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Ideas and Advice for Real Songwriters (formerly songwright.co.uk)

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Stealing Ideas From Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark

Iron Maiden are one of my favourite bands, and one of the most influential heavy metal bands ever. A great post over at ‘Troll in the Corner’ got me thinking about them, and listening to some of my favourite Maiden songs.

Fear of the Dark, the title track from their 1992 album, the last before Bruce Dickinson left (temporarily) to pursue a solo career.

It’s far from Maiden’s longest song, but at seven and a half minutes it’s a masterclass in how to manage pace and momentum over longer periods of time.

I want to point out two great ideas that could be applied to songwriting in any genre.

  • Changing tempo – changing tempo is one of Maiden’s trademarks. This happens several times in Fear of the Dark, most notably at 2 minutes into the video, and in the second chorus at 3.18. They almost always change suddenly, which isn’t the only way to do it, but changing tempo in your songs can be a very effective way of adding contrast.
  • Harmonic rhythm – or the pace at which the chords change. The first verse (2.20) and the second verse (2.58) have the same melody, but listen to the chord changes. The chords change twice as often in the second verse compared to the first. This is another great technique Iron Maiden use to build the pace and interest within the second.
  • A static riff over a moving bassline. That first riff at 2 minutes involves the bass changing chords while the guitars play a static three note riff.
  • The ABA middle section. A common feature of middle sections in heavy metal is the ABA structure. In this song we have a guitar melody as section A, guitar solos as section B, then a modified repeat of section A with the added ‘Fear of the Daaaark!’ vocal.
  • A riff and chorus you can sing along with – Maiden have reached the point where they can literally draw hundreds of thousands of people to concerts, but even in their early days they wrote songs that seemed designed for stadium audiences to sing along with. What does that involve? – lots of repetition, and often melodies based on either the first notes of the aeolian mode, or chord notes.

None of these ideas are unique to Maiden or to metal, and can definitely applied to songwriting in any genre.

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