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Songwriting: Form on a Micro Level

Songwriting: Form on a Micro Level

By Chris Glyde

Form on a micro level is a VERY LONG topic. I could write a 150-page book on how this functions. That is, however, not within the scope of this article. So, instead, I will address one of the more important parts of micro-level work: setting up an expectation and then shutting it down.
The purpose of setting up an expectation is to build patterns and then essentially break them. This makes the listener feel a bit tense and is one of the ways you can make a piece or section a lot more tense. This is great for pre choruses, bridges, building up to solos, and a myriad of other situations.
Here are some examples:

Before we address the micro level expectations in a song, we should address the most obvious expectations, which are contained by song structure(macro level). The structure for the song example I’m going to use is very unique, but still follows a general outline of some of the more common song forms.

Intro – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Interlude – Pre-Chorus Chorus – Outro Solo

So the expectation broken here is that instead of a second chorus, I did an interlude. The nice part about there being song forms that people use 90% of the time is that deviating from them instantly breaks expectations — that’s not what most listeners would expect to hear next. Surprise.

Back to micro-level expectations.

The Expectation:


Figure 6
I love the way I played with form on a micro level in this example above. Use the Macro Form from above to follow with me, so I can tell you how this would work together.
The figure above shows itself at the end of the first chorus in out phrase, the spot marked in red.
Intro – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Interlude – Pre-Chorus Chorus – Outro Solo

This is where all the tension is released and resolution takes place. So when the listener begins to hear the power chords palm muted the next time I play it, they will expect resolution.
Keep in mind: Your expectation will be set up stronger if you repeat the concept more than once. I actually didn’t repeat this concept again, so I added more expectations and other elements to give it a more dramatic expectation breaking feel.

Breaking the expectation:

breaking expectation

I came back to this section in the 2nd chorus towards the end of the song.

Intro – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Interlude – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Outro Solo
Here’s what it looked like:

When the end of the chorus came back around, I extended the phrases making it 6 measures instead of four and I removed the lick at the end that resolved the measure. This created a break in expectation, which made the measure more tense. The listener would expect 4 measures and expect the resolution, but it never comes or at least not yet.

These two things created massive tension and unstable sensations within the music. Add in the three other unstable elements in that part of the song, the palm muting(naturally a very tense nuance), theres a fast picking section in the lead combined with out-of- key notes being VERY slowly bent into key, and you have a perfect tension-building section to wind up your guitar solo and let it rip.
This is how you give your listeners chills. Eventually however you’d want to resolve this tension and release the poor mortals from their Anguish. Which leads us to phase 3.

Resolving the tension:
What goes up must come down. In order to resolve an idea like this, you must eventually return to the original idea and give the listener the expectation back.
If not the tension just continues to build and build and build.
Using form, the tension resolves at the end of the piece, literally the last not of the song, completely winds you down to relax. It’s relaxed by bringing back the resolution phrase in the palming section, the final lick ending.
don’t let them relax too much though, even if you’re descending and winding down, you still want smaller peaks that jump back up a bit while they descend.

About The Author:
Chris Glyde is a songwriter and teacher based in Rochester New York. He’s always looking for ways to become a better songwriter and a better teach. If you’d like to take guitar lessons in Rochester with Chris and continue moving your own skills, contact him.

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