How to Write a Hit Song? When you write a song, you need to start by looking for a topic. This is the starting point for your song. It could be a person, a place, or an idea. For example, you can write a song about a person, such as your girlfriend, or a place, such as your hometown.

The first step in songwriting is to figure out what kind of song you want to write. Do you want to write a love song, rock song, country? Each genre has its own rules that determine the direction of your writing.


How to Write a Song

How to Write a Hit Song?



In the following detailed discussion of the ten cardinal points, it is suggested that the reader supplement the study by listening to new popular numbers and, if possible, by playing them, until he is thoroughly familiar with their constructional details.


1. The Song Must Be in Dance Tempo


We are so accustomed to think of the popular song as a number written in dance rhythm that this rule seems rather obvious and unnecessary. However, as it has been pointed out, this convention has only been established within recent years.

In the early days of the American popular song, the principal means of exploiting or "plugging" the song was by performers in traveling minstrel shows. Most of Stephen Foster's numbers, including Swanee River were made popular in this manner. These songs were written for their medium. That is, they were, for the most part, "lush" sentimental ballads dealing with homely, familiar subjects. The tunes were intended to be sung and consisted of simple but strong melodies which could be easily performed by the average singer.

This tradition was still maintained in the 1890's when such numbers as The Passing Policeman, The Picture Turned Against the Wall, Silver Threads Among the Gold, Town by the Old Mill Stream and others, in a similar vein, took the country by storm. These songs were first made popular in the beer halls, music halls and burlesque theaters which succeeded the minstrel shows. Although Tin Pan Alley first took form in those days, the character of the popular song had not changed. The public still demanded-and got-tearful ballads in which the words and music were written without much form, rhyme or reason.

In the early 1900's three new forms of public entertainment upset all tradition and changed, among other things, the entire course of popular music. These tra-dition-jolters were the musical comedy, vaudeville, and public dancing.

In 1904 "The Merry Widow" visited Broadway and decided to stay for a long while. Everybody was soon singing the title song and demanded more musical operettas. This show was soon followed by "The Wizard of Oz" and a stream of other musical comedies. Few of the songs in these shows became popular but some, like The Merry Widow Waltz, Oh "Promise Me, and Under The Bamboo Tree have survived the test of time.

Vaudeville, supplanting the beer halls and music halls also became popular about this time. Vaudeville instituted a higher type of entertainment, drew larger audiences, and simplified, for the moment, the intricate occupation of "plugging" songs. For the many years that vaudeville was in vogue it remained the most, popular medium for introducing new numbers.

With the turn of the century, public dancing was introduced and took the country by storm. The influx of Viennese waltzes, culminating in "The Hesitation Waltz," made dancing popular. Supplementing the waltz were some variations on the "Two-Step," "The Turkey Trot," "Grizzly Bear," "Bunny Hug," "Fox

Trot" and "Lovers Walk." Everybody's Doing It and Tres Moutarde, two hit songs based on the turkey trot, set the pattern for the popular songs to follow. Before long, restaurants featured dance floors and dance orchestras, and the fad had come to stay. The tango, introduced by the Castles, became a social function. After the first smoke of novelty had cleared away, three dance forms remained-the waltz, foxtrot and tango. These forms still set the pattern for popular songs although, at this writing, the rhumba and La Conga have replaced the tango.


Dance Tempo


The measure is the partition of time regularly used in music and may be compared, in this respect, to the "foot" in poetry. Time in music refers to the number and type of beats in a measure. For instance, the foxtrot has four beats to a measure and the fundamental beat is a quarter note. This time is indicated at the beginning of the foxtrot by the signature 4/4 or by the letter "C" signifying "common time." The top figure of the fraction indicates the number of beats; the lower figure, that the unit of beat is the quarter note.

This, of course, does not mean that every measure in the song must have four quarter notes. This would be exceedingly monotonous. As long as there are four beats to a measure, each beat being equivalent to a quarter note, the time requirement is fulfilled. 

Notice that the value of the notes in each measure in the second example still totals four beats; the half note being equal to two quarter notes, each eighth note equaling one-half a quarter note, and the whole note equaling four quarter notes.

The time established at the beginning of the song never changes throughout the song. The note values in each measure must always total the number of beats indicated in the time signature.

The same principle applies to waltzes where the fundamental rhythm is three beats to a measure (3/4 time) or to tangoes or rhumbas which are in 2/4 or fast 4/4 time.

Dance tempo, of course, consists of much more than the mere beating out of a steady rhythm. Here again, monotony must be ^voided and it is done, in this instance, by accenting alternate beats. Thus, in a 4/4 measure, the first beat is accented; the second, unaccented; the third, accented; and the fourth, unaccented. This system of alternate beats may be likened to the iambic measure in poetry which consists of alternate accented and unaccented beats.

No matter what the time signature may be, the first beat of the measure is always accented. This beat is called the "down beat" and is indicated by the orchestra leader lowering his baton. The unaccented beat is indicated by a raised baton. The orchestra leader thus beats out both the time and the fundamental rhythm of: a piece.

In foxtrot tempo, the first beat of the measure receives the strongest accent while the third beat is accented but not quite as heavily. Both the second and fourth beats are unaccented. Thus, a measure of four quarter notes in 4/4 time:

In waltz time (3/4 time) the down beat is usually followed by two unaccented beats. In some instances, however, the accent on the first beat is very light, making the stress seem almost equal on all three beats of the measure. In no instance do we have more than one accented or down beat in waltz time. A waltz measure might be thus compared to a poetic measure:

So far, we have discussed only the fundamental rhythm; that is, the rhythm indicated in the signature of the song. A secondary rhythm, however, is achieved by varying the value of the notes within the measure. Although this will be discussed in greater detail later in this book, it might be well to bring out the fact that normally unaccented syllables can be given a false accent by some such device as the following:

In this instance, the second (unaccented) beat of each measure seems to receive an accent because the note falling on the second beat is held for two beats. A normally stressed beat, on the other hand, may seem to receive less accent if, for example, an eighth rest followed by an eighth note is used instead of the quarter note.

It should be borne in mind that these and other variations do not alter the fundamental beat. They do serve to relieve the monotony, and it is by this interplay of rhythm that syncopation is achieved.


2. The Melody Must Be Based on a Short Theme


The chorus of the average popular song is 32 measures long, and is divided into four distinct sections or "phrases," each containing eight measures. The opening phrase contains the principal melodic theme which is repeated according to certain patterns to be discussed later. This opening phrase is the focal point of the song. Once it is worked out properly, the remainder of the song "is in the bag."

If we play a number of popular songs, paying particular attention to the melody in the opening phrase, we will note that the theme is completed within the eight measures and does not carry over to the following phrase. To achieve this result, four measures of the phrase must be devoted to expressing the theme and four more to repetition, development, or conclusion. Since the title is always tied in with the four measures in which the theme is first expressed, one can easily pick out those songs in which the melody starts the phrase and those in which the melody ends the phrase. Such songs, for example as In My Arms, Mairzy Doats, They're Either Too Young or Too Old, My Mama Done Tole Me, Night and Day, and White Christmas have the main melody in the first four measures of the opening phrase. Other songs, such as Pistol Packin' Mama, As Time Goes By contain the principal melody in the second half of the eight-measure phrase. In this instance, the first four measures serve to introduce or build up to the main melody.

There is no particular rule about starting the main melody either at the beginning or the middle of the phrase. This is entirely up to the composer and will be suggested, to a good extent, by the character of the tune. It is, however, important that the melodic theme be completed within the phrase. If the tune is properly written, it should not take more than eight measures to express it. If the tune seems to require more than eight measures, close examination will usually reveal that a few changes in note values throughout the phrase will not only make the melody more compact but improve the tune.


3. The Melodic Construction Must Conform to One of Several Patterns


The entire construction of the popular song is based upon the fact that the composer wishes to state a melodic phrase so emphatically that it will impress an audience at first hearing and be remembered when the song is ended. Placing the main theme at the beginning of the chorus is a step in this direction, but this alone would not be sufficient. Repetition is required, but not enough repetition to promote the monotony which the composer is constantly seeking to avoid. Monotony is avoided by interposing phrases containing alternate melodies. Experience has shown that certain patterns of these phrases are the most practical-both from the viewpoint of the composer and the listener.

In the following discussion of form, one must bear in mind that the rules laid down are not based on the whims of a few composers or publishers. They have all been established to meet certain logical requirements. Moreover, they have been thoroughly tested by time and public demand. It is therefore unwise for the new songwriter to break or ignore these rules-not, at least, until he has completely mastered them.


Song Division


Practically every popular song is divided into verse and chorus. Although the verse is relatively unimportant and is seldom played or sung, it is considered an integral part of the song and has a very definite place in song construction. Its main function, of course, is to build up, melodically, to the introduction of the main theme in the chorus, and to act in the same capacity, lyrically, for the title and main "story" idea contained in the chorus. For these reasons, the verse must always be subordinate to the chorus. This is evidenced in the length of the verse, the types of melodies (and lyrics) employed and in the verse ending.

The verse is generally not more than half the length of the chorus. Thus, for a thirty-two-measure chorus, the verse will usually be eight measures or sixteen measures long. Note that the verse also employs the eight-measure phrase. (The eight-measure phrase is used throughout the song except in those few songs containing a sixteen-measure chorus. These songs employ a four-measure phrase and follow the same constructional patterns except for this fact. For example, the verse for such a song would be eight measures long, and the chorus would conform to the divisions discussed below. (For many reasons, it is not advisable for the new writer to experiment with the sixteen-measure chorus.)

Since the verse is designed only as an introduction or background for the chorus, the verse melody Is relatively unimportant. In no instance is the main melodic theme of the chorus stated or even imitated in the verse. The rhythmic mood of the chorus may be suggested in the verse but even this is rarely done. In an eight-measure verse, a simple melody is usually stated in the first four measures and then repeated, with some variation in the second half of the phrase. The same pattern might be used in a sixteen-measure verse except that, in the latter case, the melodic theme would occupy eight measures instead of four.

In many instances, even this slight pattern will not be evident in the verse. We will often find an eight-measure melody leading into another melodic theme for the final eight measures.

Although there is no particular rule about developing the melody of the verse, there is a fairly standard convention about the manner of ending the verse. The verse rarely ends on the key-note. This would bring the melody to a complete stop, whereas it is intended to lead directly into the chorus. If the verse does end on the key note it is usually followed by a succession of chords which lead into the opening phrase of the chorus. In most cases, however, the final phrase of the verse ends on an incomplete cadence, usually consisting of some note in the dominant or dominant seventh chord. A good instance of this is shown in the verse-ending shown on page 20.

This song is in the key of "C." The verse ends in "G" which forms part of the dominant seventh chord. If the composer is unfamiliar with harmony, a good working rule is to end the verse, if possible, on the fifth note of the scale. If the melody does not permit this, and the only logical ending is on the key-note, the lead-in can always be achieved by harmonic progression when the accompaniment is filled in by a competent arranger.

Most professional composers write the verse after the chorus has been completed. This permits a proper buildup to the main theme and permits the composer to concentrate, initially, on the chorus, which, of course, is the most important part of the song. This method, also, helps to prevent the accidental use of the chorus melody when writing the verse.


Song Form


The chorus of the average popular song consists of four eight-measure phrases-producing a total of 32 measures. Of these four phrases, two, at least, contain the principle theme; the other phrase or phrases acting as relief. Although the four divisions may be put together in a number of different patterns, the one that is most commonly used is known as the Song Form. This pattern, one of the easiest to construct, and one of the most forceful when backed by a good tune, dates back as far as the early English folk songs and appears in some of our own earliest popular songs, including such favorites as Swanee River, and Old Kentucky Home,

The whole purpose of the Song Form is to state a melodic theme, repeat it for emphasis, follow this with a contrasting tune which serves as a relief, and then conclude with a final statement of the melodic theme. If we call the first statement "A," and the contrast-melody, "B," the pattern might be summarized as AABA. Using this pattern, the chorus is constructed according to the following formula.

  • A: Measures one through eight, containing the main theme.
  • B: Measures 9 through 16, repeating the main theme.
  • B. Measures 17 through 24, containing the contrasting theme (known as the "release" or "bridge.")
  • A. Measures 25 through 32, repeating the main theme.

The AABA pattern appears not only in the majority of popular songs but also in instrumental music. It is a perfectly logical form. The composer has a short theme which he wants to "get over" to his audience. He therefore states it at the beginning of the chorus. Upon completion of the phrase, it is repeated for emphasis. Since further repetition at this point would tend to make the tune sound monotonous, the composer interposes a new phrase containing an alternate melody. This melody leads into the next phrase which repeats the main theme.

In this pattern as well as in any other pattern that is used, there should be no abrupt or awkward pause between phrases. Each phrase should flow naturally into the succeeding phrase. Thus, the first "A" phrase has the same type of ending as the verse. It rarely ends on a complete cadence, and if it should, harmonic progression leads into the second "A" phrase which repeats the theme. Generally, this second "A" phrase ends on the key-note. The third section, like the first, leads into the "A" phrase.

One strange thing about this pattern is that many new writers who are not striving for any type of pattern and who are not too well acquainted with popular song requirements, write their songs according to the Song Form, unconsciously following all the structural requirements. This is merely a further proof that the pattern, far from being artificial, is a natural and logical sequence, the result of long experience and of popular acclaim. As a matter of fact, the Song Form, when analyzed, is merely the old rule of statement-contrast-reminder, that we find employed not only in all types of music, but also in the fields of drama and literature.

While the majority of songs are written in the AABA form, there are occasions when a different pattern is required. For instance, if the melody in the "A" phrase is somewhat repetitious, it would be impractical to repeat the phrase immediately, since this would promote monotony. There are also occasions when the composer has devised a secondary or "B" phrase containing a melody which, while not as strong as the "A" phrase, is nevertheless, worth repetition. A common pattern used under such circumstances is the ABAB form. This form, of course, contains the main melodic theme in the first and third sections, while the contrasting theme appears in the second and fourth sections. One will usually find that, in the ABAB type of song, there is no sharp contrast in the melody in the "A" and "B" phrases, and that the rhythmic pattern in the *'B" phrase closely resembles that used in the "A" phrase. The object of this is to promote a smooth-flowing melody. For the same reason, the concluding measures of the second "B" phrase often contain a repetition of imitation of the melody, carrying the title in the "A" phrase.

Two other forms, ABAC and ABCA, are used occasionally but appear most often in show numbers where a "punch" melodic ending is desired. Although three different melodic phrases are used in these patterns, there is no violent contrast in any of the separate melodies or rhythms. This requires clever songwriting. For practical purposes, the AABA form should be thoroughly mastered before any attempt is made to write and sell songs in the other patterns.

Summing up, the basic pattern of a popular song consists of four 8-measure sections so arranged as to provide at least one repetition of the main melodic theme. The Song Form is the most popular of the patterns in use, and offers the greatest opportunity to the composer who has created a worth-while theme.


Melodic Combinations


The chromatic scale-that is, the twelve white and black notes in any octave on the piano, is the basis of all melody. When we realize that these twelve notes are repeated at different levels for almost eight octaves on the average piano keyboard, it appears, at first thought, that there is an almost endless possible combination of notes. While this is technically true, from a practical point of view, the writer of popular songs is rather limited in his choice of melodic patterns.

In the first place, the popular song is written for the average voice which cannot sing, with ease, over a range of more than ten notes. This simply means that the entire song must fall within the range of an octave and a quarter-or, to put it another way, that the interval between the lowest note in the song and the highest note should not exceed one octave and a quarter.

The average voice is untrained for singing and therefore cannot be expected to sing complicated melodies. The melody line must therefore be strong, simple, and so constructed that the untrained singer is given sufficient time to breathe properly during and at the end of melodic phrases.

Another factor which limits melodic invention is that there are only a relatively few melodic combinations that are pleasing to the ear. The average ear has been trained to like and expect certain progressions, developments and resolutions. A melody that does not fulfill these expectations is just as disappointing to the average listener as an unhappy ending is to a confirmed movie-goer.

To understand this better, let us try to analyze melody itself. "We might think of melody as an organization of tones played in a logical and pleasing progression. Melody is not static. It must move, and in moving, it must proceed to a logical and expected conclusion. To illustrate this, play the chord "C-E-G." Although we have a pleasing combination of notes, the effect is static. Now, however, play out the chord, note by note, "C," "E," "G," and then, back, "G," "E," "C." The static chord has now been converted into a simple melody.

In the scale shown below, the movement is upward, from the low "C," through a logical progression, to the "C" an octave higher.

If we should interrupt this movement at any point, our ears will tell us that the progression is incomplete, or, in other words, that we have reached an incomplete cadence. If we now continue the progression to the "C" at either end of the scale, we find that our cadence is complete, and that our melody has reached a satisfactory and logical conclusion.

Now, let us vary the progression, skipping some of the scale notes and repeating others. Although the motion of the progression shuttles back and forth, the direction is still towards the key-note or its octave equivalent:

In the following phrase, we find that it is not necessary to start the progression on the key-note. In fact, the key-note is not stated until the final measure. Our ear, however, is so trained to the natural scale sequence that it anticipates the ending and is disappointed and dissatisfied if the progression ends anywhere but, on the key,-note.

Note that in the above phrase, the key-note may be substituted for any note in the progression. The progression, however, is more satisfying when played out to the full four measures. There is another point worth mentioning about this phrase. The average movement throughout the four measures is downward. That is, despite the skips between the fourth and fifth notes, and the eighth and ninth notes, the progression, in total, is down scale. This fact may be more evident, if we alter the notes to produce an up-scale and down-scale movement within the phrase:

It is quite obvious that this change of direction within a short phrase is somewhat distracting and not entirely pleasant. Melodic flow or movement often escapes the composer's attention, but it should be carefully checked particularly, if the melody appears to be "jerky." Constantly changing the direction of the melodic progression tends to bewilder the listener and makes the song difficult to remember. Of course, this does not mean that the melody should be either down-scale or up-scale throughout the entire phrase-but, simply, that the sum-total of the progressions within any one phrase should be in one direction.

The combination or arrangement of notes used in any melodic progression can be broken down or resolved into patterns or combinations of patterns. Although the average composer rarely creates a melody by deliberately selecting a combination of melodic patterns it is extremely helpful to know what these patterns are and how they may be used. Quite often a dull or uninteresting tune may be pepped up by changing one or more of the melodic patterns employed.

The melodic pattern used in the above examples is the familiar scale pattern in which all, or practically all of the notes of the scale are used. Among the well-known tunes using this pattern, are Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair, and Old Kentucky Home.

This, of course, is the longest, and most complicated of the melodic patterns. The simplest pattern consists of only two notes and can be used, with striking effect, either by itself or in combination with other patterns. An early example of this pattern can be found in Old Black Joe:

Many hit songs have employed a main melody based upon a two-note pattern. Among these are Japanese Sandman and Tea for Two. We will also find this pattern used successfully in more recent numbers.

More flexibility is provided when one more note is added to the melodic pattern. The three-note pattern, which consists of any three notes or their octave equivalents, is also a favorite among composers. It often appears as three consecutive notes and we find it used in this manner in Swanee River:

Note that in this song, Foster has combined the three-note pattern with a two-note pattern which acts as a sort of echo to the main melody. Similar use of an "echo" is found in Berlin's Always. We will also find this pattern of consecutive notes used in such songs as: Three Blind Mice, Yankee Doodle and Merrily We Roll Along. Quite often we will find the three-note pattern in the form of a played-out chord. The Star-Spangled Banner uses this pattern and we will also find it in Over There and The Blue Danube. Each of these melodies employs the notes of the tonic chord.

The four-note pattern, most familiar to listeners as the main melody of Sweet Adeline and The Merry Widow Waltz is shown here in a common form:

This pattern also appears as four consecutive notes. It is quite popular with composers and we will find it used very effectively in Cole Porter's compositions: Night and Day, Begin the Beguine, You're Getting Under My Skin, etc.

With five notes and their octave equivalents, the pattern approaches the scale pattern first discussed. The five-note pattern appears in many forms, but the following is a good example of the manner in which it can be used.

This pattern offers innumerable variations and often appears in combination with a two or three-note pattern. All of the note combinations above discussed are basic patterns. These patterns not only appear in a variety of forms, but are usually found in combinations. This is particularly true in the case of the simpler patterns such as the two-note and three-note patterns. Obviously, an entire eight-measure phrase or even, on occasions, a four-measure phrase would tend to become monotonous if the same two notes or three notes were used throughout. It is interesting, and also good practice, to select some melody with which you are familiar, and to attempt to break the tune down to its basic patterns. This method of analysis, incidentally, is often employed when two songs are being examined for infringement.

In composing a song, the composer does not usually make a conscious selection of one or two patterns and attempt to combine them into a melody. Although this can be done, and quite successfully, the process is too mechanical and the results are generally unsatisfactory. However, if it is merely a question of building up a weak tune or changing a too-familiar phrase, it is often a good plan to study the melodic patterns that are present in the phrase and experiment with different combinations until the desired results are obtained.


Rhythmic Patterns


We have already discussed rhythmic pattern briefly. We know, for example, that the basic rhythmic pattern (fundamental rhythm) of a song may be varied by a secondary rhythm formed by the actual value of the notes forming the measure. Thus, for example, if the time signature of a fox-trot is 4/4, calling for the time units of four quarter notes to the measure, there may be superimposed upon this steady beat a secondary rhythm which is governed by the long and short notes, and dots and rests distributed throughout the song.

This may be illustrated very graphically by the following experiment. Have someone tap out a steady 4/4 rhythm or, better yet, use a metronome. Then, using a stick or pencil, tap out the "tune" of some well-known melody. You will then have an interesting combination of rhythms . . . the fundamental time-beat (four equal beats to the measure), and a subsidiary (or rather, dominating) pattern comprising the stressed and unstressed beats and the time values of the notes and rests in the measures. The combined patterns might appear as follows:


TIME BEAT


Rhythmic patterns appear throughout the structural form in phrase combinations. For it is obvious that when a phrase, such as the main melodic phrase, is repeated, the rhythmic pattern of that phrase is also repeated. For instance, in the AABA form, the notes and note-values of the "A" phrase are stated three times. The rhythmic pattern contained in these phrases is also stated three times. The release or "B" section often has a different and contrasting rhythmic pattern as well as a different melodic pattern. A current popular song furnishes a good example of this. The rhythmic pattern of the "A" section is shown on page 33.
As we resolve this melody to its basic rhythmic schemes, certain definite patterns become evident. Starting with the fundamental rhythm, the composer soon achieves a marked syncopation, making use of dotted eighth and sixteenth notes and also eighth notes combined with quarter notes. Note that the second and fourth measures have the identical pattern and that a repetitious pattern is evident in the third, fifth and seventh measures.

And here is the rhythmic pattern of the "B" section.

Note that this section furnishes an immediate and distinct relief from the rhythmic pattern of the "A" section. Here, instead of the syncopated measures of dotted sixteenths and eighths, we find a prevalence of quarter and half notes, resulting in a more restrained and deliberate tempo. This section, also has a definite rhythmic pattern as evidenced by the similarity between measures 1-2, 3-4, and 5-6.

In songs using the ABAB formula, the rhythmic pattern in the "B" section does not show so much variance to the "A" pattern. This permits the melody to flow smoothly from one section to the next. Songs written in the ABAC formula often show a striking resemblance in rhythmic pattern of the "A" and "C" sections. This is shown quite clearly in the "A" and "C" sections of a current popular number:

A brief glance at both the "A" and "C" sections reveals the similarity in rhythmic treatment. Notice that in the "A" section the first and second four-measure phrases are repetitive, containing the identical rhythmic pattern. This repetition necessitates a relief and contrast in the "B" section (not shown). The final *'C" section, with its pattern of alternate dotted eighths and sixteenths provides a distinct imitation of the "A" section. In fact, the last three measures of the two sections are identical.

Rhythmic pattern should be studied carefully when composing a melody for it can be instrumental in either making a tune sound monotonous and too familiar, or in pepping up a melody that might otherwise sound dull. For instance, a composer might create a melodic phrase such as the following:

Stated in this manner, with one note falling on almost every beat of the fundamental rhythm, the tune sounds fairly pleasant but quite obviously lacks character. By altering the rhythmic pattern and yet retaining the same sequence of notes, we obtain the following phrase which is certainly an improvement over the original:

A working knowledge of rhythmic patterns is extremely necessary when composing a melody to fit a lyric. Although it is possible and often advisable to make some slight changes in the lyric to accommodate the tune, the lyric actually provides the rhythmic pattern which the melody should follow. The exact process of synchronizing word accents and musical accents will be explained in detail further on. However, for the moment, we can see that a simple line of poetry could be scanned in the following manner:

These are the things that do not count

It is a fairly simple matter to substitute note values for the scanning marks and then to divide the beats into four measures. Here is one of several alternative patterns.

These are the things that do not count

Once this step has been accomplished, one merely has to devise a melodic phrase that will fit the rhythmic pattern and conform to the meaning of the words. For example:


4. The Melody Must Be Simple Enough to Be Played, Sung and Remembered by the Average Person


In our discussion of the melodic theme we have found that the theme in a successful popular song should be relatively short and that it consists of a progression in which one or more familiar melodic patterns are used.

This simply means that the composer is limited by space, time, and material. He must, in other words, inject novelty, distinction and appeal within eight measures, using melodic patterns and progressions that have been used, time and again, in other songs. He cannot attempt to use a note combination or progression that is too bizarre or novel, for he is restricted to musical material that must be pleasing to the ear. On the other hand, many of the melodic progressions or patterns that he might be tempted to use have appeared in so many songs that they have become trite and uninteresting.

Summed up, the composer's task is to create an original melody that can be fully expressed within eight measures, that is so novel that it will not be regarded as hackneyed or imitative of other compositions and yet is sufficiently familiar to be pleasing to the ear.

This seems like a large order, but it can be done, as evidenced by every new song that appears on the stands. Naturally, it requires practice, experience and a certain amount of natural talent on the part of the composer. More than that, it requires an honest, objective viewpoint. The songwriter that is new at the game is very apt to regard his composition as entirely original. Since he has slaved over every note that he has put into his melody he regards the work as strictly his own, not realizing that the progressions and melody patterns he has used may have become so hackneyed that they have lost their original appeal.

While it is always difficult to be one's own critic, in the field of popular songwriting it may be the difference between success and failure. It is therefore vitally important that the new songwriter should be in constant touch with the current market, listening to and playing every new song that he can lay his hands on. He is then in an infinitely better position to evaluate his own work correctly and to determine whether his song comes up to professional standards.

As far as simplicity is concerned, an inherently good tune may be spoiled by a rhythmic pattern that is either too complicated to remember or too difficult to sing. One must always bear in mind that the average non-production number is intended for the untrained voice. A phrase that is crowded with eighth or sixteenth notes or one that requires the voice to be sustained on one note for an abnormally long period obviously calls for a trained singing voice. Such a number is entirely impractical for general commercial use. In the following examples, the same tune is shown, first with a complicated rhythmic pattern, and secondly with a simple rhythmic pattern that makes the melody easier to remember and to sing.

In composing a song for the untrained voice, the songwriter, in addition to following the restrictions mentioned above, is also limited by range. The range of a song is the interval between the lowest note in the song and the highest note. In determining the range, the entire song is taken into consideration including both the verse and chorus. For instance, if the lowest note in the song is middle "C," and the highest note is the "G" following the octave "C," the song may be said to have a range of 12 notes.

For practical purposes, the range of the popular song should not exceed ten notes. This is the average range that can be encompassed easily by the untrained voice. For the same reason, it is always advisable to keep the melody in the middle register. In other words, it is preferable not to go beyond the "G" below middle "C," or beyond the "E" or "F" following the "C" which is an octave higher than middle "C". Thus, if the lowest note in the song is middle "C," the highest note should not go beyond "E" following the octave "C." If the lowest note is the "G" below middle "C," the highest note should not be beyond "B" following middle "C."

Show numbers which are written for trained singers often have larger ranges, but as a rule even these ranges are low enough to be sung by non-professional voices.

You will get a fairly good conception of the range of the untrained voice if you listen to a group of people sing the Star-Spangled Banner. Note that the voices are strongest in the middle register but are inclined to fade out when the notes go below middle "C" or above high "E." It is for this reason that several serious attempts have been made to revise our national anthem.

In addition to keeping his rhythmic pattern simple and limiting his melody to a ten-note range, there is one other factor that the composer should bear in mind if he wants his song to be singable by the untrained voice. This is the matter of melodic "jumps" or "skips." A jump or skip is, as the name implies, the omission of several intervals between one note and the next. A good example of this is shown below.

To accomplish these skips successfully, the singer must be extremely familiar with scale progression and must be able to hit the second note of the skip successfully at the first attempt. A trained singer can accomplish this but the untrained singer is very apt to fall short of or over-shoot his mark. In any case, a melody containing such skips is difficult to sing or to remember. Strangely enough, octave skips are easier for the untrained singer to encompass than a skip of five or six notes. This is because the octave interval is more familiar than any other interval. You may recall the song Over the Rainbow which employed the octave skip very effectively. Even this number, however, was written for a production ("Wizard of Oz") and was designed for a trained voice. As a general rule, skips of more than five notes should be avoided whenever possible for, in addition to their "unsingability," they tend to complicate the melody and to make it jerky. Skips of three, four or five notes, if used with discretion, are perfectly acceptable.

Summing up, the following factors should be considered in the creation of a song that is both popular and commercial: i. The melody must be short enough to be fully expressed within an eight-measure phrase; 2. The melodic patterns and progressions used should be sufficiently original to make the song outstanding but not so novel as to appear freakish; 3. The rhythmic pattern should be interesting but not so complicated or bizarre as to make the song difficult to sing or to remember; 4. The range should be in the middle register and should not exceed ten notes; 5. The melodic progression should not alter direction too often within a phrase;

Melodic skips should be used with discretion. Skips of more than five notes should be avoided

If these precepts are followed, the completed composition will not only come up to professional standards but will have the originality and appeal that both the public and the publisher’s demand.


5. The Lyric Idea Should Appeal to the Majority of, People


In the average popular song, the lyric and the melody hold equal prominence. In some cases, it is true, a strong melodic line may sustain a lyric that is weak and uninteresting, or a strong and highly original lyric may carry a song that possesses a relatively hackneyed tune. On the whole, however, the lyric demands as much thought and creative effort on the part of the lyric writer as the melody does on the part of the composer.

In general, the same rules apply to both the lyric and the melody. The lyric theme, like the melodic theme, must be brief and of such a character as to appeal to the greatest majority of people. In conceiving a lyric idea for a song, one should aim at a "story" that has general appeal. Obviously, a lyric based upon an incident that is purely local in character and which may have affected the lives of only a few people would be absolutely devoid of interest to people in other regions, and who are unacquainted with the characters and locale of the song.

The lyric story must always be sufficiently general in character to permit the average person to project themselves imaginatively into the mood or circumstances described in the song. In other words, if the song deals with the specific praise of a girl named "Margie," the lyric must be so worded as to apply to almost any girl, whether her name is Margie or not. If the song deals with a specific locality, such as The Moon of Manakoora, it should be merely for the purpose of creating a background and should not deal with an event that is too specifically connected to the locale.

Because of the structural limitations of the popular song, there is little opportunity to develop an actual story in the lyric. The "plot," if it could be termed that, is merely one of situation, and even this is briefly sketched in. One can easily determine this by analyzing the lyric of any popular song from the viewpoint of story content. The point is, of course, that the lyric "story" must be so simplified that it is completely developed within the short scope of the song and so that it can be immediately grasped and understood by people hearing the song for the first time.

The following classification of lyric subject matter is offered as a partial guide to the songwriter and is not intended to be complete.

LOVE: This is the most popular of all lyric themes. Over 75 per cent of the songs published during any year deal with this subject. It is presented in many forms and under many guises and treatments, some of which are mentioned below:

GENERAL TREATMENT: Love in Bloom; Now I Know; In My Arms; For The First Time; As Time Goes By; The Music Stopped.

DECLARATION OF LOVE: How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You; Night and Day; Are You? Can't You Do A Friend A Favor?

PRAISE: You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby; Irresistible You; Star Eyes; You're A Wonderful Baby; How Sweet You Are;

REGRET: Two Cigarettes in The Dark; It's Hard to Believe; I'll Be Around; Old Acquaintance; No, No, No.

SORROW: Serenade in The Night; Someday I'll Meet You Again; Tess's Torch Song; I Never Will Forget You.

HOPE: When My Dream Boat Comes Home; I'll Walk Alone; When the Lights Go on Again;

JOY: On the Sunny Side of The Street; My Shining Hour; Crazy Me; Don* Worry Island.

SENTIMENT: These are sentimental songs (exclusive of love songs) dealing with home, parents, familiar places, etc. This is the type of song to which the adjective "corny" is usually applied. However, such songs, also, if well written often lead the list of bestsellers. Among the more familiar are: Mother Mach-ree; Don't Worry, Mom; There's A Harbor of Dream Boats; Wagon Trail; Don't Fence Me In.

WAR SONGS: A good percentage of the songs published these days deal directly or indirectly with the men in the armed services. This classification, however, applies strictly to those lyrics concerned with winning the war. In World War I there were several excellent war songs, the most successful being Over There, Ifs a Long Way to Tipperary, Smiles, and Keep the Home fires Burning. Aside from the Army Air Corps Song, there has been no outstanding war song for World War II. However, among those that have received some popularity we find: Pass the Ammunition; Comin' In on A Wing and A Prayer; What Do You Do in The Infantry; Hot Time in The Town of Berlin.

COMEDY: These are lyrics written solely for a comedy effect. Many of these songs could be classed as "novelty" numbers, but to simplify matters, we are grouping all such songs under one heading: Yes, We Have No Bananas; The Music Goes Round and Round; Pistol Packin' Mama; Mairzy Doats; Minnie From New Guinea; Rum and Coca Cola.

RHYTHM NUMBERS: These songs, primarily show numbers, are written chiefly for their musical content. The majority of them are intended to either introduce new dance forms or to popularize some accepted dance form. The lyrics for these numbers are relatively unimportant, the stress being on the music: The Carioca; Tiger Rag; (practically all Boogie Woogie and swing numbers.)

PLACE SONGS: These songs deal with some specific locality but have a lyric treatment that makes the "story" general in character. California Here I Come; Chinatown, My Chinatown; Mexico City; In A Friendly Little Harbor; San Fernando Valley. Considerable thought, discretion and common "horse sense" should be employed in selecting the subject for a song. Obviously, it is important to stay clear of any subject dealing with racial, political or religious matters since these would be distinctly distasteful to a great number of people. For the same reason, one must also avoid the risqué, or obscene either in subject matter or in story treatment. Few people realize that songs having doubtful lines are banned from the airwaves. In fact, the lyrics of show numbers that might be inclined in that direction, are changed before they are released for broadcasting purposes. On the whole, it is always best to select a subject that experience has proven to be popular, using as a yardstick, the type of subject that is best fitted to the tempo and character of the melody.

The fad in popular songs changes from month to month and sometimes as often as from week to week. Starting, apparently, from nowhere, there might be a sudden run on western numbers, novelty songs, patriotic songs, etc. This fad will gradually fade out, and another fad will come in. One sees the same thing occurring in books, motion pictures and plays.

If the songwriter is fortunate enough to have the proper type of song on hand to take advantage of a sudden fad, he has an excellent chance of gaining the publishers' attention. On the other hand, if the song should be brought to the publishers when the fad is dying out, the number, which might otherwise be quite commercial, would most certainly be rejected. It is usually rather difficult to write a song for a current fad because by the time that the tune and lyric are written and the song is published, the fad may have died out.


6. The Title Should Be Short, Catchy and Up-to-Date


Just as the melody centers upon the main melodic theme in the "A" phrase, the lyric employs the title as the focal point of interest. By tying the title in with melodic phrase, the songwriter succeeds in impressing his audience with a close association of both tune and title. This is extremely important. In a successful song, the title will always remind one of the tunes, and the tune will always be closely associated with the title.

The songwriter attains this effect by stating the title at least twice (and usually three times) in the chorus. Each time the title is stated, the melodic theme is repeated. Thus, the theme and title are emphasized.

In our analysis of the melodic theme, we found that while the theme actually occupies eight measures, the principal part of the theme is only four measures long; the other four measures being used for development, repetition, variation or conclusion. The title must, of course, be tied in with that part of the "A" phrase that contains the principal part of the theme. In other words, if the main part of the theme is in the first four measures of the "A" phrase, the title should appear there too. A few good examples of this can be found in: What'll I Do? For the First Time; Moonlight Whispers; They're Either Too Young or Too Old; Mairzy Doats. On the other hand, those songs having the main part of the melody in the latter half of the "A" phrase, also have the title appearing there. A few good examples of this are: As Time Goes By; San Fernando Valley; A Second Lieutenant,

Occasionally, we will find songs in which the title appears at both the beginning and the end of the "A" phrase. As a general rule, we will find, in such numbers, that the melody in one-half of the phrase is either repetitive or imitative. A few good examples, are Night and Day; How Blue the Night; In My Arms.

In the AABA form, the title will always appear in the first and last "A" sections and, quite often, in the second "A" section. We will find this to be the case in such songs as As Time Goes By; Comin' In on A Wing and A Prayer, and Sunday, Monday or Always. In such songs the "B" section, or "release," never contains the title, for this would only tend to confuse the listener who has been trained to associate the title with the main theme.

The same general rules apply if the song should be in the ABAB or ABAC pattern. Here, again, the title is tied in with the "A" phrase and, quite often, repeated in the "A" phrase forming the third section. Occasionally, the title will also appear in the last four measures of the "B" or "C" section that ends the song. This is not actually a violent departure from the general rule since, in this structural form, the last section does not offer the same contrast to the "A" phrase as it does in the original AABA pattern.

Since the title is confined to a relatively short phrase, the title itself must be short. The average title does not exceed five or six words in length; the majority are only three or four words in length. The short title is also preferable because it is much easier to remember.

The title should always, when possible, give some indication of the character and mood of the song. In other words, the title should prepare the audience for a fast rhythm number, a slow ballad, novelty song, or love song.

The title should always be timely. For this reason, current catch-phrases, accepted slang terms, and colloquialisms often furnish the inspiration for song titles. This is illustrated in such songs as Don't Believe Everything You Dream; I'll Be Around; How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You; You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby; I Get A Kick Out of You. Another common source of title inspiration is hit plays or current best-seller novels. These, of course, should be selected with some discretion and should never be "forced." Such songs rarely deal with the subject matter of the play or novel but are used only because they are popular and because they suggest an approach that could be used in lyric treatment.

Titles should always be chosen with great care. A poor title can spoil a song that might otherwise be commercial in every other respect. It is good practice to list a number of possible titles and get some outside opinions as to which titles are most appealing. In selecting a title, the songwriter should take great pains to avoid repeating or imitating the title of any other published song.

While there is actually no legal method of protecting titles, no legitimate publisher will knowingly accept a song that bears the title of a song already published. One can easily see the confusion that might arise from such a duplication. Song sheet sales and record sales for both numbers would suffer immediately. Music dealers and jobbers receiving orders for two different songs with the same title would not be able to fill their orders intelligently. There would be a similar confusion in the plugging and performance of the songs.

It should be quite clear from the above discussion that the title plays a very prominent role in both the construction, popularizing and sale of the song.


7. The Lyric Pattern Should Follow the Melodic Pattern


The successful popular song possesses a smooth blending of lyric and melody. The listener thinks of them as an entity and not as separate components. He is not distracted or diverted from one to the other. They fit perfectly in character, mood and construction.

To achieve this result, the lyric must follow the same structural form and rhythmic pattern as the tune. Perhaps "follow" is not quite the right word, for often the lyric is written first. In such instances, it must be so constructed that it permits the melody to conform to one of the prescribed song patterns.

Verse: Just as the verse melody serves merely as a build-up for the main melodic theme in the chorus, the lyric in the verse should be used only to introduce, lead up to, or furnish a background for the lyric theme and title mentioned in the chorus. The main melodic theme is not mentioned in the verse. Neither is the title. Remember that the verse is relatively unimportant, and that it is therefore essential to save the real "punch" for the chorus.

The verse is short and offers no time nor space to draw an elaborate picture. The story is sketched in briefly-just well-chosen words to set the scene. In fact, the verse should be written with the thought that it is actually superfluous, and that the chorus should be able to stand on its own without an explanatory verse. In the majority of cases, the verse is seldom if ever sung. One reason for this is that broadcasting time is limited, and since the band leaders are anxious to crowd as many songs as possible into the broadcast, verses are omitted. Sometimes the complete song will be performed followed by one or two repeats of the chorus. This, however, is not the general rule.

Chorus: To understand the development of the lyric story in the chorus, one must study the basic structural form of the melody. In the AABA form, the main melodic theme is mentioned in the first, second and fourth sections. In fact, 24 of the 32 measures in the chorus deal with the identical melody. Since the title should be tied in with the "A" phrase, there is, obviously, little room to develop a complicated "story." The actual development of the lyric story in the chorus could be analyzed as follows:

  •     "A" phrase (measures 1-8) title and main lyric idea for the song.

  •     "A" phrase (measures 9-16) repetition of title and slight development of the lyric idea.

  •     "B" phrase (measures 17-24). This section containing the contrasting melodic theme, does not mention the title and offers an opportunity to develop the lyric.

  •     "A" phrase (measures 25-32). Final statement of melodic theme and title, Lyric story comes to a definite conclusion.

Summing up, the lyric follows the same form as the melody. Where the main melodic theme is repeated, so also is the title, and the lyric story remains almost static. When the melody develops, the lyric does also, and as the melody ends with the final statement of the theme, the lyric ends with the concluding title. For example, let us assume we were writing a song titled "This Is the End." The four sections of the chorus might, con-coevally show this breakdown:

  •     This is the break that will never mend. This is the parting. This is the end.

  •     You want me to call you just a friend. But it’s too late now. This is the end.

  •     It was such fun while it lasted. We were so gay. Never a thought that our love would be blasted this way. You've made it plain, dear. This is the end.

  •     We can't go on and try to pretend.

Notice that the complete "plot" is summarized in the first section. The only development in the second section is the indication that the other party is responsible for the parting. The third section is a natural reflection upon happier times. This naturally leads to the fourth part which emphasizes the finality of the parting.

Where other structural forms are used, the lyric follows suit. For instance, in the ABAB form, where the main theme is mentioned in the first and third sections, and the secondary theme in the second and fourth sections, the lyric story develops in the same manner. The title is usually mentioned in both "A" phrases and, occasionally, in the concluding four measures of the final "B" section. The lyric story states the principal situation (built around the title) in the first section, develops the story in the second section, reverts to a restatement of the title in the third section, and develops into a conclusion which may or may not mention the title. The ABAC pattern also uses a lyric that follows the structural form in developing the story. In all cases, the lyric theme is built around the title, giving the title the full prominence that it deserves.

Accent: All words in the English language are accented; that is, any word has one or more stressed syllables. If it is a long word, the accent may be heavier on one syllable than on another. If it is a short word, the stress may depend upon how the word is used in a sentence. Accents and the pauses between words play an important part in conveying correct understanding. For instance, in the sentence "I will think of you every day," stress on any word conveys a different shade of meaning. If the first word is stressed, the implication is that there is someone else who will not "think of you every day"; accent on the second word implies determination; etc.

When words are put to music, the songwriter must so arrange his words and notes that the natural accents of speech and shades of meaning are preserved in the song. An untrue or faulty accent may not only alter the actual context of the lyric but, more importantly, distract the attention of the listener and spoil the entire effect of the song.

There are two ways of preserving the natural accent of the words and obtaining true synchronization with the music. The first method consists of placing each accented syllable on an accented, or down-beat, and each unaccented syllable on the unstressed or up-beat. If two accented syllables fall within one measure, it is always preferable to have the syllable with the stronger accent fall on the first beat of the measure. This rule applies, no matter what the time signature of the song may be. The syllable having the weaker accent will, of course, coincide with the note occupying the third beat of the measure (in foxtrot time). Unaccented words or syllables will be lined up with notes on the second and fourth beats of the measure.

The second method of transferring speech to song is to use note values and rests to indicate short syllables, long syllables and pauses. These methods are illustrated below.

Let us first take a line of poetry and convert it into a rhythmic pattern.

"Let's pretend we never said goodbye."

The strong accents in this line fall as indicated: Let's pretend we never said goodbye.

On analyzing the sentence further, we find that the word "we" and the syllable "good" receive a slight accent, and that the syllables "er" and "pre" have practically no accent. We therefore might scan this line as follows:

Now, let us make an initial stab at converting this line into notes. We can see that the line is too short for an eight-measure phrase but would fit quite naturally into a four-measure phrase (it usually requires two lines of lyric for one phrase). Since "Let's" is accented, it can obviously fall on the first beat of the measure. Our initial attempt might, therefore, be something like this:

While this phrase is technically correct, it is not completely satisfactory for we are giving equal values to all the syllables in the sentence. Let us now change the rhythmic pattern to account for the natural stronger pause on certain syllables, and the shorter stress on other syllables. In this way we will achieve the shade of meaning intended by the lyric line. Here are three possibilities:

In each of the above phrases, we have made use of fundamental beats and time values to preserve the normal accenting and shading of the line.

If a lyric is being fitted to a tune that is already written, the same procedure applies except that, in this case, the words and syllables are arranged so that they will fall upon the properly accented notes. It is generally easier to maneuver the lyric in this manner than to alter the tune. Occasionally, however, it is necessary to alter the time values of a few notes so that perfect synchronization can be achieved. Always remember that if a song is improperly accented it cannot be played to satisfy a listener. For if it is played so that the words appear to be correctly accented, the music will be distorted, and if it is played so that the musical tempo is preserved, the words will appear strange and unnatural.

The context or meaning of the lyric line should be studied before attempting to synchronize words and music. The stresses and pauses that are used when reciting this line should be preserved exactly when the syllables and notes are aligned. Short syllables, for instance, should never be placed on long notes. For example, the word "hurry" naturally requires a longer note on the first syllable than on the second syllable. "While the natural accent might be preserved by putting the first syllable on a down-beat, and the second syllable on an up-beat, the word would still appear slightly distorted if a quarter note were used for each syllable. There are several alternatives, but the natural choice would be to give the first syllable a quarter note, and to give the second syllable an eighth note. This is merely one example, but the same principle should be applied to every word and syllable in the lyric.

Certain words such as "a," "the," "or," "but," "to," "of," etc., do not normally receive a strong accent and therefore should not appear on long or accented notes. The exception to this rule is when a normally light-accented word such as "of" becomes part of the rhyme scheme. Even though this is a forced rhyme and therefore, a bad one (see below), all rhymes are strongly accented, and consequently, all words which are part of the rhyme scheme fall on down-beats and are usually on long notes.

Rhyme: Rhyming presents any number of pitfalls for the unwary. The faults most commonly encountered (even among professional songwriters) are forcing a rhyme or sacrificing the meaning of a phrase for the sake of a rhyme. Sometimes both of these errors occur simultaneously. These errors not only create an appearance of carelessness but also distract the audience from both the melody and the contents of the lyric.

Rhyme is intended merely as a decoration. It should never (except in certain novelty or patter songs) become so predominant that it clouds the meaning of the lyric or diverts the attention from the melody. It is a great temptation, when first writing lyrics to either over-do the rhyming, or to lapse into careless habits which will spoil the effectiveness of the song.

The simplest type of rhyme, known as the masculine rhyme, consists of rhyming a single accented syllable with another single accented syllable. In the true rhyme, the vowel sounds of the two syllables should be identical; the consonant preceding the vowel should be dissimilar in the two rhyming words. The consonant, if any, following the vowel should be identical. A good example of this rhyme is found in "defend"-"send." Although the first is a two-syllable word, and the second word is monosyllabic, the rhyming is concerned only with the accented syllables. The "e" sound is common in both words; so also, are the consonants "nd" following the vowel. The consonants "f" and "s" preceding the vowel are dissimilar. On the other hand, "defend'* and "offend" would not be true rhymes for, in this case, the consonants preceding the vowel are identical. Here are a few more examples of the masculine rhyme:

  • love-dove             
  • technique-freak          
  • stay-prey
  • free-me                 
  • no-although              
  • eight-mate
  • replace-face           
  • ache-lake              
  • heard-bird

Notice that several of these rhymes are deceptive in appearance. It is quite easy to see that "love'* rhymes with "dove" and that "free" rhymes with "me." However, with such words as "technique"-"freak," "ache" -"lake, ** "heard"-"bird," one must depend on the ear for indication that the vowel and consonant sounds of the words constitute a true rhyme. This applies in all forms of rhyming. One should always allow the ear -not the eye-to judge whether the rhyme is true or false. For instance, here are a few words that, on sight alone would appear to be correct but are actually false or forced:

  • been-keen                
  • crave-nave             
  • remorse-worse
  • bough-cough             
  • Satan-latin             
  • tour-sour

These examples are, by no means, far-fetched. There are hundreds of others like them. One can easily be misled by the spelling and appearance of many English words.

It is always advisable to use the most commonly accepted pronunciation of a word. Do not try to force a rhyme by placing the accent on the wrong syllable or forcing the singer to mispronounce the rhyme sound. For instance, "string" and "playing" are forced rhymes because the accent has been shifted from the syllable "play-" (where it rightfully belongs), to the syllable "-ing" in order to force a rhyme for "string." If one cannot achieve a rhyme except by forcing, it is always best to use different words that would carry the desired meaning but would produce a true rhyme.

The feminine rhyme is also used quite often in popular songs. This type of rhyme follows the same rules as the masculine rhyme except that the accented syllable in each rhyming word is followed, by a similar-sounding unaccented syllable. Here are a few examples:

  • entrancing-dancing             
  • kitten-mitten
  • motion-notion                   
  • dolly-folly
  • pleasing-freezing                
  • aster-master

Even though the word "entrancing" has three syllables, it rhymes with "dancing" because the rhyming begins with the second (accented) syllable. When the feminine rhyme is used in a lyric, the accented syllable always falls on a down-beat, while the unaccented syllable, even though it is technically part of the rhyme, falls on the up-beat.

The triple rhyme, in which two similar unaccented syllables follow the accented syllable, is also used occasionally. It is a rather difficult rhyme, however, and should be used sparingly. A few examples of the triple rhyme are:

  • returnable-discernible        
  • restorable-deplorable        
  • varnishing-garnishing       
  • beautiful-dutiful

Occasionally, the songwriter wishes to deliberately call attention to a tricky rhyme scheme and will use, for a definite comic effect, a feminine or triple rhyme in which each syllable is rhymed. This, of course, is forced rhyming, but if well done, can be quite amusing. A few examples are:

  • wrecked a-inspector            
  • foster-lost her
  • aviator-Dave, 
  • he ate her tremendous-you send us

This type of rhyming should be avoided except when a comic effect is desired. It is quite apparent, that such rhymes would distract the attention of the listener and thus upset the necessary blending of words and music.

Carelessness in rhyming often leads to absurd effects. The lyric writer, in such cases, may obtain true rhymes but only by sacrificing the meaning of the lyrics. A good instance of this is shown in the following lines:

"When the moon shines down- from above You're the one Fm thinking of.

The rhyme "above" and "of" are technically correct, but the actual meaning of the lines is ridiculous. In the first place, the moon could not shine anywhere but down, nor from any place except "above." It is bad grammar to end a sentence with a participle, and poetic license has not yet gone so far as to condone it. Often, one is tempted to use forced rhymes of this type but they should be avoided at any cost. Rhymes are intended merely for decoration and should never be allowed to obstruct or detract from the sense and meaning of the lyric phrase.

Rhymes usually occur at the ends of lines, and for all practical purposes, this form of rhyming is entirely satisfactory. When this type of rhyme scheme is put to music, the rhymes usually occur at the end of the four-measure, or eight-measure phrase. Occasionally, an unusual effect can be obtained by rhymes within a line. These internal rhymes should always be used with discretion and only when the music or the type of lyric calls for this extra decoration. It may be found sometimes in show numbers. A good example is in the line: "Comes the dawn, I'll be gone." This type of rhyming is effective but should not be over-done.


8. The Lyric Story Should Build up the Title


This particular point has been discussed at some length in the analysis of titles and lyric patterns. There are, however, a few additional points that should be covered.

The development of the lyric story, we have found, conforms to the structural pattern of the chorus. In the "A" phrases where the main melodic theme is expressed or the title is mentioned, the actual story development remains static. In the "B" or "C" phrases where a secondary melodic theme is expressed, the story may develop. The "story" of course, is nothing more than the outline or description of a situation. This situation is either stated or strongly hinted at in the title.

The lyric itself, merely gives the background and explanation of the title.

The lyric writer must never disappoint his audience. A catchy title must not have a dull lyric. A smart lyric, on the other hand, requires a title in the same mood. There must be the same consistency between the lyric and the title as there is between the melody and the lyric. This is achieved chiefly by the method in which the lyric story is treated. For instance, the nucleus of the story might possibly be based on the familiar "Boy-Meets-Girl" theme. Depending upon the title and the mood suggested by the music, the treatment might be sentimental, in the "blues" tradition, "hard-boiled," "jivey," or "straight." The principal point to bear in mind is that the music, title, and lyric treatment should be of an equal mood and tempo, and that there should be nothing in any of these three factors that will tend to distract the listener and break up the entity of the song or lyric story.

The secret of good lyric writing lies not so much in the creation of an original story or situation but in treating a familiar subject in an original and appealing manner. For general purposes, this lyric treatment should be simple and smooth-flowing. Unusual rhyming schemes, slang, "jive" language, etc., should be avoided unless a special effect is desired. The general language should be sufficiently simple to be easily comprehended by children as well as adults. Furthermore, the language should be modern and up-to-date. In using slang, one should make sure that the slang is colloquial and widely accepted. Out-dated slang, or slang terms that are restricted to a small locale should be avoided.

There are certain occasions when a "corny" lyric is called for. A sentimental ballad such as The Old Spinning Wheel, When Mother Plays the Organ, etc., may, if it has a strong, sweet melody line, and if it is properly exploited, become a best-seller. Such a song might also become an immediate failure. Both the publisher and the band-leaders must gauge their public properly and launch such a song only if there is a strong possibility that it will be well accepted. However, assuming that the odds are in favor for the publication of such a number, the lyric writer may use a stock situation and old-fashioned language, and still make the grade. Generally speaking, the new songwriter should studiously avoid the "corny" type of number and should strive to be original and up-to-date in both his melodic and lyric treatment.


9. The Lyric and Melody Should Be in the Same Mood


This rule seems fairly obvious, but many new songwriters fail to realize the importance of combining music and lyric into a unified, integral and logical entity.

In the majority of cases, the songwriter does not write both the music and lyric. The majority of successful songs are written by songwriting teams. In such instances, the collaborator must, if he is to be successful, get the feeling of the tune or lyric, as the case may be. If, for instance, the tune is gay and lively with a catchy rhythm, the lyric should be in the same mood. In this case, clever rhyming, and an unusual treatment or comic twist might be called for. Certainly, a sad or sentimental lyric would be out of place with such a tune. On the other hand, if the songwriter should be composing music to a gay and modern lyric, the tune should reflect the same mood.

The experienced songwriter will automatically retain the same tempo and character in the melody and words. The new songwriter may have to spend some time in analyzing the required mood before attempting to write a melody or lyric that will be in perfect harmony.


10. The Melody and Lyric Should Be Sufficiently Novel to Be Outstanding.


One of the difficulties in formulating rules for any creative field is that they tend to limit the opportunity for originality and individuality. This is particularly true in the field of songwriting.

We have learned that the melody is limited by its structural form, length, range, and the number of basic patterns that are pleasing to the ear. We find that the lyric is also confined to a definite structural pattern, that the story development must focus on the title, that the choice of title, subject and lyric treatment must conform to public taste, and that the words must be so arranged that the accented syllables conform to the melodic and rhythmic patterns. This seems to leave a small field for the songwriter.

While this is a broad picture, it is actually not accurate, for if it were, there would be no new songs and no new songwriters. The majority of published songs do conform to all the limitations listed above, but there is still a profundity of new ideas in both lyrics and music.

The public demands novelty in songs but this novelty need not be present in the basic melodic or lyric idea, nor in the structural development. There must be something about the song that provides an element of surprise and appeal and that distinguishes it from all other songs. This factor of novelty is gained, largely, by a new approach to a basically familiar idea. In other words, the successful songwriter uses the familiar and basic formulas but dresses them up with a new sauce and flavoring. The same framework may be used, time and again, providing the songwriter has sufficient individuality in his approach and treatment. The successful songwriter is able to maintain a fresh outlook in creating each new song. The average new songwriter can only attain this through experience. This explains, to some extent, why a new writer might, by a streak of luck, write a hit number at his first attempt and then not be able to turn out an acceptable song. He must always bear in mind that he is required not only to produce a product that conforms to all established standards, but that he must sell this product to publishers and bandleaders who will view his work suspiciously, simply because he is a new and inexperienced songwriter. To make this sale, he must definitely have something "on the ball." He must show a song that is structurally correct and that has a melody line and lyric which will ensure its success-

Once he has had a successful song published, he will experience little, if any, difficulty in interesting the publishers in new numbers, providing, of course, that they come up to standard.