So, you’re a songwriter or composer looking to give your song that crucial powerful moment that will have your audience rapt and engaged?

We already talked about 5 effective techniques for creating dramatic moments in songs. Let’s look now at 5 more…

Five Dramatic Song Writing Techniques

6. Use audio effects

Audio effects are processes which modify your sound in interesting ways. These days they are normally electronic, often just a piece of software like a plugin for your recording software.

Distortion audio effectsNormally a musician uses a few light effects together to create a custom guitar tone or to make sure the instruments in the mix blend well together. Sometimes though, audio effects can provide just the right unexpected flair to change the tone of your song at the vital time.

Try using an effect like distortion on a song that’s otherwise soft and natural. A harsh fuzz or overdrive effect can immediately change the feel of the track and could be just what you need to bring a sudden change.

7. Twist the lyrical style

If your song has gentle, good-natured lyrics, try throwing in a line which is unexpectedly harsh or angry. If you’re penning a hip-hop verse full of guns and violence, add an out-of-place moment of tenderness.

Changing the type of vocabulary or style of language you use (just for a line or two) can wake up listeners whose minds had started to wander.

Here is a powerful example of this by Eels – adults only! (lyrics)

8. Percussive hit

Percussion is almost by definition about dramatic moments, each ‘note’ a crash, smash or bang which punctuates your song.

Don’t be afraid to use the more dramatic members of the standard rock percussion kit.

You don’t want a big crash cymbal hit in every bar, but to mark off a new section or catch the listener’s attention at the vital moment there are few sounds more effective!

9. Use unexpected chords

You probably have a nice chord progression set up for your song: one for the chorus, another for the verse. In creating it you probably started from “which chords are in the key?” These chords will go well together and sound musically ‘normal’.

Learn to hear major vs minor

For that dramatic moment, try using a chord outside of the key. If you throw in just one such chord as a one-off it can have that dramatic impact without causing complication for the rest of the chord progression.

One good trick is to substitute a major chord for a minor, or vice versa. Instead of that C-F-Em-G progression, try a C-F-E-G, or even a C-Fm- E-G. Making this change for a single line of the song will ensure that line hits the listener hard.

How strange the change from major to minor…

10. Break the pattern

Along similar lines, take any pattern you’ve established in your song – it could be the chords, the rhythm, the number of words per line or lines per verse, the way different instruments respond to one another – and break the pattern.

Throw an extra line into verse 3. Stop your chorus halfway through and jump to a guitar solo. Change your ‘call and response’ section to just the calls for one time through.

This can be a good way to add variety in general, but if you take a rigid pattern and break it hard just once, you’ll create a great pivotal moment in your song which can keep your listeners engaged.

Create and defy Expectations

Music is all about the listener’s expectation: how you create it, meet it, and disrupt it. You’ll find the common theme through all our tips for creating dramatic moments is:

Figure out what the listener is expecting you to do…
and then do something else!

Almost all these ideas can be applied in a softer, broader sense to add variety throughout your songs, but use them firmly as a one-off in your song and you can create a powerful pause, an engaging emphasis or a shocking sensation.

Don’t be afraid to add a dramatic moment to your songs. And make sure you post a link to your song or share it in the ear training forums once you do!