Dynamics In Songwriting – Making It Work


One of the most common tricks in song arrangement is to have a quiet or calm verse and a big or raucous chorus. Harder to pull off, but worth exploring, is instead repeating a chorus twice using the same kind of contrast.

Take Reptilia by The Strokes as an example. Right after Julian sings “You’re in a strange part of our town,” the band drops out except for a single guitar playing through one repetition of the chorus, joined for a second repetition by bass and just the kick drum, building up the tension. When the full band comes back in the song really explodes.


Another variation of this approach is found in “Rock Me Gently” by Andy
Kim. Ignore the cheesier aspects of this very 70s pop song and listen to
the way he sings the chorus once with similar dynamics to the verse,
and then hits the same chorus a second time with strong backing vocals
and a harder beat.
What
are the keys to successfully pulling this off? It’s all about dynamics -
adding more instruments and vocals the second time is crucial. The
repeated chorus has got to sound fuller, whether from adding unison or
harmony vocals, adding more guitars or keyboards, or by additional
percussion (such as tambourine or shaker).  The second key is adding a
heavier drum part, such as switching from only kick drum to a full kit
as in “Reptilia,” or the quarter note hits on the snare in “Rock Me
Gently.”

Of course, even if the dynamics are handled this way,
it’s a technique that won’t work for every song. Still, it’s worth
keeping in mind when going straight from the verse to the chorus doesn’t
quite sound right.

Krikor is the singer/guitarist/songwriter for the fantastic NY rock group The Walk Ons.their new record is out now on Drug Front Records.

  • Sean

    This is very insightful stuff. I’m definitely going to try to work this into a song.
    Also, Andy Kim is my new favorite human.

  • Tonio

    Excellent post, a very basic arranging technique but one that is well worth remembering!
    One comment, for what it’s worth – leave off the commentary about “cheesy” and the “very 70s” thing – a song is a song, and most, especially pop, will reflect the styles and production values of their era. If anyone even remembers the Strokes in 30 years, their song will sound just as dated. The Andy Kim song has become a classic not because OR in spite of its “cheesiness”, but because it’s a good, pop tune, and very well arranged.
    ‘Nuff said, and no offense intended!

  • Krikor

    Tonio – you’re right, and I didn’t mean to put down Mr. Kim by including that disclaimer. I just wanted to make sure everyone listened to the track, since it’s a bit outside the music usually featured here on Musformation.