Hey, my name's Dave and I'm the singer and guitarist of my band The Undersnails, and I thought I'd write an article because on glancing through the other articles on songwriting, they didn't really say anything to do with the actual practicalities of writing songs. My band has written a handful of songs, and after a couple of fairly uninspiring numbers we're writing some more catchy stuff now.
Its easiest if you have someone else to jam with, your drummer is the best guy to write with as you don't have to worry about anything but your chords and rhythm. Hope this advice is useful, the most important thing to remember is to listen to what you're playing, and let your guitar instinct guide you. If it sounds good, use it. Keep practising and it will get easier to write what you want.
Its possible to write according to a formula in which you pick a key and the select four notes from which you arrange a progression. However this can often lead to you having chords that don't fit to what you want to sound like. I suggest that you keep it simple and just strum out either some power chords if you want a pop-rock or punk sound, or you can use an acoustic style chords, (like Open string Am or C chords for example) and try to find a progression. It really helps if you know your root notes and chords here, as you can switch the chords to get a different sound. Personally, I like the bright sound of chords using more than the bottom four strings, play around with barre chords and open acoustic chords for this sound. Small variances in the way you play chords can make a big difference to the mood of your songs, and add complexity that will greatly enhance the quality of the sound. Here's a few examples:
From your intimate knowledge of how to play your favourite bands' music, you can now figure out what type of strumming you want to use, to achieve your sound. Just play your Progression over and over and try different strumming and mutings etc. Its here that you're drummer becomes useful, as whilst you jam together you'll be able to find a beat and rhythm that sounds good, and obviously the more you play with your band members, the tighter you'll become as a band, and the better you'll sound.
Writing Lyrics and Melody
Its much easier to write funny song or one that tells a story, than a song that makes a serious point, as writing really poetic, deep lyrics requires you to be poetic and deep. However it helps if you have something that you feel strongly about. I find the best lyrics (bands like Against Me!) are subtle and somewhat cryptic but the ideas are meaningful and passionately expressed. Writing funny lyrics is easiest with someone else, me and my drummer have written some of our best in a particularly dull classical studies period.
If you don't take yourself seriously and write self deprecating lyrics then people will find you more likeable than if you knock Limp Bizkit or something for a cheap laugh. Our first song 50% of all People are below Average was written for a band competition in my region here in New Zealand, and it was really stupid, and we were pretty bad (having written the song the day before we played it) but people still liked us, the sound of 300 or so people clapping and giving you Propz is really gratifying. An example of some stupid but likeable lyrics:
Writing songs that rhyme, Is meant to be real hard, But once we tried it for ourselves, We found its not that hard.
Rhyming 'hard' with 'hard' doesn't actually count as rhyme, or even half rhyme. Don't feel that you have to obey common conventions like this one, especially if it makes your performance more entertaining. Music is about expression in my eyes, so have fun with your writing.
I find its easier to write lots of verses or lines of phrases you want to include, then try sing them to your chords to get a melody. Try and make your chorus a climax, you may want to rearrange the chord sequence or add chords to your chorus, don't be afraid to try things. It can help to have tape recorder around so if you try different ways of singing lyrics you can look back on them, and end up with your best writing in the song.
Solos and Lead Breaks
I write solos with my other guitarist playing the verse or chorus chord sequence, using notes from a chosen scale. If your chord sequence ends with the chord C, the C Major Pentatonic Scale might be a good place to try first (this is not always correct however). Knowing a number of scales helps when writing solos and breaks. Using short lead breaks in several places within a song can add a new dimension and make it much more interesting, especially if your song long gaps between climatic points. Resist the temptation as a guitarist however, to put solos in every song, as some songs will just not suit it, and your other band members may get frustrated with this.
Writing a good song requires a degree of compactness, so shortish solos building to a climax, either followed by a diminishing end or going straight back into vocals is often positive. I just say this because writing good solos that aren't repetitive as a beginner is hard to do. However being predominantly a punk and acoustic fan my opinion may differ, so if you want a long solo, go for it, its your song.
Well, that's about it I think. Hope this has been useful to you, its probably not the most efficient way to write a song but I think its about the simplest. I'm no expert, and I may be stating the obvious, but doing things by ear is the easiest way to get something that sounds good, and hopefully I saved some starting bands some time so they don't have to figure everything out for themselves, so you can get playing sooner. Have fun and be creative!