Bringing a song you’ve imagined in your mind into the real world can be difficult. Songwriters need every tool available to them to ease the process. Today let’s talk about one common point of frustration and some of the techniques you can use to overcome it: DRAMA!
Here’s the problem: sometimes your song as you imagine it in your head has a powerful moment – but you’re struggling to compose anything that has the same impact in real life.
You want a strong turning point in the song. A dramatic moment. Something which really catches the listener’s attention and makes the song resonate with them. You want it to be memorable.
Every song is different, so the techniques for effectively creating a moment like this will vary. But here are a few tips and techniques you might find help you along the way:
Dramatic Song Technique 1: Simply pause.
Let’s start with the simplest option: Just stop!
It’s often been said that music is as much about the silence as the notes, about what you don’t play as what you do play, and so on. If your song’s been bumbling along steadily often the most striking thing you can do is just
Throw in a rest. Whether it’s just a beat or two, or a pause of a few seconds, you’ll be sure to catch the listener’s attention.
This tends to work best on simple arrangements where a sudden break like this can seem natural, for example a song which is just vocals and guitar. Bringing a whole complex arrangement of electronic orchestra to an immediate stop can be powerful too, but risks feeling artificial and forced.
Experiment to see whether a pause has the impact you want and what kind of a silence best fits the moment.
Dramatic Song Technique 2: Hold it!
A variant on the pause. Rather than stopping for silence, stop mid-note and ho———ld it! This may challenge your singer’s breath control, but it can be just as effective on an instrumental part.
Stopping in the middle of a word can have a similar effect. Try it, and see your audience shiver with antici…..
Dramatic Song Technique 3: Take a break / Have a breakdown
Slightly less forceful than a full-on silence are the two options of a break and a breakdown.
- A break means the rhythm section (drums, bass, etc.) stop playing while an instrument or singer continues.
- A breakdown is the opposite: everything stops except for the rhythm section.
Throwing this kind of instrumental or drum solo in right after a powerful lyric can be a great way to give the listener a chance to absorb what they just heard and make sure your dramatic moment hits home.
Dramatic Song Technique 4: Turn it up (or down)
Like the pause, this is one you don’t want to overdo, but a sudden change in volume certainly has dramatic power. Introducing a loud section in an otherwise quiet song, or a quiet interlude in a loud track can both be very effective for creating a dramatic moment.
Example: Strauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra (intro music to 2001: A Space Odyssey). This track masterfully alternates quiet and loud sections to create a series of dramatic moments:
Dramatic Song Technique 5: Introduce a new instrument
If your instrumentation is the same for most or all of the song, you can create a dramatic moment by throwing in a new sound at the critical time. Which instrument to introduce will of course depend on what’s already there, but some brash brass (like a trumpet) or soaring strings (like a high violin part) can often serve the purpose.
There are lots of other techniques for creating those dramatic moments in your songs, and we’ll cover some more in a future post. Remember to listen out for good techniques in the songs you hear.
Next time there’s a particularly striking moment stop and ask yourself how they did that. In the mean time, post a comment to share your own techniques or tell us your favorite track which uses one of these!
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