Building a Solid Song, as Done by Jason Mraz
By Anthony Ceseri - 01/21/2013 - 04:52 PM EST
There are certain things that can contribute to making a great song. In this article, I want to look at a few of those things, while examining the song “I Won’t Give Up,” by Jason Mraz.
The first thing that pulls you into this song is its strong use of imagery. This is particularly true in its opening lines. The song starts with these lyrics:
When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There’s so much they hold
The first three lines are fairly descriptive. They talk about what looking into her eyes is like. They give us a couple of nice visuals about them.
But what I really like about this opening is the fourth line which reads “there’s so much they hold.” What’s great about that line is it definitively lets you know how her eyes are like the night sky or a sunrise. Simply saying “your eyes are like a night sky,” or “a sunrise” is nice and presents us with some easy-to-visualize imagery. But when we’re told how they’re like those things, it creates a metaphor and takes those lyrics a step further. Now we can envision her eyes holding so much information about her, in the same way the night sky holds so many stars, or how the sun holds so much brightness.
It’s a great start. And starting with such strong, visual lyrics is usually a good move, because it compels us to want to hear more.
It Stays Interesting
Another important aspect of this song is it stays interesting, musically, as it continues through to the end. It does this in a few ways.
One way is how its arrangement (or the underlying instrumentation) changes throughout the song. If you check out the video below, you’ll note that up until about 1:05 into the song, it’s basically just an acoustic guitar and vocals. After 1:05 there are some subtle instrumental additions that perk the song up a bit more at that point. Here’s the song:
Another important change that really peps up the song and keeps it interesting is the change in vocal range that happens at about 1:48 into the song on the phrase “’Cause even the stars.” Raising the vocal in this way is typically a great way to have your melody separate itself from what it sounded like previously. It tends to demand more attention than it did before.
Another change in vocal register happens at the end of the song (on the lines “I won’t give up on us”). When the final choruses start at 2:55,you’ll notice they’re sung a whole octave higher than they were the first time we heard them at 1:05. This makes for a much more engaging and impactful climax to the song. Then Mraz switches back down to the lower octave to end the song on a more subtle note as the instrumentation drops out at 3:37.
A Strong Bridge
It’s important for a song with a simple arrangement like this one to have a catchy bridge to really pull it apart from the rest of the song. It helps to keep the song interesting. This song’s bridge accomplishes that in a few ways.
One way it does this is with the very catchy nature of the fast, choppy delivery of the bridge melody. You can hear it starting at about 2:15. Aside from the bridge melody in itself being catchy, it also contrasts well against the much longer and more drawn out melody used in the rest of the song.
There are also internal rhymes that happen (or rhymes within each line) in the bridge that go hand in hand with the quick, catchy and choppy nature of the bridge’s melody. Lines like “And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend” make you want to sing along with them, because aside from the melody being so quick and catchy, the internal rhymes make for strong sonic connections that makes the lyrics very appealing and hooky.
There’s even a key change that happens within the bridge to keep that section from being too repetitive within itself. It happens halfway through the bridge at the words “And in the end you’re still my friend” at 2:35 into the video.
There’s even more going on here than I discussed, but these were the strongest points that jumped out at me about this song. I’d advise you to look for additional items that you think make this song work. You should do that not only in this song, but any song you fall in love with.
For more songwriting techniques analyzing hit songs, you can download my free EBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/
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