Making your song more dynamic

So, you’ve got a great groove going on. Now, all you need to do in order to expand those eight bars into a full song is add a layered intro, bring the vocals in and out, and add an ending. Right?

Not so fast.

In order to hold a listener’s attention for several minutes, a song must do more than simply repeat the same ten seconds fifty times with different layers. Listeners are smart learners and they’ll lose interest pretty quickly when they realise this is what you’re doing.

So, you add yet more layers, or change the processing, or add a section without the kick drum, or something.

And it’s still not working. You’re looking for an engineering solution to a composition problem. You’re trying to make your song more dynamic – this requires thinking about variety and drama. All this needs to be considered in context of the creative direction of the song. These are creative decisions – the engineering exists merely to serve the creative needs.

Variety

Variety works in conjunction with two other aspects of the song – length and coherence. For a given amount of variety, a greater song length will result in more coherence. Similarly, for a given song length, more variety will result in less coherence.  Finally, coherence can be either good or bad. Let’s unpack that.

A song without enough coherence will sound fragmented and unfocussed because there are too many unrelated musical ideas in it. A song with too much coherence will sound static and boring.

For a given amount of variety, a greater song length will result in more coherence. You hear this happening when you have a great 8-bar idea and try to expand this into a full song without adding new material. What sounded fresh and exciting as a 20-second snippet suddenly sounds boring and repetitive as a 4-minute song. Similarly, a collection of different ideas will sound jumbled and random when they’re squeezed together in a sketch; give them space and time to breathe and develop, however, and you have the makings of an interesting piece of music that actually makes sense.

For a given song length, more variety will result in less coherence. You hear this when you have a 20-second loops repeated for a few minutes straight. This is a song with too much coherence – it’s boring and repetitive. Adding more variety will reduce the coherence – making the song more interesting.  Similarly, if a song sounds too compositionally unfocussed, it could be that there’s too much variety. Reducing the variety (for example, by replacing some sections with variations or developments of other sections) will increase the coherence and make the song sound more focussed.

Drama

Being able to judge the right amount of variety in a song is an important skill to develop, but alone it’s not enough. If you’re trying to make your song more dynamic, it’s important to consider adding more drama to the song. This involves two things – increasing the difference between the sections, and drawing attention to the changes between the sections.

Increasing the difference between the sections increases the scope and breadth of a song. Rather than simply adding or subtracting layers, think about giving some sections a very different texture, thickness, colour or pace. This also makes the song feel bigger because it covers a lot more ‘territory’.

Drawing attention to the changes between the sections means paying particular attention to the transitions. For gradual transitions (such as builds to a climax), think about ways to increase the excitement and anticipation. A good way to approach this is to increase the rate of change. A section of music will be more exciting if a change happens sooner or faster than expected. Make more of the change occur in the second half of a transition. On the other hand, anticipation can be increased by making a change occur later than expected.

For sudden transitions, try to emphasise the transition… for example, for sudden transitions from a low-energy section to a high-energy section, try making the end of the low-energy transition even lower in energy, and the beginning of the high-energy section even higher in energy. Likewise, for sudden transitions from a high-energy section to a low-energy section, try making the end of the high-energy section even higher in energy, and the start of the low-energy section even lower in energy. Make the transition even more sudden.

So now you’ve got no excuse – make more dynamic music!

And if you want some advice on a song, email me.

-Kim.

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  1. This was a really informative post, thanks Kim.

    Moving from low energy (and making it lower) to higher energy works so well, and i cant wait to test it out in my new tracks.

    I’m hoping with a bit of work, this advice could lead me to more dynamic music :D

    • Leeroy
    • March 10th, 2010

    Very interesting post, thanks.

    I came across this as I was pondering very similar issues in relation to a song I’m working on at the moment.

    Specifically, I was wondering whether the track flowed, or whether the elements didn’t really link.

    I’ve partly come to the conclusion that they didn’t need to link with perfect cohesion. It’s good to keep an audience on their toes in some tracks.

    I also sometimes try and think of tracks as literature, and some of my favourite books fly from one theme to another, barely linking them. I woulnd’t want all songs/books like that, but when it works, it’s a refreshing change.

    The track I was thinking of with regards to this post can be found at (it’s still rough)… http://soundcloud.com/leeroy/probably-never.

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