The Songwriter’s Guide to Identifying and Using Pickup Notes
This is another term from my book that I felt needed to be mentioned. When a songwriter gives me a song to sing, I may need to clarify if a note is a pick-up note. Sometimes they look at me like, “huh?” so I thought it might be good to talk about here!
So what is a pickup note?
If you look at the picture, you see three-quarter notes leading to a whole note. This means that those notes will be played leading into the whole note, which is the actual start of the phrase.
For popular reference, let’s look at Maroon 5’s Payphone. The word “payphone” is the actual start of the phrase. “I’m at a” are the notes leading up to it. When Adam Levine gets to “payphone,” the music starts and the song begins. In the chorus, the actual chorus starts on “payphone” as well.
Another term for pickup note is “anacrusis” and can also be used in poetry. If you want to sound super fancy and impress (or annoy) everyone at a party, you can use this word instead.
So, why would I need to know if a note is a pickup note? Or why would you if you’re the songwriter?
The phrasing would be entirely different if “I’m at a” were not pickup lines and started the song. The rhythm would be different, the emphasis would be different. In fact, I might even make a video to demonstrate the difference. But trust me that it’s important to label pickup notes so the feel of the song stays true to what you wanted.
If you are a lyric writer and I’m creating a melody to your words, I may ask if I can make certain words into pickup notes. This is because I’m trying to establish a melodic flow to the lyrics and phrasing it a certain way might help. You’re free to tell me whether or not that’s okay. I can create a melody to fit whatever words or lines you want to emphasize. But knowing this term will help us move forward and make sure your song is correct right away!
If you want to learn more about this term or the process of using it, here is a great reference: https://www.thoughtco.com/anacrusis-definition-2701868
Here is a video I made about pickup notes:
Hope that helps! See if you can find other songs with pickup notes or see if any of your own have them!