Surprise is a great songwriting technique.
Whether used in the music, production or in the lyrics, the element of surprise is a great way to get a listener’s attention.
Surprise in the music
A great example of surprise in music is Haydn’s composition Symphony No. 94, also known as “The Surprise Symphony.”
Listen to this example and see for yourself how effective a surprise in the music can be.
In this music, the surprise happens in the dynamics. Dynamics in music means the loudness or quietness of the volume.
In Haydn’s “Surprise Symphony,” the music goes along at a medium volume, and then gets very quiet. It’s almost so quiet you can’t even hear it.
Then in one moment, the symphony plays a loud blast of volume that takes you by surprise. It’s startling and even funny when it happens.
As a songwriter, you can use dynamics to surprise your listener, too.
It’s also effective when you’re performing live and the audience gets a little bit too loud.
Instead of matching them in volume by getting louder, too, you can pull back and play very softly.
Most of your audience will quiet down to listen to you, but there will be a few that keep yelling.
This is funny for you, because since you get so very quiet on stage, the person yelling in the audience will be heard loud and clear.
Usually this embarrasses the person enough to shut them up, or causes them to leave where they can yell in peace.
Either way, it’s a great technique to gain control of your audience, get rid of loud talkers, and have fun doing it.
Surprise in the production
A great example of a surprise in your song’s production is in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”
Everyone who has ever heard the song knows the part we’re talking about – the drum part.
Used in movies like the “Hangover,” television shows like “Miami Vice,” and commercials like the one for Cadbury, “In the Air Tonight” has been covered by dozens of artists since its debut by writer artist, Phil Collins in the 1980s.
Do you have a song that could benefit from a surprise in the production?
Think about your original song catalog and see if you can find a song that would make a great surprise candidate. Let us know how it works for you.
Surprise in the lyric
A surprise in the lyric is an effective way to catch your serious music lovers.
Songwriters understand after a while that most music listeners don’t really care a lot about lyrics.
Most people hear the beat, melody and production first, and then, if ever, listen to the lyrics.
But those of us who are songwriters really love lyrics.
You can use surprise to your advantage as a lyric writer to get the attention of certain music fans.
The surprise can happen in the bridge, like the classic song “Three Wooden Crosses” co-written by my dad Kim Williams and made famous by Randy Travis.
Or it can happen as a funny line in the chorus, like Brad Paisley’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her.”
Surprise can come from humor, or it can be in the form of an uncommon or even a “cuss” word artfully chosen for impact.
To paraphrase writer Stephen King, if he as the writer knows what’s going to happen next, the reader is going to know what happens next. His way is to try and surprise himself, so that the reader is sure to be surprised, too.
As a songwriter, we can accomplish this by making sure that our first writing draft is happening in the flow, rather than in our logical, left brain minds.
Use your right brain flow to be creative, wild and wooly. This is your risk taking side, that is sure to be able to surprise even the toughest of critics.
Whether you use surprise as songwriting technique in your music, production or lyric, you can’t go wrong by delighting your listener in an unexpected way.
Use surprise to get and keep attention, and let your songs speak for themselves.
Got an example of using surprise in your songwriting? Let us know in the comments.
Learn more about using your right and left brain for songwriting in our Write Brain Song Crafting method taught in the Songpreneurs Leadership Community.
Apply here for next year’s class.