Whether you're a seasoned songwriter, a novice, or just a casual composer, sooner or later you're going to find yourself writing ballads. Tough guys hate them—so they say—and romantics love to use them to melt people's hearts.
The most difficult part of ballad writing for some writers is finding the theme or main idea. Most ballads are dramatic, albeit sad or happy, there must be a connection between the words and music to make it heartfelt and believable. A ballad is a poem with musical influence.
There are different formats that are followed when writing ballads, one of such being the a-b-c-b format. The letters refer to the stanzas or parts of a line, where the like-letters form a rhyming pattern. Look at this very simple example I've just created to show you the pattern in its simplest form:
(a)John still longs for Mary (b)she still owns his heart,
(c)Mary could care less, (b)she's in love with Bart.
As you can see the rhyme falls on the "b" endings.
The example above is a great exercise for practicing songwriting and writing ballads. As silly as it seems, it's the simplicity which is meant to be a warmup for whatever you choose to write later.Think about it, you wouldn't run a marathon without stretching first, would you?
A typical ballad will repeat the above pattern at least twice, before going into a chorus.
If the verse, comprised of the a-b-c-b pattern as shown above, is telling the story and setting the tone, then the chorus will show an emphasis or express the main point with greater intensity. The chorus does not have to follow the same verse pattern. The chorus should have a hook: a line that is easily remembered; the kind of melody line that sticks in your head all day. That hook will be repeated throughout the choruses, and it will provide the needed emphasis to make your heart-felt song believable and lasting.
As you're writing your ballad, it's important to have a musical connection to the words. The use of minor chords over verses with "down-and-out" lyrics can create a depressing, sad, and dramatic tone, whereas a feeling of hope and possibility can be felt over a chorus filled with brighter major or root chords that support hopeful lyrics. Some writers create chord progressions first to set the tone for the lyrics, while others write lyrics first than compliment them with the appropriate chords.
There is no one specific rule as to how to write your ballad; you just need to find what works for you and stick with it while checking for the following: a good storyline implemented in your verses to draw in the listener; a catchy hook in your chorus to help people remember it; and the perfect music to drive and support the song. The more you write the better you will become, and one day maybe your "tough guy" fans will be caught holding up their lighters (or cell phones) while singing along to one of your sappy ballads that they "hate".