TIP 4: Use Contrast to Grab Attention

by Robin Frederick    Check out  Robin’s books at Amazon.com.

arrow-pointImagine you and I are standing in a room full of people. If I suddenly start yelling, I will get everyone’s attention. But if I keep on yelling at the same level for awhile, what happens? Pretty soon they all get bored and stop listening (and probably leave). It’s natural to think that being loud, is an attention getter. But if loudness becomes the norm then it ceases to be something we’re interested in.

We’re ‘hardwired’ to notice change. When something changes, we check it out. What’s happening? What’s different? It’s a survival mechanism, like the ‘fight or flight’ response. Once we’re satisfied that everything is safe, we no longer need to devote energy to it and we stop paying attention. When I started yelling, everyone noticed the change; when they determined that I was no threat, they stopped noticing. That’s what listeners will do with your song.

So, let’s try this. What happens if I yell for 30 seconds, then speak softly for 30 seconds, then yell again? Each of those changes in volume level will attract attention. It’s the change — the AMOUNT of change, which we call CONTRAST — that gets attention. Contrast says: “Hey, notice THIS! It’s different.” The more contrast, the more difference, the more it captures attention.

We’re do the same thing with songs: Grab the listener’s attention and hold it by using CONTRAST.

If I sing in a loud, urgent tone of voice I will get attention, especially if the words are emotionally compelling – let’s call that the chorus. Then, if I employ a softer tone and the words reveal intimate details, I pull the listener closer, still keeping them involved because I’m doing something different. I’ve used contrast to create a new section. Let’s call this the verse.

Then, when I return to the first section – louder, more urgent – I’ve got their attention again and it’s clear that we’re not in the verse anymore, we’re in the chorus. I’ve created a structured experience, directed the listener’s attention and successfully kept them involved in what I’m doing. And I used contrast to do it!

This example of yelling and whispering is pretty basic. In a song, we can also create contrast with

  • NOTE RANGE
  • PACE OF THE WORDS
  • PHRASE LENGTHS

If you listen to some of your favorite hit songs and look for contrast, you’ll find it. The chorus is in a different note range (higher or lower) than the verse. Or the verse may feature a lot of notes and words delivered rapidly while the chorus relies on long, stretched out notes and words.

DO IT NOW – Listen to a few hit songs you like and look for contrast between the verse and chorus. What makes each section distinctive? What catches your attention? How do you know you’re in a different section of the song? 

Try adding contrast to one of your own songs by writing the verse in a low note range and the chorus in a higher note range, or write a verse with a lot of words sung quickly and a chorus with slower, smoother delivery of the words.

READ TIP #5: Write Your Song in a Genre