Songwriting Tips On Avoiding Three Huge Amateur Format Mistakes

Nashville Numbers Chart created for a client's project

A Bad Chart Is Almost As Bad As No Chart At All!

Wow! where do I start?

I received a Tracks Online Project yesterday. It was sent in by another producer who wanted us to add fiddle and steel guitar to it, probably because the area of the U.S. he worked in didn’t have any world class players on those instruments. Or on any instruments judging by the recording. But the biggest problem I noticed, and the fiddle player did too, was four bars of the root chord just prior to where a fiddle solo came in.

The bars were useless to the song. They added nothing. Worse, if we left them blank there was nothing happening which means: boring!. If we put a little fiddle in there it sounded like solo and detracted from the impact of the fiddle entering at the real solo point. The fiddle player and I looked at each other dumbfounded…knowing exactly what the other was thinking: “Why are those bars even there?”

Sometimes extra bars are indeed necessary. Maybe you end a chorus and need a tonic chord for a couple of bars so the singer ends on a note compatible with the root key or maybe to separate the verse so the chorus singing doesn’t overlap.

But songwriters have a tendency to place useless bars after verses, after choruses, in intros and other places where taking them out would benefit, not hurt. Other “too many bars” situations may include introductions that are longer than necessary and “turns” that are double the length they should be. Typically this “turnaround” would be four bars long. Eight bars is usually to long and it starts to feel more like the main solo area of the tune. Try it both ways and if the shorter solo or turn feels better, go with it. Nothing is gained from weirdness or boring your audience.

Analyze your song for unnecessary bars and eliminate them.

Excessive use of stops and diamonds is a second pitfall best avoided (a diamond is when you play a chord on the first beat of a measure then simply let it ring through the next three beats). Diamonds can sound cool in the right spot but overuse starts to give the whole song a disconnected vibe. Ditto stops where the band stops on the initial downbeat then comes back in after four or eight beats. They are great tools that can add interest, just don’t overuse them to the point your song sounds strange and disjointed.

A third sign of an amateur is over use of pushes. A push is when the band plays a chord on the upbeat before the downbeat where it would normally occur. Tap your foot as you play and see if some chord changes are happening when your foot is up instead of down. That’s a push that would be noted on a chart with a check mark above the pushed chord. Pushes can work well at times but Adele’s “Hello” aside. you don’t usually want to turn your song into a pushfest!

All that being said all these points aren’t set in stone and I could cite examples of hits that ignore these “rules”. It’s a song-by song thing. What sounds downright weird in one song and needs to be fixed might work well in another. – b.e. watson