Songwriting Tools #3 – Introducing a New Song Map: Gradual Reveal

Creating a deliberate sense of anticipation and suspense

Welcome to the third tool in my series on Songwriting Tools. In my book “Song Maps – A New System to Write Your Best Lyrics” I mentioned in passing a new Song Map: Gradual Reveal. For those readers who have written in to me asking for more information about it you certainly deserve this since: a) you spotted it in the first place, and b) you took the trouble to write to me! So here it is.

Gradual Reveal is a brilliant alternative to Timezones, Places and Roles if you want to tell a story without being specific about any of them. I love this Map because it enables us to create a deliberate sense of anticipation and suspense until the payoff, which is saved for later in the song, e.g. the Bridge or last line of V3. It also enables us to paint a picture that starts with a blur and ends up in HD Quality before landing the payoff.

It’s a great Map to add to the 7 universal Song Maps covered in the book because, like those, it also lends itself to any lyric-driven genre – Pop, Country, CCM. It also helps us use the powerful lyric writing technique: “Show, don’t tell”. This is because by definition we are using the amount of information we disclose as a way of systematically moving the lyric forward.

In terms of difficulty, I’d place it somewhere between Places and Literal/Figurative.

What does Gradual Reveal looks like?

Gradual Reveal can be represented as follows:

gradual-reveal

 

How to use Gradual Reveal

To use Gradual Reveal it might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the central theme or idea you want the title to represent? Is it strong enough to write a song about? Will it resonate in the genre you are writing in? When you find this, it will become your Chorus idea.
  2. What are the essential key elements needed to set the scene of the song? Literally, if you were watching the very first opening frames of a movie of your song, what would you be seeing, feeling, hearing, touching, smelling etc. Who would be in the picture? What “place” (in the broadest sense) are they at? This is V1.
  3. What new elements of the picture you are paining need to be filled in to set up an effective payoff? What do they look like? How does this make your picture more granular? This is V2.
  4. What does it all mean? What is the payoff? Can the picture you’ve painted in V1 and V2 resolve? How can the listener relate to the picture in front of them? What are the lessons to be learnt from this picture? This is your Bridge, Outro or Refrain.

Example

While I haven’t got space here to write a lyric, in my book Song Maps, in Chapter 5, the Writable Idea and Lyric for the Places Map, “How Many Times” is a good example of Gradual Reveal even though it also follows a Places Map. Check it out.

Some points I’d make:

  1. Holding back certain details (clarification of the relationship between the singer and the person they are singing to) adds an element of deliberate suspense to the lyric until V2 arrives.
  2. The trick with Gradual Reveal is to hold enough detail back at the same time as disclosing enough detail to keep your listeners engaged with the lyric at each stage of the song. Economy and concisness of words are important to getting this right.
  3. A couple of the commercial examples below were actually written for movies and it’s worth digging into the context of these to help decode how they work a little better.

Commercial Examples of Gradual Reveal

Here are some commercial examples I’d also suggest you look at to see how this Map works:

Pop:A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri
Country:You Should Be Here” by Cole Swindell, “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry, “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
CCM:The River” by Jordan Feliz
Jazz:Black Coffee” by Ella Fitzgerald

Exercise

If you have a copy of the Song Maps Workbook handy you could take a similar approach to Timezones, Places or Roles, by simply substituting the respective structure with that of Gradual Reveal.

So this is Gradual Reveal. I’d encourage you to have a crack at writing with it because it’s very cool when it’s executed well and demonstrates strong, grown up crafting as well as being very effective in communicating the emotion of a song.

Feel free to share this! If you had a moment to drop me a line I’d love to hear how you get on at simon@simonhawkins.com.

Happy writing!

Simon.

www.simonhawkins.com

Writing with fresh eyes

5 ways fresh eyes help your songs to turn out even better

One of the cool things about writing “Song Maps – A New System for Writing Your Best Lyrics” – in a Kindle book format is that you can get a summary of what readers highlight or find most useful. It’s brilliant because it gives me feedback about things I could expand upon in the next edition or perhaps even form the basis of a new book or blog. But what is striking for me is the role fresh eyes had in creating the ideas behind these highlights.

Funny young girl with a mask for skin face and cucumbers on eyes

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Songwriting Tool #2 – Scansion

Maximising the emotional impact of your song

Welcome to the second tool in my series on Songwriting Tools. And thanks again for signing up!

Scansion is another general lyric tool and is particularly important. It’s the principle of preserving the natural shape of language and has a lot to do with getting the marriage of words to music right.

While there are few rules in songwriting – only tools – squeezing in an unnatural rhyme or a set meaning into a line can often undermine the emotional impact of your writing. Conversely, getting the scansion or words to music right will result in a much stronger emotional impact of your song. This might be particularly important if you are writing in a lyric-driven genre.

How scansion works

Each word in the dictionary has a natural rhythm comprised of stressed and unstressed syllables. When you combine words into a line this has a natural rhythm or ‘shape’. This means that finding the best line for your song isn’t just a matter of figuring out the rhyme scheme, but also the rhythm scheme of your song. It impacts what happens when we reach for the rhyming dictionary, what choices we make with the possible words we find.

Simiarlarly, each melody has a natural rhythm comprised of stressed and unstressed beats according to where they sit in the bar. Stressed beats are (in a 4/4 signature) beats 1 and 3. Unstressed beats are beats 2 and 4.

When the shape of our words perfectly matches the shape of our melody we have the best chance to communicate the full emotional impact of our lyrics.

How to get the scansion right

I suggest the following three-step process:

  1. Figure out the rhythm of the melody
  2. Figure out the rhythm of a possible lyric
  3. Do they match? If no, try another line or melody. If they match your scansion is good.

Note step 1 and 2 can be switched.

Example

If we have a melody with a rhythm of:

“da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM”

where:
da = an unstressed beat in the melody
DUM = a stressed beat in the melody

And the lyric we are thinking about using is:

“I know that love can bring changes”, which has a natural rhythm of:

“da DUM da DUM da DUM DUM da”

This works well for the first six syllables of the line, but falls apart when we get to the word “Changes”. Try saying it with the stressed and unstressed sylables switched around i.e. “da DUM” rather than its natural shape, “DUM da”. This is what setting it to our existing melody would want us to do.

So we now have three choices:

  1. Live with the imperfect match. This is clearly my least favored option.
  2. Rewrite the melody to match our lyric
    This can be done by simply adding a note or two or nudging the syllables of our line to land on the right stressed/unstressed beats of our (slightly modified) new melody.
  3. Find another lyric that matches the melody
    For example:
    “A love that turned my life around” has a natural rhythm of:

“da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM”

Perfect.

Questions

Are there lyrics in your catalogue that you feel would benefit from getting a better scansion? If you fix it, how does this affect the overall emotional impact of the song?

I’d love to hear how you get on at simon@simonhawkins.com

Happy writing!

Simon.

www.simonhawkins.com

Top-10 reasons to go to WAJ

Only 5 weeks to one of the most important few days of the year

In just 5 weeks the 17th annual Write About Jesus workshop will be starting in St Charles, MO 13-16th October. It’s an incredible event and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been. Here’re my top–10 reasons why anyone serious about Christian songwriting should go.

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Songwriting Tool #1 – Universalizing

Harvesting the mundane to produce a wealth of song ideas

Welcome to my new series on Songwriting Tools. I very much hope this will be helpful for you in taking your writing to the next level.

OK, we are starting with a word I made up – “universalizing“! This is a general lyric tool, inspired by the wonderful book “The Craft of Lyric Writing” by Sheila Davis. What I mean by universalizing is turning our experiences into things that somehow resonate with our listeners in a far more powerful way than if we articulate every detail.

One of my co-writers put it very well when he said,

The songwriter’s challenge is to turn the specifics of their lives into something everyone can hang their stuff on.

This might at first seem to be a bit of an idea crusher – having to make every idea ‘big enough’ to write a song about. But, while I do think ideas need to be substantial enough to write, I think that’s looking at universalizing the wrong way round. I believe universalizing opens up a whole new world of potential song ideas because it’s about harvesting elements of what may seem to us as sometimes negative, mundane detail to produce wonderful principles that can unlock, inspire, empower and ignite our listeners’ lives through our lyrics.

Examples

  • Instead of writing a song about the fear of going to see the dentist to fix a long-standing toothache, write a song about how taking charge of our lives empowers us to live life to the full.
  • Perhaps, from our experience of deep frustration or even failure, write a song about how we will persevere. Or maybe, how we draw strength from our faith in dark times or how, with a bit of belief from a loved one, we become empowered to achieve more than we ever thought possible.

How to universalize

I suggest the following three-step method:

  1. Recollection: Think of several recent struggles or challenges you have had, no matter how mundane they might feel to you. (Hey, be kind to yourself here – this isn’t supposed to drive you to your therapist!).
  2. Extraction: What life lessons can you derive from those experiences, replacing your specifics with generalities?
  3. Mapping: Using an appropriate Song Map (Tension/Response for example), turn one of these life lessons into a Writable Idea.

Question

What recent experience, struggle or meaningful moment could you universalize into a great song idea?

How to successfully differentiate your songs

Writing at the edge of the table

When you are writing for an artist’s new project, it can be tricky to decide between writing something familiar and something new. If you are serious about making the cut you will certainly have listened to their last two or three projects, Googled their musical preferences, what’s going on in their lives, and maybe even have gotten a feel for where they want to take their music next. But, after all of your research, how do you decide whether to make your new song just like their last single or just like the last 2 or 3 similar artists that reached the #1 spot? In this post, I share an important lesson I learned a long, long time ago that I still use today.

Sleek Bamboo Table Edge on Black

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