Before I start this post, I want to say I’m really excited about a new project I’m rolling out, and as a reader of this blog, I wanted to let you know about it first. It’s a newsletter for songwriters and performers called Success For Your Songs. The content will be similar to the songwriting articles I’ve written for this blog, but they’ll be way more in depth, more frequent, AND you’ll be hearing from some killer guest panelists… not just myself. It’s gonna be an awesome free resource for songwriters and performers. When you sign up, you’ll also get instant access to a songwriting video-lesson I just released called “Writing Lyrics to Music.”
If you want to receive the Success For Your Songs Newsletter, just click this link and enter your name and email: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/
By doing so, you’ll immediately get access to the songwriting lesson I mentioned, and you’ll be added to the newsletter. If at anytime you no longer wish to receieve the newsletter, it’s really easy to unsubscribe at any time.
I will eventually be omitting songwriting articles like the one below from this blog and I will ONLY be sending them to the Success For Your Songs newsletter campaign. So, if you’d like to keep reading these, just click here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/
Thanks…. looking forward to seeing you there!
One of These Days, Songwriters Will Get This Concept Right (Part 1)
Were you aware that changing the position of your lyrics within your music can alter the message you want your listeners to hear? A big reason for this is because when we shift around our lyrical phrases, different words get highlighted than were highlighted before. What the hell am I talking about, you ask? Okay, I’ll just have to show you…
There’s an excellent example of what I’m talking about in the song “These Days” by Foo Fighters. But before I get into that, we need to back up and talk about our everyday speech patterns and how they relate to music.
The Spoken Word
In every day speech, some words and syllables are accented, and others are not. For example, look at the phrase “One of these days.” It’s a phrase we’ve heard many times before, so we’re familiar with its sonic shape. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice the words “one” and “days” are stressed more than the words “of” and “these.” I’ll notate this by capitalizing the stressed words: ONE of these DAYS. Do you hear it? The combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in this phrase help to create its natural shape. If we stressed words that don’t want to be stressed, we’d get: One OF THESE days. Sounds like William Shatner saying it, doesn’t it? It’s just not how we’re used to hearing it.
…And in Music
That’s cool, but what does this have to do with music? Well, when we sing lyrics, we also accent certain words. However in music, the position of the words in the measure has everything to do with which words get accented, and which words don’t. Each measure of a song has beats within its measure that are stronger than other beats. For example, in 4/4 time, the first beat of the measure is the strongest, the third beat is the second strongest, the second beat is the third strongest and the fourth beat of the measure is the weakest. Without getting too complicated, all we need to take away from this right now, is that the first beat of the measure is the strongest. So, if we place a word on the first beat of the measure, it’ll tend to sound more accented than a beat that is on the second, third or fourth beat.
As songwriters, it’s important for us to align the accented words of our lyrical phrases with the accented words in the spoken version of the phrases we choose. Remember that singing is just an exaggerated form of speech, so in order for our lyrics to really resonate with our listeners and sound natural, we need the phrases we sing to have the same sonic shape as the spoken version of our phases.
Applying These Concepts to “These Days” by Foo Fighters
Back to our Foo Fighters song. If you’d like to follow along, the song is here:
At the beginning of the song, the first line we hear lead singer, Dave Grohl, sing is “One of these days.” He repeats this phrase a few times throughout the verse in the exact same manner. When he sings this phrase in the verse, it sounds good. It sounds natural. The way we would speak it. “ONE of these DAYS.” Why is that? Check it out…. If you count along with the song, you’ll notice the words “one” and “days” fall on the first beat of two consecutive measures. So the visual version would look something like this:
Go back and listen to the first line of the song. Notice how the words that should be the strongest in the phrase (based on how we say it), are on beat number one? The result? The phrase resonates with us the way it should. Cool.
As a comparison, let’s fast forward to the chorus. Go to about a minute and forty seconds into the attached video and take another listen to when he sings the same exact lyrical phrase, “One of the days,” in the chorus. Go check it out.
Oops! What happened now? Suddenly, the phrase sounds like this: “one of THESE days.”
Or, in the song:
In the chorus, they’ve changed up the sonic shape of the phrase. Now the emphasis is on the word “these,” which goes against what we’re used to hearing in spoken language. That’s why something sounds off and not as natural as it did before. The word “these” lands square on beat one (the only word in the phrase that does) and sucks up all the spotlight. But is it supposed to? Let’s check our original spoken word version: “ONE of these DAYS.” Nope it wasn’t supposed to. So THAT’S why something sounds off… or at the very least, different than it did in the verse.
One thing I love about this song as a study of this topic, is that it uses the phrase “One of these days” in both ways, so we can get a side by side comparison within the song. You can clearly hear how the positioning of your words matters when you write your lyrics to music. Do it right, the way Foo Fighters did in the verse, and it sounds natural. Do it not-as-right (this is art after all, and there is technically no “wrong”), the way Foo did in the chorus, and it doesn’t sound as natural anymore.
Try it Out
Ultimately your phrases should sound the way they do in speech… natural. You don’t have to calculate and break down your own songs as thoroughly as I’ve done here with “These Days,” but keep an open ear as you write. Apply this concept in your own writing. Experiment with it, and see what kind of results you get. A little knowledge and a lot of experimentation go a long way in writing music.
In a follow up article, I’ll continue commenting on this song, in reference to its title and how it applies to what we’ve talked about here. Until then.