Songwriting: Stretching and Shrinking ideas

by Chris Glyde

Article 3 of the get more from less of your songwriting is focused on a concept you can apply right to your songwriting to give it a bit of flavor.

With One Guitar:

This concept is exactly as it sounds, you take an idea and you stretch it. A one-measure idea becomes four or five. A two-measure riff becomes a three-measure riff. Here’s an initial basic idea for this concept and then we will go into other ways to use it.

Here’s the basic idea( from a song I wrote):

Just some palm mutes with a slight lead phrase at the end. This is what traditionally, the listener would here in the post chorus leading into the next phrase. Before the bridge the pattern becomes:

I stretched the idea to 6 bars and did a variation ( removed the lead phrase).

There are many reasons why you would want to stretch/ shrink an idea. In many cases it breaks up what the listener expects to hear and catches their ear. That is the case with the example above, the phrase was used to build tension because the listener found themselves in unknown territory. What makes this trick so useful is, it’s very subtle. Most listeners won’t recognize what just happened, they will just feel it. The usefulness of this tool cannot be underestimated.

Shrinking a passage makes it happen faster so it creates a rush tension filled vibe. More tension is put into the piece because it’s unexpected, but it’s a different kind of tension.

Often times in pop songs you’ll see a chord progression that plays two chords per measure. When the chorus hits, it maintains the same chord progression, but plays only one chord per measure. This allows the songwriter to create enough variation to keep the audience interested but still use the same idea.
Stretching in this fashion is a great way to keep you songs feeling like they are truly one conjoined unit and not just a book of riffs loosely tied with one another.

With Two Guitars:

This is probably my favorite transition idea with stretching and was a big light-bulb moment for me. Look at this example:

It is two guitars, the first line part 1, the second line part 2. When your idea is made up of two songs you can stretch the idea in a whole new way. You can take these two parts and have only one part playing during a section of the song and another guitar come in afterwards.

Let me say this again because it’s worth restating twice. You can have guitar 1, the top line play by itself and then have the 2nd guitar come in with its part during a pre- chorus. Even though these ideas were created together, separating them and stretching the idea gives the idea more mileage and creates an interesting dynamic in the song.

Basically you get two song sections out of one.

About The Author:
Chris Glyde is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and guitar teacher. He teaches guitar in Upstate New York and helps his students overcome barriers in their playing on the daily. Looking for the best guitar lesson in Rochester New York, Look no farther.