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Thread: Popular Songwriting (part one)

  1. #1

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    Popular Songwriting (part one)

    OK folks - leave your taste in music at the door here, as we'll be listening to everything in this thread, from screamo metal to hip-hop to dance to pop, and everything else in between

    First things first - try to identify the structure of a pop song.

    Here is a general guide of the common structure of pop pieces (note that music in different styles is usually commercially successful not because of instrumentation, but because they follow pop structure i.e. successful dance tunes are usually so because they follow pop structure, as with metal (think Metallica. Half the time they write 'by the book' when it comes to pop structure).

    So, as a general rule, follow the structure below when writing a song, and there's more chance of the song being commercially successful, as this is the structuring that the non-musician subconsciously 'knows' when they listen to a piece. Familiarity isn't always a bad thing. If you want to do something a little different, throw the following out the window, and go 'free' when writing. But it's always nice to know how to do something according to a particular manner.

    OK here's the 'standard' structure of a pop song. I've used dotted lines to divide it into a clearly seeable structure (more on this later):



    Verse 1

    Verse 2



    Verse 3

    Verse 4

    Chorus 2




    two or three choruses


    And here's a short and very basic description of each section:

    Intro - the beginning of the piece. Most often instrumental (as an aside, Rock music has a specific sectional structure to an introduction, usually in two or three parts. We'll go into that later. Just remember that an intro is an instrumental section to begin the piece.).

    N.B some songs begin instantly with the verse. This makes you remember the song quicker, but conversely, you'll get tired of the song quicker. Keep this in mind when writing. If you are beginnning to write, have a few songs that begin on the verse, as these will catch people's attention. Use these as the first and last pieces of a set - doing this at the start will put people straight into the piece, rather than having an indulgent alt rock 5 minute intro lol (that's OK once you're established haha), and have a similar piece at the end. As is said - it's how you enter and exit that people remember - what you do in the middle matters less. Think of any good solo (whether it be guitar, sax, or whatever) - you'll probably remember how it begins and how it ends, but not as much what hapens in the middle. This is by design, and not by chance.

    Verse - this is the 'story' of the song i.e. when the lyricist 'tells the tale'. Verses usually have four distinct vocal 'phrases' (think of a new phrase occurring when you would take a breath). There is usually a specific bar structure for verses, but, for the moment, go with the vocals as a guide.

    Chorus - the 'memorable' part of the song. the part you would sing when people ask you what the song goes like. The chorus lyrics will contain the title of the song. There's a lot in how to make a chorus memorable. Once again, we'll go into that in later threads.

    Bridge/Solo/Instrumental - always occurs after the second chorus. At this point in the song, the listener is familiar with the piece, both verse and chorus, and a change is needed. Hence a new section. A bridge is almost a complete new section of the song - if listened to on its' own, it could, in theory, be a different song. This is primarily to keep the listener interested. This is also usually the point on radio where the DJ fdes the song out, as the listener has heard enough of the song to 'knot' it by this point.

    A solo is purely what it says - when an instrumentalist in the band gets to 'do their thing'. In rock music, this is traditionally when the guitar solo would be (i.e. after the second chorus) (unless you're in Dragonforce lol, in which case your structure is intro/solo/verse/solo/verse/solo/chorus/solo etc lol. Hence they are known as a 'guitar band' - they have more solos in the structure)

    An instrumental is a musical section where no one instrument dominates i.e. there is no solo instrument. This is more common in mellower music.

    An outro is as it says - an ending section. Some outros can be 'developed' - others are a few chords (usually held) with the singer resolving the melody (the melody usually descends, in order to 'bring it to rest').
    Last edited by pianomankris; 22-06-09 at 11:39 AM.

  2. #2

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    Defining each section

    This is very very important, and is something most beginner songwriters overlook.

    Each new section will be defined. There are two common ways of defining a new section, they are dropouts and fills.

    A dropout is when something is taken away - almost always the drum and bass. This 'empties' the song, and makes the return of the instruments more striking i.e. adds emphasis when the instruments come back in.

    A fill is when something is added - usually, once again, a run on the bass, or a drum fill.

    There is a reason why both usually occur with the drum/bass, but it's more in-depth, so we'll go into that later also.

    OK - when to use either a dropout or a fill?

    Fills are usually used cross-section i.e. between verse 1 and verse 2. Depending on style, they are common between every section, apart from when going to the chorus, or going to the bridge (the traditional plce for a dropout)

    Dropouts are usually used before the chorus, or after the chorus ( normally referred to as a post-chorus dropout), depending on style of music. Dance will have dropouts before the chorus; pure pop will have dropouts after the chorus.

    Be tasteful when using dropouts - too many will make your piece sound 'broken'. Use them to define the main melodic sections of the song i.e. the chorus and, to a lesser extent, the bridge.

    OK here's a great song that coimbines dance and pop structure - 'Untouched' by The Veronicas:

    (if you're counting this tune, it's in 4/4 time, and begins on beat 4, not beat 1).

    Dance Music

    We need to learn a little about dance structure as well. Dance music relies on 'four on the floor' - this is the 'boom boom' you hear on the bass drum in a dance tune. On a simple level - drunk people in clubs need an obvious beat to dance to (remember the context of each style btw). there's a more complex reason - it ties in with tempo. We'll also go into that at a later date.

    Ok four on the floor is on the crotchet beats. there will be a high instrument on beats 2 and 4 - usually a snare sound, or a clap. Listen to the Veronicas and you'll hear the four on the floor and the clap on beats 2 and 4 (at the end of bar 2 there is a quaver clap. But this is an exception to the rule).

    The actual bassline in dance music will be offbeat i.e. on the 'and' beats. this is because it would get 'in the way' if it was on the same beat as the bass drum. It would be too much. you'll hear the bass (on a synth) in this song during the verse on the 'and' beats.

    The basis of dance music is four on the floor with a clap on beats 2 and 4, with the bassline offbeat.

    In dance music, a dropout will normally mean the removal of everything that makes the song dance i.e. the clap, the bass drum, and the bassline.

    In dance music, a one beat dropout usually occurs at the end of verse 1 (not in this song though lol. But it's more of an exception with this song than a rule).

    There will be a one-bar dropout before the chorus (occasionally the bass drum will play on beat 1 of this bar only). This is also known as a pre-chorus dropout, and gives more emphasis to the chorus.

    With the Veronicas song, the pre-chorus dropout occurs at around 1:05. See if you can spot it.

    Like pop music, this song has a post chorus dropout. But there's more to it than that. But just think of it as a post chorus dropout for now.

    There is a two-bar pre-chorus dropout before chorus 2 (at about 2:08 )

    There's a lot in this song btw, and we'll go back to it (partly because it's a great song, but mainly because the two lead singers are absolutely beautiful lol ), but for now, try to spot the pre-chorus dropouts. It's a big part of why the chorus 'stands out' so much.

    BTW the way in which i'm talking here i.e. 'pre-chorus dropout' is standard fare in a studio. If you were working on a song in a studio and the sound engineer suggested a pre-chorus dropout, and you gave him a vacant stare, you'd more than likely get laughed out of the studio. this is the language of pop music, so it's best to learn it.
    Last edited by pianomankris; 22-06-09 at 09:42 AM.

  3. #3

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    OK here's a completely different style now, but with similar use of the things i'm mentioning. - Russian screamo band 'Stigmata'. I heard them in Moscow a while back - bloody brilliant night!! lol

    Listen for the droupouts - the first one is a pre-verse dropout - it occurs at around 0:16 (it's only a two-beat dropout, since it's not a pre-chorus dropout. A full bar dropout here would be too much).

    Pre-chorus droupout at around 0:48 - it'll be so obvious probably by now that you'll not be able to not hear it!! lol

    Note the fill at the end of the chorus to take us back into the verse. Fills are common in rock/metal music.

    Pre-chorus dropout again at 1:38 odds.

    You get the idea. Listen out for it in the songs you like. It'll be easier to spot in dance songs.

    I'm purposely choosing a very heavy song to show you the things i'm mentioning are used universally across styles, and are pretty much the basis for pop music.

    OK more to come soon. but first - your turn - post examples of tunes you know with pre-chorus dropouts, and state at what time they occur. Then we can all have a listen. don't be embarassed about style etc - i'll end up posting every style imaginable here anyway lol.

  4. #4

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    OK some more examples - here's some dance examples -

    Cascada - 'everytime we touch' -

    One beat only pre-chorus dropout (0:45)

    pre-instrumental dropout at 0:57 . And again at 1:11.

    BTW pure dance has a different structure than pop, hence the instrumental after the chorus. I'll do a few threads on the specifics of each style after we've covered all the basics of songwriting.

    Aural Vampire - 'darkwave surfer' -

    pre-instrumental dropout at 1:06, and at 1:50. (there are smaller dropouts throughout, but these arethe most obvious).

    Kanye West - 'stronger' -

    Very cleverly done song that changes between 'four on the floor' (keeps the dance crew happy lol) and 'hip-hop' beats (keeps the cooler dudes happy also lol). we'll go into what makes a hip-hop beat a hip-hop beat. Once again, for now, just spot the dropouts.

    The dropouts are used when the music changes from hip-hop to four on the floor and vice versa i.e. at 0:21, and at section changes i.e. at 0:31.

    As a basic rule, with hip-hop, there will be no bass drum when you get the clap i.e. no bass drum on beats 2 and 4. But you will get the bass drum off-beat. Hip-hop has what's called the rule of 3/4/5 - one again, i'll go into that another time.

    more droupouts in this song at 1:07 (going back to four on the floor), 1:26 (back to hip-hop), etc etc etc blah blah lol. I'm sure by now you definitely get the idea

    As they say, it's amazing what you don't notice until you notice it

    I personally love absolutely every style of music. The more you learn about each style, the more you'll probably grow to like each style. When I was a 'classical snob' lol, I used to hate dance music. But looking back, it was simply a case of not understanding it, musically, and contextually. Go with what i'm posting here btw - you'll be far smarter for it And the more you know about each style, the more chance you have of doing something original i.e. combining two styles to get something totally unique i.e. your own style.
    Last edited by pianomankris; 22-06-09 at 10:14 AM.

  5. #5

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    Some rock examples - the amazing voice of Gackt with the song 'redemption' -

    pre-chorus dropout at 1:04
    and again at 2:00

    OK you'll be going insane with this by now lol. Just a few more examples should do us.

    Take note though that a chorus is always defined. What comes before the chorus (or lack of i.e. the dropout) makes the chorus just as effective as the actual music itself sometimes.

    To contrast - here's a pre-chorus fill (oooh! lol) - the amazing Nirvana (damn it I never saw them live aaaaargh) with the song 'In Bloom' -

    pre-chorus fill is at 0:53
    and again at 2:07

    As you can probably see by now, section changes are always defined.

    Changes within verse etc are more complex - hence i'm beginning with changes to the chorus etc.

    PS most of this stuff won't be on songwriting websites. That's because these are things i've learned from others in the studio i.e. 'on the job'. Don't tell anyone any of the secrets i'm sharing with you here lol or i'll hunt you down and feed you to the dogs haha

    Oh - and you know you'll be listening to a song now and saying 'damn, a pre-chorus dropout would really define that chorus' lol haha
    Last edited by pianomankris; 22-06-09 at 10:29 AM.

  6. #6

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    Full ballad format (heavily used by jpop):

    1. Prelude(music only, not often used,as a separate tracks)
    2. Intro (4-8 bar)
    3. V1,V2(8-16 bar combined)
    3. Prechorus (8 bar max)
    4. C1.C2(20 bar is often)
    5. Short interlude(2-4 bar)
    6. Repeat V2,Prechorus, C1,C2
    7. Long interlude(8-16 bar)
    8. Bridge (8-20 bar, modulated to give extra deep,oftenly bridge is the one people can remember)
    8. Repeated C1,C2 (can be more repeat)
    9. Outro

    Estimated song length is about 5-6 min excluding Prelude.

    Example of 1-9 points - Ayumi Hamsaki Carols AT2005 live (original words by Ayumi Hamasaki)
    Note that: The bridge is not modulated

    Example of 2-9 points - Koda Kumi Hands
    Note that: The bridge is not modulated

    Example of 2-9 with modulated long bridge: Koda Kumi Yume no uta

    Example of 2-9 points without prechorus - SHENA RINGO OKONOMI DE (composed by Shena Ringo):

    Example of 2-9 w/o bridge:Ayumi Hamasaki - M (word and music by Ayumi Hamaski)
    This example show the used of modulation. At least 2 keys(intro and Verse/Prechorus/Chorus) are being used, and a up key over the last chorus.
    Last edited by kongwee; 25-06-09 at 02:38 AM.

  7. #7

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    Right folks - where the hell are everyone else's examples?!

    Come on, you lazy shower of vagabonds

    I don't do this stuff for nothing, ya know - I expect a bit of give and take here!

    Kongwee - all very good, but a bit vague and lacking in detail. Don't take this the wrong way, but keep to the script of what i'm going with here if you could. I'm heading somewhere with this, and will get to other formats soon Best thing you could do just now is post examples of dropouts/fills in songs you know.

  8. #8

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    I admit I am lazy (-_-")...

  9. #9

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    Rare A B C D E format( I think in modern time), I may be wrong as there is no repeat in every "paragraph" of the song

    Ayumi Hamasaki Surreal Countdown 2006-2007 live(words:Ayumi Hamasaki, compose by DAI):

    Format Intro,AB,AB,Interlude,AB,C,D,E,Outro (My guess)

    Rare A,B,C,D,E,F format(I think):
    Notice only AB are repeat paragraphs
    Ayumi Hamasaki Rainbow (words:Ayumi Hamasaki, compose by DAI):
    Last edited by kongwee; 25-06-09 at 01:56 AM.

  10. #10

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    Ayumi Hamsaki Hanabi (words by Hamasaki Ayumi, compose by DAI):
    A common Verse,Prechorus, Chorus format. Notice a modulation in the middle of the first Prechorus?

    Ayumi Hamasaki Live-Dearest Sub(words by Hamasaki Ayumi, compose by DAI):
    A common Verse,Prechorus(only key change), Chorus format with a up key.
    Last edited by kongwee; 25-06-09 at 02:21 AM.

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