Stressing the right syllables in songwriting

by Debra Alexander

As Week Four unfolds for the participants of Challenge 2013, some who were on the scene of Canadian Music Week in Toronto found themselves juggling the demands of their Songwriting course assignments with those of the CMW Conference, and used events like the Songwriter’s Association of Canada’s Words and Music: Songwriters’ Listening Session and the S.A.C. Songwriters’ Green Room mentoring sessions to put their songwriting chops to the test. Songwriters hoping to earn an income from the fruits of their labour know that writing great songs is only half their job, and that the other 50% of the job involves networking, in all the myriad forms networking now takes.

Many panelists at the Conference repeatedly pointed out the importance of writing a great song, and noted that everything begins with an undeniable, somewhat undefinable combination of words and music, delivered in an appropriate production package. Our Coursera class is surely putting themselves at the head of the pack by making the effort to improve their writing skills.

Songwriting Professor Pat Pattison begins this week’s lesson by stating that the English language uses pitch and rhythm in a smooth and connected way to make the communication of ideas efficient. Meaning is conveyed through the use of stressed syllables, and stressed syllables have a higher pitch than non-stressed syllables. When we listen to speech, we actually hear little melodies. Songwriters who write the lines that have the greatest impact on an audience have learned how to organize their lines in patterns of rhythm and melody that maintain the rise and fall and accents of natural speech. Every time a songwriter “sets” a lyric so that the melody or musical phrase is not in sync with the words found in natural speech, a little bit of emotion and meaning is lost. Mis-setting even the smallest, seemingly insignificant word can have a profound effect on a song.

The average listener is typically not be able to articulate the reasons why some songs hit home for them more than others. Meanwhile, songwriters spend lifetimes perfecting their craft on a microscopic syllabic level in order to make songwriting seem easy. But anyone who has ever been in a Songwriter’s Listening Session at an event like Canadian Music Week knows that crafting a truly great song that lasts through the ages is a gift that involves an incredible amount of know-how, dedication, and out-and-out luck.

SAC Bloggers, please post the following for Week Four:

1. The link to your Assignment #4 recording on Soundcloud.

2. The URL to your Week 4 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)


20 thoughts on “Stressing the right syllables in songwriting

  1. adriannesoundslike

    I agree with some of the above posters… I was so hesitant to change my song because I liked it so much, but after applying the word stress to bar beat rule to it, I have to admit in some ways it spotlights the lyrics much better! Another great tool!
    Here’s the link to my Soundcloud:
    Here’s the link to my blog:

    I’d love to hear which you guys liked better! They’re both up publicly on my Soundcloud.



    Here’s my blog for Week 4 where you can hear my new epic pop song, “I’m 2 Used 2 This” trundling along at 123 BPM in 4/4 which was the VERY first decision I made before writing a single word or note or even having the faintest idea what the song would be. Not normal, that’s me! Obviously, simply from the numerals in the title you will have deduced it is a pop song! Enjoy, and let me know what you think. It feels like the best singing I’ve managed to do yet.


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