Song arrangement is the fundamental skill that separates good songs and great songs. Having a stable song arrangement comes down to having a trained understanding of feel and timing. Some musicians have a natural talent for songwriting, but that should not discourage others from keeping from trying. With study and practice, you can acquire a solid understanding of what entails an excellent song arrangement. In this article, we are going to provide you six essential tips for great songwriting.
Song Structure is Everything
The understanding song structure is like understanding architecture. A good song is built on a solid foundation, has fundamentals, and is then colored in with the designer’s mood board.
Most contemporary songs consist of a patterned structure that makes it easier for listeners to engage with or understand within the first few listens. Song structures also help make certain musical elements such as lyric or riff memorable so that the listener will want to come back to the song.
Typical song structures include forms such as these:
● Intro – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus
● Intro – Verse – Chorus – Verse- Chorus- Bridge/Solo – Double Chorus
● Intro – Verse – Build-Up – Instrumental/Drop – Verse – Instrumental
● Intro – Verse – Instrumental – Verse B – Instrumental – Outro
You can use templates like these to map out the possible arrangements for any musical ideas that you might have. Fill in the areas that you know you have ideas for as best you can, and then try to fill in the missing regions so that your song idea develops into a cohesive, complete composition.
Learn from the Best
An easy way to get a firmer grasp on the fundamentals of good songwriting is to listen and study artists’ works that you find inspiring or interesting. Many songwriters that put out consistent work tend to exhibit creative habits that you can pick up on and learn from.
Make a playlist of your favorite artists and pick out their most poignant songs. Try deconstructing these compositions with your ears to pick out the musical elements that you feel best drive the music and its core concepts. This could be various factors, from the focal lyrics to minimal hooks or accents that nudge a song’s musicality closer to the artists’ vision.
As musicians, it’s our natural urge to seek perfection in anything we do creatively. Part of this process involves us continually adding to our collection of skills and tools to pursue efficiency, sometimes to our detriment. We can often come paralyzed by endless creative choices during the creative process to apply to a song arrangement. Often, frustration caused by this indecision leads to great songs going unfinished and left in a box marked “Almost.”
Many professional songwriters believe that less is more with song arranging. This ideal doesn’t mean you can’t try and write the next Bohemian Rhapsody. It merely means you have to grow your way there organically while arranging and leaving out all the parts that fog up the song’s intent or presentation. Don’t try and start a piece to write an entire saga. Instead, start simple, and work your way up from a few firm, measured ideas instead of a series of seemingly random ones.
Try writing a song with just one instrument or committing yourself to one beat or groove for most of a track arrangement. This way, you’ll learn how to extract the best parts from your musical ideas instead of trying to piece bits of music together to finish a song.
Loop and Layer
Song arrangement works linearly, and you’ll want your song to sound complete through the journey from start to finish. A really way to keep creative fluidity is to think in terms of time and space.
If you get stuck on a composition idea that keeps the song from getting longer, try thickening it with another instrumental layer or hook. Likewise, if you’re struggling to come up with a hook or comping part, try and move on to a different section of the song that requires attention. Using this ethos as a guideline for arranging will help keep you motivated and engaged while arranging and improve your average songwriting speed.
The 8-Bar Rule
Most modern contemporary songwriters and arrangers have picked up this rule of thumb. A theory in music suggests that song arrangements are more fluid to the human brain when compositional elements are introduced in the arrangements every eight bars.
This technique is excellent for writing supporting musical pieces around the most substantial parts of your song arrangements. For instance, you could introduce a simple shaker or tambourine rhythm in the second verse of the song to make it seem slightly livelier than the first, without overwhelming the chorus,
This concept doesn’t apply to every song or genre, but it can help you keep your arrangements interesting to new listeners and push you to come up with as many supportive parts as you can to strengthen your song’s structure.
Kill Your Gurus
Songwriters and musicians need to study the works of their predecessors and learn from their habits. It is also equally, if not more important, for artists to try to push the creative boundaries set by their inspirations.
Creativity is ultimately all about self-exploration. That ultimately means that your songs have to be authentic to you, no matter how unconventional they may land up becoming. Some of the strangest musical ideas have become timeless and unique pieces of history that are impossible to replicate.
Challenge yourself, write songs about things you wouldn’t usually write about, with instruments, samples, or equipment you wouldn’t typically use. Song arranging can be a sometimes taxing process, but it doesn’t have to kill your creativity, and it’s healthy to remember that with music, there’s no such thing as a wrong answer.
For many musicians and producers alike, song arranging is the most satisfying part of the creative songwriting process. What the practice ultimately comes down to is the combination of practiced consistency and trained intuition. Song arranging is all about enhancing a feeling or statement as articulately as possible, and having a strong sense of arrangement will turn your good songs into great ones. Thanks for taking the time out to read our article on six essential tips for solid songwriting.