What Makes a Good Song?

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What Makes a Good Song?

Music has a unique ability to captivate people. We already know what it takes to write a song, but what does it take to make it “good?” It could be the infectious rhythm that holds their attention or the powerful lyrics that resonate with them. It is a deeply personal and subjective experience that people often do not see eye to eye on.

However, certain songs transcend individual tastes and receive universal acclaim. Take, for example, Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” or Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” These songs are widely recognized as exceptional. What is it about these musical masterpieces that resonate so deeply with such a diverse audience? All kinds of genres and voices make up the music industry, but what is it that makes a song good?

What makes a song good?

A song is made up of many elements, and how they blend together is what sets a good song apart from any other song. A good song should evoke emotions in the listener— joy, sadness, empowerment, etc.— the things that make us human.

Emotional Impact

When we listen to music, it has a profound emotional impact on us at a chemical level. The limbic system, responsible for our emotions, “lights up” when exposed to music, leading to increased blood flow to the brain. This reaction can trigger the release of dopamine when we hear particularly moving or emotionally resonant parts in a song. As a result, our moods are lifted, and we experience a sense of enjoyment and well-being. The body signals what it truly finds to be a good song. 


Every aspect of a song can contribute to its emotional impact. Song topics all humans connect to, such as love or heartbreak, immediately grab listeners’ attention. Melodies that move up and down allow vocalists to show greater emotional range, while melodies that stay around one note tend to emphasize the lyrics, creating a connection through the song’s words.

An artist’s vocal delivery is another key aspect of emotional connection. Hearing the feelings and energy straight from them can amplify the listening experience. Creating an emotional connection will give a song lasting impact.

The Melody

The melody of a song is one of the most important parts of the songwriting process. It is what people sing along to. Think about how the lyric “somewhere over the rainbow” sounds when you sing it acapella, that is the melody of a song. Another example is “A, B, C, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3” by the Jackson Five.

These melodies are so distinct that you know exactly what they sound like by just reading them on a page. Clever melodies can make songs shine. Science has actually found that certain things can make a melody more catchy! Such as longer musical phrases and if there are three or more vocal pitches in a hook. Check out some more examples of songs with great melodies below.

Eagles, “Hotel California”

Taylor Swift, “Style”

Tips for Songwriters: Harmonies, consisting of two or more notes sung simultaneously, create a rich and vibrant texture that complements the main melody. When you add harmonies to your melody, you can significantly enhance its musical depth and impact. Working on harmonies is a great exercise to improve your melodies, as you may find a lead vocal that you prefer.

Lyricism and Storytelling

The lyrics of a song are crucial for conveying the emotional depth and narrative of the music. Lyrics enhance the listener’s experience by providing context and detail about the song’s theme and message. The beauty of lyrics lies in their ability to give voice to the listeners’ unspoken truths.

When artists share vulnerable lyrics, it creates a deep connection between them and their audience. Lyrics serve as a bridge, connecting artists and their fans through shared experiences, making the music more deeply resonant and personal.

The great lyricists Joni Mitchell and Neil Young have a way of capturing a moment in their songs and expanding on it. Their lyrics beg to be heard and paint a beautiful picture that you can not look away from. Have a listen to their songs below:

Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”

“So many things I would have done / But clouds got in my way”

Neil Young, “Harvest Moon”

“Just like children sleeping’ / We could dream this night away”

Song lyrics do not always have to carry deep meaning. For instance, the song “Baby” by Justin Bieber is not known for its profound lyrics, but rather for its repetition. The song’s repetitive nature contributes to its ability to stay stuck in your head long after you’ve heard it, making it a great pop song.

Tips for Songwriters: If you are writing song lyrics, it is best to use imagery to stimulate the listener’s imagination. This makes the song more engaging and personal, as it aims to create vivid images through storytelling. Show the listener what is going on, do not tell them. If you are more into writing catchy pop lyrics, focus on repetition and three pitch melodies in your chorus like how “Baby” has.

Arrangement

The way a song is arranged can determine its overall impact on the listener. A well thought-out and structured arrangement that gradually builds can keep a song interesting and engage the listener. Many songs follow a simple structure that goes: verse / pre-chorus / chorus / verse / pre-chorus / chorus / bridge / chorus but sometimes moving this structure around can make a song really interesting and refresh the listener.

Chord Progression

The chord progression is the backbone of the song. It serves as a foundation that allows for everything else to be built upon. This must be solid in order for the melodies, harmonie, and production to be created. Chord progressions can set the mood of a song and define the genre.

Production Quality

The production quality of a song is essential, as it reflects the professionalism and industry standards of the music. A well-produced song enhances its appeal by providing clarity and effectively balancing its musical elements. This includes aspects such as the mix, mastering, arrangement, and overall sonic presentation, all of which contribute to creating a polished and engaging listening experience for the audience. 

The impact of production on a song is evident when comparing the two versions of “I Will Always Love You.” The original was written and performed by Dolly Parton, while Whitney Houston’s version sounds completely different. This difference is not only due to their distinct vocal styles but also to the significant sonic variations in the production. This shows the directions in which written composition can be taken.

Dolly Parton, “I Will Always Love You”

Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”

The following video shows you the before and after of mixing different tracks.

Tips for Songwriters: When looking for a producer to collaborate with, ensure that their previous work aligns with the style you want for your music. Additionally, it is important to find a mixing and mastering engineer who can give your music a professional sound.

Rytham & Groove

Rhythm and Groove

The rhythm and groove are crucial elements in making music engaging and unforgettable. They provide structure and a foundation. They evoke physical and emotional responses, often leading to dancing and movement. Or swaying and nodding. These memorable moments create a song’s identity and can define a specific moment in time. The following examples showcase different genres, each displaying distinctive rhythms and grooves that are universally recognized.

The grooves of different genres:Rock, pop, and country music typically share similar rhythmic styles due to their focus on catchy melodies and straightforward song structures. However, several genres deviate from this pattern.

The Beatles, “Come Together

Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”

Rap/Hip-hop’s rhythmic characteristics often include heavy syncopation and beat patterns. This genre heavily relies on sampling and rhythms.

Kendrick Lamar, “Love”

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) relies on high-energy rhythms to create danceable music. It is often characterized by repetitive elements and includes a prominent drumbeat with drops and builds.

Cash Cash, “Take Me Home”

Jazz has a unique rhythmic approach with its swing feel and syncopation. It emphasizes off-beats and relies on improvisation for many parts.

Miles Davis, “Blue In Green”

Blues has a 12-bar structure with a steady, repetitive shuffle or swing rhythm and a backbeat.

Muddy Waters, “Got My Mojo Working”

Classical music is a complex style characterized by varied rhythms, the use of different time signatures, syncopation, and polyrhythms. This style heavily relies on structure.

Jean Sibelius, “Symphony no. 2”

Cultural Impact

Many songs are characterized by their meaningful exploration of cultural issues. The artists’ willingness to speak on what is happening in the world can be seen as bold and impactful. These songs often serve as anthems for social movements and capture a particular historical moment. Impacted by the war and racial prejudice, Marvin Gaye wrote “What’s Going On,” which became an anthem in the early 1970s.

Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”

Innovation

Artists need to strike a balance between familiarity and innovation to remain strong in their creativity. Engaging with listeners’ familiar tastes while introducing them to new ideas helps keep music fresh. Beyoncé is an excellent contemporary example of an innovative artist who demonstrates her versatility by crossing genres while maintaining her familiar persona. Another great example of innovation is David Bowie. He was always changing his look and musical styles to get ahead of the music industry. He blended pop, rock, and funk together to create his famous sound.

Tips for Songwriters: Blend two or more genre elements together when putting a song together. If your sound is more rock, add an element from another genre to make your sound more unique. Crossing genres can be a great way to think out of the box and give your sound a resurgence.

The allure of certain songs lies in their unparalleled ability to deeply resonate with people on emotional levels. This emotional, lyrical, and sonic impact is what drives songs like “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas, “Happy” by Pharrell, and “Hello” by Adele to dominate the charts for over ten weeks. These songs evoke strong responses, compelling listeners to sing along or move to the music.

Every aspect is meticulously crafted with unwavering intention, creativity, and innovation, creating a good song that will be remembered through all of time. Songwriting is an enjoyable process that combines all of the elements above to create a piece of art that connects people. Music classes can help you fine-tune your writing skills. Find a class near you here.

Author: Madison

Madison is a singer/songwriter born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Gender & Women’s Studies with a concentration in Media and Communications. As an independent recording artist, her music has received critical acclaim from the likes of EARMILK and Wonderland Magazine. Apart from her involvement with Ensemble Performing Arts, Madison performs shows across California.

Madison

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