From Bob Dylan to Taylor Swift to all the top-notch songwriters in between, these artists all have their own way of writing music. This way of creatively and melodically articulating what their message is, truly represents an ability that is not widespread.
There isn’t a right or wrong way when songwriting – be it a Pop song with sparse lyrics or a monologue that recounts one’s story.
But, you may be asking what makes a good song? Especially when it comes to the music existing alongside lyrics? Whether categorized as a lyrically powerful ballad or a catchy Pop song that is played on the radio, there is an appeal to the song that draws us in. Of course, there are various methods in which one can create their song, but prosody is when the melodic line matches the lyrics. One example could be Jay Sean’s hit party song, “Down.” The chorus goes: “Baby are you down, down, down, down, down?” As the lyrics repeat the word “down”, the melodic line also progressively moves downward. where performers or writers where [Source: The Psychology Of Learning and Motivation].
Another popular example of prosody is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” When he sings “And it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor falls, the major lifts…” the chords behind him also go up to the fourth and fifth scale degrees. The song progresses up the scale alongside the lyrics.
Do you ever wonder why a certain chord in a song makes you feel some type of way? Or even worse, make you cry? Modal interchange can be blamed for that. Oftentimes, songwriters borrow chords from a parallel mode. You can hear modal interchange in all genres – rock, pop, jazz, classical music, etc. [Source: Introduction to Modal Interchange]. Adele, for example, commonly uses jazz intervals within her music including the 3rd and 7th intervals. [Source: Sound Songwriting]
Linked to modal interchange, the most common reason why a song makes you feel a certain way is because of the chord qualities. The ones we all recognize when listening to music, even if it’s subconscious, is the major chord (which typically makes us feel happy) and the minor chord (which usually makes us feel sad). So, if you listen to an artist who may be notorious for sad songs and making you cry, know that their songs are primarily using minor chord qualities!
The creative and musical decisions that artists and songwriters make are intentional. Knowing this brings much more value to what music you listen to, and why you may listen to it. So the next time you hit shuffle on your playlist, pay close attention to how the song makes you feel and how the artist is able to accomplish this.