Joe Ed Furr, Texas Normal Singing School
A classic song is one that is popular today and will still be popular 75 years from now. Many songs that are popular today will fade quickly in the next few years. Classic songs have a long life-cycle while faddish songs have a very short life-cycle.
What makes a song a classic? The following are a few characteristics of this kind of song.
Classic songs have a superior message. And that message is verbalized most eloquently. Some songs are deficient in their message. There was a time when “seven – eleven” songs were popular. “Seven – eleven” songs are those that contain seven words repeated eleven times. Seven – eleven may be popular for a short time, but those songs will vanish in years ahead.
Classic songs have melodies where the rise and fall on the sequence of melodic tones are predictable. Once you hear the initial patterns of the song a singer can quickly adapt to the flow of the song’s melody because it is not totally strange. These songs can be sung without sheet music because of their ease of learning.
But many songs have a melodic flow that is unpredictable. A novice to a new song will attempt to anticipate the direction the melody will take next. When the singer pursues a melodic rise he suddenly discovers that the melody followed a downward flow. After singers seem to miss every turn in the melody, many of these singers just give up and stop singing.
The alto voice tends to follow the soprano voice. Tenor voices often sustain mutual tones as the harmony flows from one chord to the next. Bass voices tend to sing the fundamental tone of each chord – at least most of the time. Song writers who understand these principles can produce a classic song.
But some song writers ignore the normal flow of other voice parts. In their songs alto seems to follow its own melodic line without regard to the flow of the soprano. Tenor seems to spend most of its time in its highest register, and bass jumps around all over the page. These songs will not be classics.
Popular song styles change with the passing of generations. There was a time when song writers were forced to compose their songs in the style of a classic hymn in order to find a market. Then a time followed when only songs written in the gospel song mode could find a publishing market. In recent years praise songs have become the popular style of song.
This writer has visited with a number of frustrated song writers. Some writers still want to compose hymns while others still want to compose gospel songs. But those song styles are not in demand. So, those who are married to those older styles simply find no market for their music. Adaptation is the key to success.