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So you wrote a bunch of songs and they are great general frameworks of the overall tracks. Now you’re wondering how to start detailing so you can make your songs more unique and interesting. I’m going to show you a few tips to do just that. 

To make your songs more interesting you can focus on how you use silences, prioritize the rhythms, give the spotlight to other instruments, use effects to add interesting textures, use odd time signatures, use chord extensions, and separate complex chords over multiple instruments. We’re going to dive into each of these below.

Let’s start out with your use of silence.

Use Silence

Many songwriters often overlook the proper use of silence in their songs. 

It may sound counter-intuitive to use silence to sound better but silence can be just as musical as playing sounds. Some ways you can make your song more interesting using silence is by checking for some of the things below:

  1. What instruments are currently playing for most of the song? Can you cut any of them out in specific parts?
  2. Are there any spots where all instruments can stop playing and leave one playing by itself?
  3. Are there any sections of your song where you can add short pauses on all instruments for a beat or two and come back in super punchy-like?
  4. Can you move where the snare hits are in the beat to make it more interesting and dynamic? (for example, instead of always having a steady snare hit on the 3 count, have a snare on 3 and next snare hit on 2 in the next bar? Play around with it.)
  5. Can you introduce and remove instruments into the track gradually anywhere rather than have them all playing at once?
  6. Can some instruments come in on an upbeat or another count?
  7. Can you add some silences in your melodies, rhythm guitar or basslines that would make for a more interesting groove?
  8. Are any melodies or rhythms conflicting and may sound better one after the other instead of on top of each other? 

These are really all examples of the main point I’m trying to drive here of, where can you add silences and spaces in your song? I guarantee there are at least a few places where you can do so.

Prioritize Rhythm

I’ll let you in on a secret that is not so secret. Rhythm is what makes music catchy. 

Whether you are making a slow song or an upbeat song, rhythm is a huge huge component in keeping people hooked. 

Take Radiohead’s “Nude”. It is a slow song and it still has rhythm. If the drums were stiff it would completely ruin the song. So it is possible to have a slow song that grooves. It doesn’t have to be a dance song. 

With upbeat music you usually want to make beats that make people want to move their body. Whether you are doing a rock song like Led Zepellin or a pop song like Ed Sheeran or even a metal song with a bunch of breakdowns, even those make you want to move your body.

Look over each of the instruments in your song. How’s the rhythm? Are they working together well to make you want to move your body?

How about the vocals? How are they grooving with the drums? Vocals and drums are the two most physical instruments in a band because the whole body is part of the instrument. More so than guitar, bass or keyboard. 

If you are having a hard time coming up with vocals that groove with the song I suggest muting everything and just leaving the drums and maybe the bass. Then just sing over it and try to groove. Maybe take the words out and sing only the melody. 

Give the Spotlight to Other Instruments

One thing that is great about having a band over being a solo artist is that when you write songs you can share the spotlight with the other instruments. It makes it so much easier to keep the song interesting and dynamic.

It also takes the pressure off of you to always be doing something mega interesting. The audience will love it too because believe it or not, they can get tired of hearing you bust out tasty riffs and shred for 5 minutes. Take advantage of this.

Here’s a few things you could try:

  1. Can you do the vocal hook in a guitar melody?
  2. Can you have the guitar play a riff and later in the song have the bass play it while the guitar strums chords instead?
  3. Can you do something simple and repetitive in the guitar and bass to leave space for the drums to do something with lots of little fills and interesting accents?
  4. Can the hook of your song be in the bass, keyboard, saxophone, didjeridoo or something else that is not the guitar or vocals?

Use Effects to Add Interesting Textures

This doesn’t mean just adding stuff like reverb, delay, chorus to your guitar. It can also mean things like using strings instead of synth pads, or doing harmonies between a guitar and synth lead instead of two guitars. They can feel way different.

Sound textures play a big part in a song’s aesthetic and while you are using your ears to hear the music, many people listen to music and imagine things. They also appreciate the difference in textures of one effect like a grainy synth pad over a smooth bell-like synth pad. 

So make your songs more interesting by taking into account the aesthetic and texture created by the effects and instrumental arrangement of your song. 

Use Odd Time Signatures

I love odd time signatures, I’m a huge proghead. BUT they should be used tastefully. Don’t just use odd time signatures to sound complicated for the sake of sounding complicated. 

That being said, they will make your song sound more interesting as opposed to using 4/4 or 3/4 which you hear everywhere. 

A good trick for using odd time signatures is to do the headbang test. If you can headbang to the music for the most part then you are probably using time signatures in a way that still sounds and feels pretty natural and not forced and overcomplicated. There’s always exceptions of course. Use your best judgment.

Use Chord Extensions

Another great way to make your song more interesting is to step up your chord game with chord extensions. 

Without getting deep into music theory, just try adding one more note to your triad chords (Triad chords are those with a Root, 3rd and 5th like Major and Minor chords). 

This will give some extra flavor to some of your chords and will have people wondering if you are some sort of savant doing complicated sounding things without having any idea what you are doing. 

For more info on chord extensions check out these two articles. What are Chord Extensions? and How to Use Chord Extensions in Songwriting.

Separate Complex Chords Over Multiple Instruments

To expand on the last point, another thing you can do is separate those fancy chords with extensions over different instruments. 

To put it simply, what that means is that instead of you doing the full 4 note chord on your guitar for example, let the bass do the root note and you can do the 3rd and fifth, and then maybe the vocals can be singing that extra fancy note from your four note chord. 

This way you spread your fancy chord over 3 different instruments. This is a really good arrangement practice and many musicians do this; like the guitarist of Khruangbin who has mentioned he purposely avoids playing the Root note since the bass is already playing it. Jazz musicians also do this all the time. 

This practice is pretty useful if you use distortion on your guitar because having a chord with chord extensions and distortion on top of that can make it sound like a bunch of noise and makes it hard to appreciate the complexity of the chord. 

But when you spread it over different instruments, it is much easier to hear everything and appreciate the overall feeling of the chord. 

Wrapping it up

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a great place to start. 

Many many artists and bands in all genre’s do these practices and you should see them as seasonings to spice up your song. Which one you use in which song is going to depend on a case by case basis. Some songs can use several, others maybe just one or two. 

Check which ones will help enhance your songs and if this was helpful consider subscribing to the Youtube channel!

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