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Songwriting

Song Structure

with Nija Charles

From Cardi B, H.E.R., and Ty Dolla $ign, to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, this 24-year-old’s already written for some big hitters. In this episode, she deconstructs “positions” by Ariana Grande.

Episode Summary:

Songwriter Nija Charles distinguishes the unique parts of a song by breaking down “positions” by Ariana Grande, on which she’s a co-writer.

About Nija:

She’s just 24-years-old, but this songwriter from Union, New Jersey, already boasts the eye-popping discography of an industry player twice her age. Her career kicked off in 2016 while she was a student at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, but soon she was busy pinballing between recording studios in Los Angeles and New York City, eventually opting to leave music education behind and immerse herself in writing full time. Megan Thee Stallion, ZAYN, Ariana Grande, Chloe x Halle, Usher, Summer Walker, Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Ty Dolla $ign, H.E.R., Beyoncé, and Jay-Z are just a few of the artists Nija has worked with. After writing for and with this roll call of established hitmakers, now Nija’s staking her claim as a solo artist in her own right.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • A clear mind is key for songwriting. It’s important to be flexible and malleable in order to empathize, collaborate, and be as productive as possible with an artist in the studio.

  • Songs are like essays. You can lay the exposition (characters, setting) in the verse, supporting facts in the pre-chorus, and the meat of the idea or argument in the chorus. 

  • Always honor the song. Song structure provides a foundation making a song digestible, but you can always break the rules to create something outside of the box. 

  • It takes practice to become a good songwriter. The more you write, the better you get! Natural talent and hard work are the key combo of any craft.

SONG STARTERS:

  • Write a song using the same song structure as “positions”: verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, and back to the chorus (A-B-C-A-B-C-D-C). The topic may also be about an experience with someone you love. How do you describe this common feeling of “love” in your own unique way?

  • Write a song with a hook that includes a common phrase that you or your friends use daily. How does that unique phrase evoke a specific feeling or experience?

  • Start a song idea with the same title as “positions,” but with a whole new meaning. What does it mean to you?

KEY TERMS:

  • Intro:

    a short section in the beginning of the song that sets the vibe.

  • Verse:

    a section that has a common melody, but is repeated (usually two times) with different lyrics the second time. The first verse usually sets the scene of the song, while the second verse further develops the topic.

  • Transition:

    an instrumental element that leads into the next section of the song.

  • Pre-chorus:

    the vehicle that takes the verse into the chorus.

  • Chorus:

    a melodic, lyrical or instrumental part that gets stuck in your head. It is sometimes referred to as the hook, and it is the catchiest part of the song that everyone remembers. This section often expresses the general idea of the song.

  • Post-chorus:

    works to keep the momentum throughout the song and is sometimes catchier than the chorus.

  • Bridge:

    a section that introduces a new element to the song. It is often a new melody or a change within the chord progression. 

  • Outro (also known as a coda):

    the final section of a song. It is often an instrumental section.

  • Song structure:

    the foundation guiding the flow of the song. Not all songs follow the same structure, but it is a good place to start when writing a song.

    • Examples:

      • verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge (A-B-C-A-B-C-D-C)

      • verse, pre-chorus, chorus (A-B-C-A-B-C)

      • verse, chorus (A-B-A-B-A)

  • Lyrics:

    the words of the song that are used to express ideas and evoke emotions. They are usually written in patterns or forms, similar to poetry.

  • Melody:

    a series of notes that blend well together musically. The lead melody in a song is usually sung by the main vocalist, and can be paired with lyrics. Melody often defines a song, is the piece that is remembered by a listener, and acts as the foundation for lyrics.

  • Topline:

    the lead melody and lyrics that are written over an instrumental/beat/track.

  • Chord:

    a group of three or more notes that sound good when played together. Types of chords include major, minor, and diminished.

  • Chord progressions:

    series of chords that are played in sequence. Chord progressions can set the foundation for a melody, and can change in each section of the song.

  • Instrumental:

    a recording of music that is already made by another creator, without lyrics or a lead melody. Instrumentals are also often called a beat or track in songwriting.

  • Tonic key:

    the underlying key in which a piece of music is written. For example, A major, B flat minor, etc., are keys. 

All illustrative graphics created by

Top40 Theory.

Listen to his Song Start - Song Structure podcast

here.

 

Contrasts Between Sections in "positions"

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Watch more episodes about songwriting, production, and collaboration, plus listen to Song Start: The Podcast, here.

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