Songwriting Forms: There is Unity in Variety

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 18, 2010

In each of these forms, each line and each section must follow logically the line or section preceding it, informing and building as it goes. Don’t just repeat the same information in a different way in each verse.  Develop your theme so it grows in drama or depth and power. In each form you’re also looking for unity in variety, a cohesiveness that makes the whole song feel of one cloth, yet with different colorful touches that hold our attention. 

There are many ways to achieve unity in variety: 

• Use more short notes in the verses, saving the longer, higher notes for the chorus. 

• Put the bridge in a higher or lower register than the A sections. 

• Contrast short melodic intervals in one section with wider ones in the other. 

• Make some appropriate chord changes while keeping the melody the same. 

• Change the mood—try switching from minor to major for a “sunrise” effect, or vice versa to complement a sad turn in the message. 

• Modulate (change key) to accentuate rising drama or depth. 

• Change the key at each chorus and back at each verse? (This is rare, but surprising and effective when appropriate.) 

• Do half of one A as an instrumental, then finish with lyrics. If your song tells a story: 

• Change time and location and increase dramatic interest from verse to verse, building to a climax. 

• Go from past to present, or flash back from present to past. (This works best in AAA or AABA form.) 

• Travel from place to place. 

• Start with a general observation and get more particular and personal with each verse, or vice-versa. 

• Introduce a new viewpoint by changing the pronouns from me to you, or I to we, etc. (But do this only at appropriate points, such as a bridge or a chorus.) 

 Other Song Forms 

• There is a form called a through composed song, which is a logical development of the musical and lyrical motif from one section to the next, never repeating exactly.  Admittedly, the through-composed song is rare, almost non-existent, among congregational songs. The reason is that without repetition of sections, in ABCDEFG there is nothing for the listener to latch onto, just a stream of diverse sounds and words sailing by. But in the other forms the repeated sections have time to register, and the song is hammered into the listener’s memory. An exception is Albert Hay Mallotte’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer. That works because the congregation already knows the words. 

• Many worship songs are just one chorus, repeated a few times: Examples:“I Love You Lord,”“I Worship You Almighty God,”“Em-manuel,”“Praise the Name of Jesus,”“Isn’t He?”“ Something About That Name,” “Lord, I Give You My Heart.” If that’s what your first idea seems to be, maybe you shouldn’t try to make it say more. Any good song should have one basic idea, expanded on, added to and maybe celebrated by repetition. 




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