[Originally published on Sharon Goldman's Songwriting Scene blog 17 Nov 2010].
The Beatles were songwriting Ninjas, but they employed many tricks that anyone can add to their songwriting tool box. Here are five less obvious examples:
1. Mutate Your Chorus
As well as starting songs with the chorus, some of The Beatles greatest hits open with a chorus hybrid that previews the title and hooks.
The intro to Help has the same chord progression as the chorus but moves twice as fast and features the title 4 times (to the chorus's 3). Use this trick and by the time you reach your chorus the listener will be hooked by the reassuring feeling that they've heard your song somewhere before.
Also used on: She Loves You, Can't Buy Me Love.
2. Bluesify Your Melody
We expect to hear blue notes like the b3rd, b5th and b7th in rockers like Back In The USSR but the Beatles often added these notes into more melodic material too.
In Blackbird the final phrase uses the b7th on inTO the LIGHT and the b3rd on dark BLACK night. This trick will add a soulful edge to your melodies but it's hard to pull off unless you're a confident singer. Inserting the blue note into your chord until you've can pitch it correctly is a smart move.
Also used on: Ticket To Ride, From Me To You.
3. Delay The Root Chord
Starting a song on the tonic chord is a rut the Beatles managed to avoid a surprising number of times.
Eleanor Rigby starts on C major (the bVI of Em) before heading to the home chord. It's one of the things that gives the track such a sense of tension. Using this trick will give your progressions more forward momentum.
Also used on: All My Loving, Hello Goodbye.
4. Utilise The Outside Chord
Many of us employ out of key chords (whether we realise it or not!). But out of 186 original Beatles compositions only 16 stay in key!
In Strawberry Fields Forever, Lennon pulls the rug from under the Bb major tonality by replacing the F major chord with an F minor.
Bb Let me take you down cos I'm going Fm to
Its like the stomach drop you experience on the crest of a rollercoaster. Later he creates a disorientating momentary high by replacing the Gm with a G major.
Eb Nothing to get G hung about
Outside chords will surprise your listeners and freshen your melodies.
Also used on: I Am The Walrus, Fool On The Hill.
5. Restate Your Lyrics
The Beatles didn't make their lyrics memorable just by repeating sections wholesale. They also repeated and adapted words, phrases and sentence structures.
Take A Day In The Life. 4 verses, a middle 8 and only one repeated line. And yet it's memorable (in part) because of lyrical links like these -
I - read the news/saw a film - today, oh boy
and though the - news was/holes were - rather - sad/small
found my - way downstairs/coat/way upstairs
I just had to - laugh/look
Using this subtle trick will make your lyrics sticky and give a sense of unity to a track.
Also used on: Fixing A Hole, The Long And Winding Road.
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