Songwriting with Denny Zager

Songwriting is a difficult art to teach, since techniques, methods, and stylistic preferences vary widely from one composer to the next. However, there are some basic keys to building the foundation of a song. Four major aspects to consider in building the framework of a song are: (1.) lead line, (2.) chords, (3.) bass, and (4.) rhythm. Lead line refers to the central melody of a song. Since this is the aspect that listeners will chiefly identify with, it’s an important area of focus and a good place to start. It should come naturally to you, like a tune you start whistling on the way to work or hum up whilst lathering in the shower. However you find it, the lead line should be memorable, as it’s most likely of all to make a lasting impression on your listeners.

Once you’ve created your lead line, finding the respective chords structure should be simple enough. If writing a chord structure and lead line were tossing a salad, the chords would be the lettuce and the lead line the dressing. The chords are the basic platform for the lead line to dress. Lettuce alone is fine, but the dressing provides the flavor and nuisance that really define the character of the mix. Next comes the bass line, which can take several different avenues given the mood the writer strives to establish. A simple back and forth, one-two patterned bass part may be most suitable for the tone you’re trying to create, or possibly a walking bass line, or maybe something more complex, with playful syncopation and broad capers from one note to the next.

The possibilities boundless, though dependent on instrumentation available and the structure already provided. Lastly, the rhythm of a song is what listeners tap their feet and swing their hips to. It can be felt in many different ways, but most basically either by the on or off beat. As with all above mentions, there’s no right or wrong answer in determining the rhythm to establish for a given song, so long as it matches the feeling you strive to impart. Hopefully this advice is helpful to your endeavor. Remember, your songs are an extension of yourself, so expressing your own essence in way that others can relate to is the most notable purpose for you work.



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