (could be a certain lyric, song section or melody...). Then, when the time comes to repeat it again, change it in a subtle, yet very distinct way. For instance, if you have repeated a series of chords many times throughout your song, try changing the instrument that plays these chords. So, if the part was being played by guitar throughout the song, you could have it be played by piano instead during its final repetition.

Unity And Variety In... Making A Joke:

Well, it may not be very funny to get into the technical aspects of 'why' making jokes works to get people to laugh... but for the sake of songwriting, I am willing to make the sacrifice :) In comedy, there exists a very basic formula for making funny jokes. That formula comes down to 3 steps: 1. Set up the joke 2. Give the punch line 3. Enjoy your hard earned laughs, international fame and the respect of your peers (...more or less). That said, not all comedians go by the same exact comedy writing formula. Some comedians might use a specific style that amplifies the effect of the joke on the crowd. To do this, they add on an additional punch line to the joke that either makes fun of the other punch line in some way or adds a whole new perspective to the joke itself. This catches the audience off guard and makes the joke much funnier than it was with the original punch line. (For great examples of this, I recommend the standup comedy of Dave Chappelle. He frequently uses this delivery style as part of his main approach to comedy.)

How To Use This Idea To Write Better Songs:

Similar to a punch line in comedy, the chorus in your song is generally considered to be the most crucial part of the entire piece of music itself. One highly effective technique that songwriters use to add value to the chorus is to change it in some way during the final time when it is repeated. One way that you can use this idea is to repeat the chorus as usual; then during its final repeat, move all the notes up by a half step. This will give your chorus a new, refreshing feeling and help you to finish the music strong. Now that you have read through the ideas in this article, you should have a better understanding of the importance of using unity and variety to create contrast, surprise and added value into your songs. By having a strong working knowledge of this, your songwriting skills will drastically increase and you will be able to create great songs with better consistency. Any time you create songs, song sections or smaller parts within these sections; continually think about how you can use unity and variety in a creative and balanced manner to make your music engaging for the listener. Learn more about how you can consistently make your music sound the way you want it to by downloading this free eBook on how to write better music and solve common songwriting challenges. About The Author: Ryan Buckner is a songwriter, shred guitarist and guitar teacher in the Oklahoma City area. He currently runs an instructional songwriting website that helps musicians learn how to use creative songwriting techniques, write song lyrics and writing and express themselves through music.
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