A lot of us musicians have the impression that we are currently in an era where everything has been done in music. Every combination of notes and rhythm has been made; you just have to reorganize them your way or borrow from the best. It’s not new, however. That impression has always been there in the history of music, even felt by some of the most praised composers.
Plagiarism is not from today
There seems to be more and more cases of plagiarism, but in fact, that is not from today.
Well known classical composer J.S. Bach started writing by copying Antonio Vivaldi (you know, The Four Seasons?). Bach learned how to write music by straight-up plagiarizing note for note Vivaldi’s catalog. He did it so well, that historians are still scratching their heads in trying to discover which songs are really from Bach or from Vivaldi. Some are maybe even credited wrong. Wow, that’s really something!
And to think now that we are bragging about a succession of the same notes or chord progressions…
More seriously, I do believe that plagiarism is a bad thing and a real problem, and that stealing a melody to someone is not the way to create and have pride in your own artistic creativity. But there are some things that you can borrow from your favorite artists and composers that are totally ok and will never get noticed. One thing in particular.
Copy and take notes on song structures
Trying to copy a melody that you like is a bad idea, because it’s the most memorable parameter of music. It’s obvious and it’s most of the time the hook of the song. Don’t do that.
Nowadays, copying a chord progression is not so much of a big deal anymore. Think about the thousands of songs with the famous I – V – VI – IV progression (Axis of Awesome, anyone?). But still, in most cases it ends up being recognizable or redundant.
Copying a clever song structure, however, will never get noticed and it’s a great idea that we don’t think about too often. If you like some songs that don’t seem to follow a structure of verse-chorus-verse-chorus, you should try to analyse their structure and take some notes!
An example of taking notes on a song structure
I am writing this post, because I came across an old Word document on my computer where I would describe song structures that I liked. It looked like this:
Beginning of the verse vocals + subtle lead guitar
Pre-Chorus (as good as a chorus) memorable melody
Chorus with prominent back vocals (very important)
Intro more rhythmic with vocals on top
Verse 2, but played with a different feel and with a crescendo
Bridge with several recalls of the main theme
Rhythmic intro with theme still going on top
Chorus melody with a different drum beat and chord progression
Finish on a long note
Verse : ambient and long / whispering vocals
Variation on the verse, repetitive new melody
Verse + subtle drum
Variation on the verse + add a static bass
Big punches to raise the volume and intensity up
Variation on the verse with more volume on drum and bass + adding back vocals
Silence + Recalling the theme very subtlety
Big bridge = intense riff, push the vocals
Bridge 2 = build-up, bring back the main theme
Volume explosion : all instruments play very intensely and scream vocals
I don’t even remember which songs they were. I never wrote the titles. I believe it was some Foo Fighters songs. But you get the idea: I described very precisely a song structure that was pretty inventive.
Of course, you don’t have to be THAT specific when you take notes on structures, but you get the idea.
Try to implement this to your next songwriting session
I hope you will get some ideas from this simple tip and be able to approach your next songwriting session with new ideas and ways to come with creative new songs.
Do you have other tips that you are using frequently when writing songs that you would want to share with us?
Use the comment section below 🙂