DWMS: How to Write a Good Pop Song


Music is said to be the antithesis of other forms of entertainment in more ways than one. As our tastes evolve, we expect our movies, books, video games, and the like to be grander, bigger, and more complex. However, music has gone in a different direction. Simpler three or four-chord songs triumph over ten-minute epics where emphasis is placed on the instruments over the vocalist. Don’t get me wrong. My personal preference is for the latter, but I need to be objective here.

Rather than review a specific song, I will be talking about a theoretical pop song and its different parts. I’m sticking with pop because in prog genres, you can get away with whatever you want. Your typical pop music has the same structure: Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus x2. Sometimes, there’ll be another verse or the song will start with the chorus. Even the bridge is optional. If you’re good with words, you can write the lyrics to a pop song in ten minutes.

Now that we have theoretical lyrics to our theoretical pop song, now we need something to do with our instruments. Those guitars and synths aren’t going to play themselves, at least if I want to respect you as a musician. Most songs are written in C or G Major, since those are the easiest keys to play on a guitar. For simplicity’s sake, our song will be in C Major.

The most common chord progression will be C F G. There’s a reason there’s a trope called Three Chords and the Truth. C is your root, F is your subdominant, and G is your dominant. Now that you know three chords (CEG, FAC, GBD), you can write the music to go with your lyrics.

But, maybe you want to spice things up. Playing the same three chords can get boring. So, sometimes, you’ll want to throw in a minor chord. Sticking with C Major, you get your choice of Dm, Em, Am, or Bdim. If your song’s the happy-go-chasing-butterflies type, I’d stay away from Bdim. Its tritone gives off an evil vibe like the music I normally listen to. Am or Dm are the best choices, especially following a G chord.

For the non-musically inclined, you’ll have to remember to transpose these chords to fit your key. Because I’m an enthusiast for innovation, let’s transpose this pop song into F# Major. Why F#? It’s not a common key signature, and it’ll help your song stand out from the crowd. That means your basic chords will be F#, B, and C# (F#A#C#, BD#F#, and C#E#G#). That E# looks odd, but we have to stick to key. Don’t forget about your minor chords as well.

So there you have it. Now you can write a pop song. Actually playing it is beyond the scope of this blog. I might get to song reviews someday, but for now, I’ll stick with music theory.

-DWalk

#music #theory #popmusic #dwms

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