Have you been dreaming about becoming a songwriter, but just aren't sure of where to start? Or rather have you been writing songs for a while, but found yourself stuck doing the same thing over and over? If so, this article is just the place for you!
So the big question when writing a song for the first time is of course: Where do you begin? Exactly what sections of the songs should be written first and last? How much of the song should be planned before writing? Does my song need to have a bridge? The interesting thing is that even most professionals probably won't have a definite answer for you.
There are some people out there who have been able to find a writing process that works for them. There are also some people that feel like they just can't seem to get the hang of it. And then there are the people who believe that all methods are garbage and that music should only flow out "naturally".
While it is true that songwriting is certainly a personal experience, there are some methods that can be used to make the whole process easier. This is not to say that all methods will work equally for everyone, but its about finding something that works for you so that you can start having FUN writing music.
If you are completely set on the idea that songwriting should have no structure to it, then I welcome you to quit reading this article right now. Now, if you have chosen to continue reading and are seeking out ways that you can improve, then you are on the right track. You'll find once you figure out a process that works for you, you will be inclined to write more often.
The following are some interesting techniques you can try next time you start to feel a little fed up with your writing. These only scratch the surface of whats possible, but its a good sample of what many successful writers have used.
1 Old Reliable
This is the tried and true method of writing a song. First, you want to find a couple chord progressions for your chorus and verses. Sing over these progressions till you find an acceptable melody that works for you. You'll probably arrange the song alternating the verse and the chorus until you reach the bridge of the song to change it up a bit. After this, you might add a solo or instrumental break and another chorus or two. On top of this you could potentially write an intro and outro and there you have it.
With this method, you will at the very least have the start of a solid song (especially if you are writing pop music). However, once you write too many songs this way, you risk sounding too predictable. This is a solid technique to know how to use, but probably shouldn't be the only one you use.
2 Make Your First Line The Biggest
Besides writing a song in terms of chord progressions, you can also consider writing in terms of dynamics. Maybe you want to blow the listener away on the opening line, or perhaps you want to begin very quiet and increase the dynamics bit by bit throughout the song.
Decide if you want the chorus to sound fuller and more intense than the verses, or if you want it the other way around. There's no real right answer to this. Do you want each chorus to be played with the same intensity? Or do you want to save the real big chorus for the climax at the very end?
A fun way to challenge yourself is to take some paper and draw out a graph out the dynamics of your tune from start to finish before actually writing it. Next, start writing out chord progressions and melodies that fit with these dynamics. There's various ways to build up and bring down a tune including pitch, chord qualities, and instrumentation. So go ahead and experiment with these.
3 Begin By Writing The Lyrics
Often times a songwriter will begin writing a tune by finding a good chord progression to work with. So why not challenge yourself to do the opposite? There really aren't any rules when it comes to songwriting, so by changing up what you write first, you will change up the feel of your usual writing completely.
People generally start by writing the music first because its much easier to fit words/syllables into a given chord progression than it is to find a chord progression that fits with a specific set of words. However, doing it this way usually forces you to come up with new interesting rhythmic patterns you have never tried before.
If you are a metal/prog rock player you will definitely want to try this and see what kind of odd time signatures you can come up within your writing. Definitely, will take some getting used to, but it's worth it.
4 Take Lyrics From The People Around You (Money For Nothing)
Can't seem to find any words or stories worth putting into a song? Then take words from other people (no, don't blatantly steal someone else lyrics). What you can do is start a conversation with someone you know (or a complete stranger is even better).
Listen closely to what they have to say and write it down. With the right mind set, any conversation or personal anecdote has the potential to become a hit song. This is precisely how Mark Knopfler went about writing his hit "Money For Nothing". He went to an appliance store and struck up a conversation with one of the clerks, carefully transcribing what they were saying.
There's no real skill required for this other than being able to really listen to the people around you.
5 Figure Out The Instrumentation First
Forget the melody or chord progressions. Instead, decide what instrumentation you want in the song and when exactly you want certain instruments to come in and out. Don't just have a vague idea. Write out exactly what you want before you go into writing any actual music.
An example of this would be something like… "In the beginning, I want to have a guitar drone with some light bells over top. When the verse comes in I will add a piano and strings. After the second chorus, the drums and bass will finally come in and the piano will leave. On the final chorus, I will go back to the drone and bells"
This is both a simple and fun way to begin your composition. By imagining what you want to hear before you actually start playing, it really opens up the possibilities of what you can create.
6 Find A Writing Partner
Like I've mentioned before, music is best when shared. The same thing applies to writing music. Finding someone to write music with is a great thing to do to keep you on track and keep you writing often too.
A good way you can divide the tasks is to have one person compose the music, and the other compose the lyrics. It doesn't matter who writes what first, and in fact it's good to try various ways. Once one person has something composed, they can hand it over to the other person to finish.
Afterwards, the two of you can meet up to listen to the final product. From here you can both continuing to work on the tune until it is something you are both happy with and after that you will hopefully have a great new song on your hands.
7 Pick An Emotion Or Situation And Write About That
I've always enjoyed this method. Much like the title says, pick a specific emotion or story you want to write about. Don't be too general when doing this. For example, "joy" is much too general. "The joy of falling in love", is not bad. "The joyful feeling of being in love when you are 10 years old and holding another persons hand for the very first time in an empty school yard" is a great start.
Once you have these details figured out, go onto make note of what musical elements you want to include. This being what kind of instrumentation you want to use, the time signature and the speed of the song, what kind of singers (if any) you want to be on the track, and so on.
Fill up at least one whole page with these details before touching your instrument. Don't cheat this stage. Actually, write it down so you aren't left guessing later on. Once you have figured out these parts, the actually writing flow out much more naturally. It might sound like a lot of work now, but try it for yourself before you knock it!
If you want to see first-hand how this technique works, watch the following video:
Begin The Writing
By now you should be more than excited and ready to get that pen to paper. Here is what I recommend you do from here:
1) Choose one of the above techniques to start with. Start with the one that you found most intruiging
2) Turn your computer off and get as far away from the internet and distractions as possible
3)Write a tune!
Challenge yourself to write a song start to finish in under an hour. Forget about trying to sound good and just go for it. Do this once a day and by the end of the week you will have seven new songs. Pick your favourite from the week, upload it to YouTube, and share it with the community. I would love to hear what you come up with!
About the Author
Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and composer with a passion for teaching songwriting