How To Write Better Songs By Using Unity And Variety To Make Your Music Interesting And Engaging

10 minutes read, by Ryan Buckner

Are you tired of writing songs that leave you feeling unsatisfied because they don’t quite sound how you want them to? Do you wish you knew how to write better songs that perfectly express the ideas in your head? Would you like to know why your music sounds a little “off” compared to the songs of your favorite musical artists?

The reality is, most songwriters struggle at one point or another to create songs that sound exactly how they want them to. That said, one of the best things you can do to improve your songwriting is to learn and master the concepts of unity and variety in music. These ideas apply to every single aspect of your songwriting. Once you understand how to use them well, you will be able to write much better songs that are more creative, interesting and engaging.

What Does Unity And Variety In Music Refer To Exactly?

What is one of the biggest factors that most people go by when it comes to deciding whether or not one has created a song that is ‘good’ (whether or not they are aware of it)? The answer: “How creatively does the songwriter use unity and variety in the music?”

So what does unity and variety in music refer to exactly? Simply put, ‘unity’ is the idea of using musical ideas that repeat throughout a song, remain consistent, or conform to some kind of reoccurring theme; ‘variety’ is the idea of using new ideas to stimulate interest, create surprise and add depth to a song. A great balance of unity and variety in music is what makes a listener maintain interest what they are listening to. By creating a song that uses this balance effectively, you can control the level of tension and release in your music in order to keep your listener interested throughout.

If you have ever written music that seems to get boring quickly or doesn’t flow well from one section to the next; there is a good chance that you are out of balance with unity and variety. That said, this is a frequent occurrence for many songwriters. Here are some common examples of a “lack of balance” in music that is (unknowingly) created by songwriters through a use of too much unity or variety:

  1. Repeating the same melody several times, without any variation = too much unity
  2. Repeating the same song sections too many times. For example, repeating a chorus or verse more than three times (especially if there is no variation in the lyrics or music) = too much unity
  3. Using song lyrics that are too predictable and cliché = too much unity
  4. Using rhythm in notes that changes frequently and has no particular rhyme or reason = too much variety
  5. Using too many notes from “outside of the key” to where the song does not have any sense of a home chord/key = too much variety

Learn more about how to write songs that sound good by reading this free eBook about how to make good music .

How To Effectively Create Balance Of Unity And Variety

In order to understand how to write better songs, you must not only understand the concepts of unity and variety and how ‘not’ to use them; but you must also understand how to use them effectively in your music to keep your listeners’ interest. The key to this is to become a master of creating and changing the expectations of the people who listen to your music.

In other words, you must understand how to use ‘unity’ to create certain musical expectations while using ‘variety’ to surprise the listener with something new that they had not previously been prepared for. Although this formula is simple on its own, it can be applied to anything in music; and is the key to creating great songs.

In fact, this concept is quite universal, and is not at all exclusive to music only. When it comes down to it, creating a song with a balance of unity and variety is essentially an act of creating symmetry. In terms of evolution, our brains have come to accept symmetry as “beautiful” (perhaps due to its frequent correlation with other living beings). In other words, being able to identify symmetry has been advantageous in helping us find food, avoid predators and receive other evolutionary benefits.

To help you better understand how to write better songs by integrating the idea of unity and variety into your songwriting, here is a list of various non-musical examples, how they effectively utilize unity and variety and how you can translate this into your music:

Example 1 - Sports:

When it comes to sports, examples for effective use of unity and variety are abundant. As for me personally, I enjoy the game of baseball and the subtle complexity in the competition between a pitcher and a batter. From a pitcher’s perspective, there is one very fundamental and common technique for success when it comes to getting a batter out: changing the batter’s expectations. This is done by changing the speeds while pitching to keep the batter “off balance”.

For example, a frequent situation is for a pitcher to throw two consecutive fast pitches (“fastballs”). Then, once the batter has adjusted his expectations to prepare for a fastball, the pitcher will then throw a pitch that is approximately 10 mph slower (a “change-up”). This change in speed surprises the batter and hinders the batter’s ability to react to the pitch; thus aiding the pitcher in effectively achieving his goal of getting the batter out.

How To Write Better Songs Using This Idea:

Changing speeds in your songwriting is a great way to create expectation through unity and set up a surprise for your listener with variety. For example, if you would like to create a song that uses a fast tempo, consider including a section with a much slower tempo that will contrast greatly with the rest of the song.

Example 2 – Visual Art:

One effective way to create a response from the viewer in visual art is to use unity and variety in the form of contrasting light with dark. For example, visualize a painting of a crowded city park that uses bright colors to create the people, animals and park scenery. At the same time, in the background of the painting visualize a small black factory in the distance - surrounded by black clouds and expelling black smoke.

In this case, the viewer cannot help but notice the great contrast between the colorful figures in foreground (unity) and the small black factory in the background (variety) and wonder “why” such a contrast exists.

How To Write Better Songs Using This Idea:

One way you can translate this example into music is to take a part that has been frequently repeated in your song and change it slightly, but significantly. For example, let’s say that you are creating a song that uses a guitar melody in the verse throughout the entire song. To add effectively add variety to this, you could have a different instrument (such as piano) play the melody in the final verse.

Example 3 - Movies

If you have ever gone to see a movie, you have likely been surprised when a main character in the film suddenly changes motives or makes an unexpected decision that greatly alters the outcome of the plot. Commonly referred to as a “plot twist”, this technique is a great example of the power of unity and variety. The more unexpected the plot twist, the bigger the shock value is for the audience, and the more likely it is that they will tell their friends to go see the movie.

How To Write Better Songs Using This Idea:

One of the most effective songwriting techniques that has been used by composers for a very long time is the use of the “Picardy third”. The Picardy third refers to the simple concept of changing a single note in a chord to change it from either major to minor or minor to major in order to contrast with the rest of the song and create an emotional reaction.

For example, if you have written a song in the key of A minor, your listeners expect the song to sound “minor” throughout and end on an A minor chord. Like a plot twist, if you change the final chord of the song from A minor to A major, the result will be a big surprise and contrast to the rest of the song.

Example 4 – Weight Training

If you have ever lifted weights for the purpose of growing lean muscle mass; you know that your results will diminish once your body grows accustomed to the continual exercises you subject it to. Although you will see initial muscle gains and progress, your muscles will not continue to grow unless you add variety into your routine to “shock” your body into action.

How To Write Better Songs Using This Idea:

In order to make a translation for the weight training example used above, I am going to describe one of the most pleasing formulas used in songwriting. If you have ever heard a ballad, chances are you have noticed a common pattern that goes like this:

  1. The song begins without percussion/drums, using only vocals and a few other instruments such as piano or guitar.
  2. Next, the song continues through the verse and chorus sections (still without percussion)
  3. Finally, after the first chorus and upon the first repeat of the verse, the drums enter; providing a sudden surprise and contrast to the overall “soft” feeling of the previous sections.

The effectiveness of creating a song using this idea comes from setting up an expectation of a soft (in terms of volume) ballad, and then ‘bringing in’ the drums just as the novelty of the music starts to wear off of the listener. This stimulates more interest and allows the song to proceed without becoming too repetitive or uninteresting.

Learn more about how to write the different sections of a song by signing up for this free 10 day songwriting mini course .

Example 5 – Comedy

Although it is unquestionably “not” funny to analyze why comedy is funny; I will do so here for the sake of learning about songwriting :)

If you are like most people, you understand the simple formula of “set up” + “punch line” = laugh. However, this is not the only way that comedians get big laughs from their audience. Depending on the specific comedy style of the comedian, they might add on an addition unexpected punch line in order to turn a joke that is merely funny into a joke that gets a mixed reaction of roaring applause and laughter.

This is done by not only setting up a joke with an interesting premise and funny punch line, but by adding onto it with an additional punch line that either makes fun of the previous punch line or adds an entirely new perspective to the joke. This unexpected addition catches the audience by surprise and hilarity ensues.

How To Write Better Songs Using This Idea:

Like a punch line in a joke, the chorus of a song is often considered to be one of the most important parts of the song as a whole. A commonly used songwriting technique that incorporates unity and variety is changing the key of the chorus during the final repeat.

For example, when you are creating a song that uses a chorus several times, have the last chorus repeat two times: the first time as usual and the second time by moving every note up by a ½ step. This not only adds a new twist to the chorus of the song, but also gives the listener a sense of new direction to bring the song to a close.

After reading this article, you should now have a good understanding of how unity and variety in music work together to create a sense of expectation and contrasting surprise. Once you have a clear understanding of how to use the power of this concept in every aspect of your songwriting, you will be able to write better songs on a consistent basis. As you create a song (or part in a song), keep in mind how you are balancing unity and variety and how you can incorporate more of one or the other to make your music more interesting.

How can you make your songs ‘always’ sound the way you want them to? By eliminating the 7 basic mistakes that songwriters make and that prevent them to compose music that feels the way they want to. Click on the button below to get a FREE eBook that will help you eliminate these 7 mistakes:

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