Songwriter’s Question: Getting the Right Song Emotion

Song Emotion Question

Here is a question from the Learn How to Write Songs Facebook Group regarding a problem with the right  song emotion.

I’m having problems creating of a “happy” song. My songs always end up as a ballads and I don’t know, how to change that.  Do you have any ideas, how to combine chords to get a “good mood” song?

This is a great question that plagues many songwriters. The core of this question I believe is how to set the right emotion for a song. Of course there are several factors that the songwriters needs to consider.

To begin, the songwriter needs to start out knowing what mood the song will portray. In simplest terms that are “Sad” or “Happy” songs.

Creating the right emotion in songwriting involves two factors working together. These two factors are the lyrics and the music.  Both elements together can produce powerful emotions.  Now, let’s take a look at how lyrics and music create emotions in a song.

Creating Song Emotion is Complex

There is a wide range of emotions, not just happy or sad. There are many nuances to emotion that make it complex. As a songwriter it is our goal to bring out the right emotion. With so many types of emotions it may be difficult to create the right mood.  Also, a lot of factors go into emotions. Here are a few…

Setting

This would be the location in the story. For example, here are two places that should bring different emotional response.

  1. Standing on the beach, listening to the waves
  2. Standing at the mouth of a volcano about to erupt.

Take a moment and try to experience the different emotions created by these two locations. What do you feel?

Colors

There is a whole study of the psychological aspects of color and how it affects our mood.  The color white could represent things like purity or innocence while black could represent evil or death.  Red may represent love, romance, life or intensity.  Therefore when you write song lyrics use colors to express emotions.

Situations

Every situation we encounter in life will have some sort of emotional response. For example, getting a traffic ticket may cause emotions of anger, shame or embarrassment.  Every song has situations for emotional impact

Facial expressions

The human face communicates so many emotions. The position of the mouth, eyes, and eyebrows all communicate something.  When writing lyrics describe facial features to hint at emotions. Use facial expressions to inspire emotion

Life Experiences

Finally, life is filled with common experiences. Each life experience comes with some type of emotion attached to it. Some common life experiences include:

  • Getting married
  • Birth of a Child
  • Graduating School
  • Death of Parent
  • First Date

Of course, there are too many to list but I hope you get the idea.  Hopefully these activities bring out certain emotions.

How music affects mood

It is well known that music affects our mood in many ways.  There are certain combinations of notes, harmony and tempo that create certain emotions. Therefore, a songwriter needs to understand the power of music to help amplify or enhance the lyrics.

Using Different Modes for Emotional Impact

In western music theory we start with the major scale. The major scale provides a framework for other modes. Modes are simply inversions of the major scale. The inversion is created by moving the starting note to something other than the tonic note. This creates a new tonic with different intervals.  As a result, each mode has a unique and distinct mood associated with it. You can learn more about mode by reading Practical Guide to Easily Master Music Scale Modes.

What a mode can do is shift the scale from either a major or minor scale. The primary difference between a major and minor is found in the 3rd note of the scale.  The minor will have a b3 note. This shift in the third note will create a sad or melancholy feel the melody.

In general, a major scale will provide a more upbeat, joyful and happy feel. On the other hand a minor scale can produce a more sad or somber feel. Of course this is an over simplification but it does give the composer a baseline for emotions.

How Tempo Affects Mood.

Tempo is how fast or slow music is played. In combination with certain modes tempo play a big part in creating emotion in a song. In general, fast tempo songs are happier, joyful when associated with a major scale. However a fast song with a minor scale could create anxiety or uneasiness.  On the other end of tempo scale, a slower tempo can create feelings of loss, sadness or depression.

How Harmony Creates Mood

Harmony is derived from the music scale. As we discussed earlier certain modes create distinct emotions. The basic construction of harmony is to create triads based on the scale notes. From here a chord progression can be created

Just like scales chord are divided by major and minor types. And just like scales, these major and minor chord have the same characteristics.  Remember, major chords are happier, brighter or joyful. Alternatively, at the other end of the emotional scale are minor chords which are more sad and somber.

In addition to the minor and major chords we also need to include the seventh.  Seven chords are triad with the addition of the seventh note from the root of the chords.  What the seven brings is a sense of disorientation, incompleteness and unrest.  A seventh chord needs to resolve, otherwise the listener is left incomplete and wanting.

Performance helps emotions

A lot can be said about lyrics and music and its role in creating emotion. But there is one other ingredient vital to putting more emotion into a song. That element is the human touch. The human touch is only available in the song performance. This is the secret sauce that blends lyric and music to enhance the mood of a song. If the other ingredients of words and music are crafted with emotion in mind, it makes the job of the singer and musicians easier. The performer must interpret the song to squeeze out the emotions within each line of the song. The human element is so important to the song.

Putting it all together

Now you have a basic understanding of the mechanics that create emotion.  Armed with this information you can start to examine your songs. As you examine them, look at the various factors relating to emotion and work toward putting more emotion into your songs. Understand words and how they affect how we feel. Understand how music is composed to create emotion.  All these factors will help you write songs that connect with your audience.

In conclusion, if your song emotion ends up sounding like a ballad rather than up tempo look at the factors.

  • examine the words you are using.
  • Determine the mode and make sure it in a major mode
  • Increase the tempo
  • Sing with the appropriate emotion.

If you have a question regarding the craft of songwriting please submit them at Song Question.  Also, if you have other thoughts or ideas relating to this topic please make comments below.

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