Writing Songs that Stand Out: 4 Techniques

By D I Hughes, Spire Contributor | January 24, 2019

Writing Songs that Stand Out 4 Techniques

Whether you're a songwriter, a home recording enthusiast, or a touring musician, one thing remains true: music is a means of expressing yourself. Simply put, if you're passionate about making music, performing, and writing songs, recording will give you an enormous sense of satisfaction.

If you want to communicate your style and personality through your recordings, there are simple ways to punctuate your songs. We’re going to explore four of these ways now.

How to punctuate your songs

For the first two sound clips below, I used Spire Studio, adding the built-in Verb 65 amp effect to add a little crunch to my bass, while highlighting ambient sounds such as fret squeak to give the recordings added character.

1. Use the stutter technique

In this particular sound clip, I used something I like to call the “stutter” technique, which is an evolution of the simple musical pause.

Around midway through the clip, you’ll notice that the bass pauses momentarily, followed by a series of stuttering notes that wind back into the main groove or musical part. In doing so, the part gains definition, becomes more interesting to the ear and serves to give emphasis to the groove when it kicks back in again.

How to use: The great thing about the stutter technique is that you can use it anywhere in a song with ease. Simply play through your song and use your instinct to select the part, or parts, of your song that you feel will benefit most from this technique. Begin by trying a simple pause and once you’re comfortable, add as many succeeding notes as you wish until you wind back into the rest of the song naturally.

2. Hang on a note

Here, I’ve used a long hanging note to punctuate a particular section of music. By picking a section of the music that would best benefit from a little disruption, I have essentially added an elongated pause, allowing the volume to drop naturally, while wiggling the string to create a subtle tremolo effect that adds a little extra character to the piece (you can also achieve this with the guitar, keys or vocals).

How to use it: Much like the stutter technique, you should play through your song and select a part, or parts, that you feel would sound best with a hanging note and first practice with a pause. Once you’re happy, hold onto the note, letting it ring out and kicking back in when you feel it sounds best and most natural. Practice this a few times and before you know it, you’ll have a hanging note to be proud of.

3. Suddenly change the rhythm

Sudden, sharp rhythmic changes in a song can really serve to jolt the listener’s ears, pulling them deeper into a song or arrangement while helping them to get lost in the music as a result.

Kevin Morby’s “Miles, Miles, Miles” is an excellent example of using rhythmic changes to punctuate a song. At the very start of the song, around the first eight bars, the song sports a relatively busy, stammering rhythm. Then, all of a sudden—when the verse unfolds and the vocals begin—the time signature shifts and the rhythm offers more space. As the rhythm changes, so does the instrumentation around it, stripping back and coming down dynamically to accentuate the melancholic nature of the verse.

How to use it: To use rhythmic changes to punctuate your songs, you should first pick the section (verse, chorus or bridge, for example) that you’d like to accentuate the most, then write the parts either side of it that sport a striking rhythmic change. Using the same chord progression, or a similar set of chords always works well for the preceding or succeeding parts as you can really focus on refining a striking rhythmic change while maintaining the flow of the song.

4. Try a false start

False starts are an excellent way of placing a big neon signed punctuation mark in your song early on and giving your listeners an active incentive to keep on listening. Yes, false starts are jarring, they’re momentarily confusing, they’re hypnotizing, and they're magnificent.

“No No No” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a prime example of a short, sweet yet enticing false start. In this particular example, the drums begin naked for a bar or so before stopping suddenly. From there, you hear a moment of talking before the drum intro winds up again and the music swiftly builds into the verse. What’s also great about this example is the fact that a simple musical pause is used to punctuate the transition from intro to verse—another incredibly effective means of adding extra personality and punch to your music.

How to use it: It's not compulsory to add background noise or talking to the end of your false start,  but if your music leans to towards the hard rock or punk spectrum, adding a little talking or chanting can serve to add authenticity to your songs. That said, to add a false start to your songs that really punctuates your song early on, you should limit it to 16 bars maximum, and test run a selection of ideas or scenarios that lead into your song’s intro or verse before deciding on a winner.

Check out these ideas on how to start your songs.

Final thoughts

Using some of these techniques may not come easy right off the bat, with a little practice, trial, error and persistence, you'll soon find that punctuating your songs is as natural as tuning an instrument or speaking a sentence.

After a short while, you'll be punctuating your music without even knowing it, adding new depth and life to each and every one of your arrangements, time after time, after time.

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