Found this while googling/researching a little more for my 11th annual songwriting/recording summercamp. All credit goes to Gary Ewer of SecretsOfSongwriting.com.

“One of the most aggravating problems with songwriting is when a song just doesn’t work, but you can’t tell why.

So here’s a quick little list — ten quick tips — that you can look over, just to see if you’re violating some common songwriting principles. You may find that the solution is only seconds away.

  1. Does your song show enough contrast? Loud vs. soft? High vs. low instrumental range? Major vs. minor chords, etc? Contrast is a very important songwriting principle.
  2. Does the energy of your song generally increase as the song proceeds? Song energy should build (though not usually in a straight line). Choruses are usually more energetic than verses, and bridges often build energy even more.
  3. Does your song use a good number of strong chord progressions? Strong progressions point to one chord as the main tonic chord. They typically feature root movements of 4ths and 5ths between adjacent chords.
  4. Are your chorus progressions stronger than your verse progressions? Chorus progressions, in keeping with the “hooky” nature of music, should be shorter and stronger than what you typically find in the verse.
  5. Do most of your progressions use the tonic chord as a start and/or finish? The tonic chord plays a big role in most music of most genres.
  6. Is there a strong partnership between melody, chords and lyrics in your song? Use melodic shape and chord choice to help enhance your song’s lyric.
  7. Is there an obvious difference between your verse and chorus lyrics? Verse lyrics should be narrative in nature, explaining and describing people and situations, while chorus lyrics should be emotive, drawing the listener in and making an emotional impact.
  8. How often do you feature the tonic note and chord? The tonic note and chord should appear more often in the chorus than in the verse.
  9. Is there a sense of purpose and direction in your song’s melody? A verse melody should be pitched generally lower than a chorus melody. The highest notes of a song often appear in the chorus or bridge.
  10. Does your song have a catchy hook? Obvious hooks are not always necessary, but a hook, particularly one that happens in the chorus, will make a song catchy and memorable.

Following these basic principles won’t necessarily solve all your songwriting woes, but they’ll go a long way to helping focus in on what the problem might be.

And one other quick bit of advice: resist the temptation to fix a song that already works just fine.

Some good songs work even if they violate some songwriting principle. For that reason, don’t “manually apply” these principles to your music unless you’re feeling that something is wrong.”

– Gary Ewer

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