A Couple Points Beginners Should Know About Songwriting

Songwriting can be a tough job when you are not sure about what you're doing. I will point out stuff that you may have missed, or that might help you in some other way.

A Couple Points Beginners Should Know About Songwriting
24
When I first approached songwriting I had no idea of what I was going to do. I was going to start a band, we had no bass player, no singer, no songs written. We had a couple riffs and progressions me and the other guitarist had come up with, but we felt we weren't going any further. So I took up the duty of writing lyrics, only because no one else would. So I sat down and started to brainstorm any rhymes I could think of and see if I could craft a multi-million dollar song. Guess what? I failed miserably. My first mistake was that I did not pick a topic.

Main Theme and Title Methods of Picking a Topic

The main theme of the song is probably the first thing you should decide on. The only thing that could top that is the song title. For example, one day I was looking for some cool words on the dictionary, and I saw the word "feast." I thought it was a great word to write a metal song with, because it sounds harsh and dark to me. But I realized I had another song, on beta phase (we'll talk about that later on), by the name of "Beast." I figured it wouldn't be pleasant to have two songs that had similar names. So I thought "What could I do to make it different? Make it darker? I can try to be kind of cheesy..." I went on and changed the title to "Night Feast" and brainstormed from there. By the end of the process, the song was about hunger, I wrote a verse about vultures coming to eat children, and their fight for survival and all. It may sound weird, but it is nice way to protest, with a bit of shock.

Verses

Once you picked the topic of the song, either by getting the title done first or the main theme, you should go on and start the verses. For this example I will use a couple songs you might know. There is a lot of ways to get the verses done, and that mostly depends on what genre you are writing (you know when you're writing metal and when you're writing pop), and what theme you are exploring. Let's take Metallica's "The Unforgiven":

New blood joins this earth
And, quickly, he's subdued
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules

With time, the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on and on, he's known
A vow unto his own
That never from this day
His will they'll take away

As you may have noticed, the verses are progressively telling a story. You can do that too if you want. Iron Maiden does it a lot and it seems to work for them. So you think of your struggles and pains, or someone else's, or a story from a movie or book you love, and let it out. If you're sad about getting dumped, a family member deceased, or anything like that, let it out on the paper (we'll talk about that too), and it will most likely have natural feel and emotion to it, and you'll feel better too, trust me.

Alternatively, you can just set the mood for the tune by describing the place, person or events that will be featured throughout your song.

For this example, I will use Ghost's "Elizabeth":

Underneath the moonlight
Of old Hungarian skies
Buried in the blood-drenched earth
These barren lands of ice
She was an evil woman
With an evil old soul
Piercing eyes emotionless
A heart so black and cold

Describe the place: check, character: check. You can go deep and slowly with the verses and then kick off with the chorus, or throw a straight punch to the face and go for a chill chorus.

There is another method I would like to point out: play with words. This may require a bit more experience for some people, but it will eventually come in handy.

Let's take Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun":

In my eyes
Indisposed
In disguise
As no one knows
Hides the face
Lies the snake
In the sun
In my disgrace
Boiling heat
Summer stench
'Neath the black
The sky looks dead
Call my name
Through the dream
And I'll hear you
Scream again

As you see, most of the words don't even rhyme, but they relate to each other. Eyes, hide the face, disguise. Sun, heat, summer. Call, hear, scream. Play around and see what you can do. It does not need to rhyme at all.
Or you can say "oh, what the hell" and go full cheesy on it, and it might work as well.

Let's take a look at Avenged Sevenfold's "Heretic":

Impose your will on me
'Till fire sets me free
The flames of hell burn bright
My fate decided by their lies
Final demise

Yes, it looks cheesy and tongue in cheek but it actually makes a great song in this case. Don't overdo it, though. You might screw it up by being too much of a clichè.

If you think it feels right, put some "nanana's," "lalala's," "ohohohoh's." Think "Don't Fear the Reaper," "Horse with No Name," "Hey Jude." The melody will be stuck in your head. Now for the chorus.

Chorus

Choruses are not really necessary but it makes for a catchy song (or a bubblegum song, as I call it, because it sticks with you, and it eventually tires you), and that's a must have if you're looking to sell the song. A lot a pop "artists" do that. A simple verse, a catchy chorus repeated one hundred times, boom, multi-million superficial song. If you're a real musician, that may have pissed you off, because all the hard work we put on our songs are nothing compared to the millions of dollars pop artists with computer-made tunes make.

But, to make a song likeable to most people, you should write a memorable chorus. Think of the endless mass of people that payed to see you on stage chanting your chorus back and forth. It's the trademark of the great majority of songs. There's uncountable excellent songs with choruses, and a few that doesn't feature a chorus at all. For the songs that do have a chorus, there's a couple ways to pull it of. It is often common and clever to play with opposites.

Again, let's take "Black Hole Sun":

Black hole sun
Won't you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun

See what Mr. Cornell did there? Sun, rain. Opposites. It truly works. Life and death, black and white, fire and water, love and hate, darkness and light. Endless possibilities here.

You can also go for a short repetitive chorus, with a cool vocal melody. You can take Ghost's "Per Aspera Ad Inferi." For those of you that don't like Ghost and won't listen to this song, take Green Day's "Are We the Waiting?" It's the same thing. Very simple chorus with a nice melody. The public will be singing along in no time.

It is up to you if you want to have your song title in your chorus. Some songs have it, others don't. That doesn't necessarily make it better or worse, there's uncountable examples of both. However, if the title is in the chorus, it is easier for people to find it on the Internet and etcetera.

You can also try to make the second or third or fourth chorus on the song different. Add a line or change a couple words. Builds character and it makes a great escape for a kickass riff or lick, or another section of the song, like a bridge.

There's yet another way. Forget about the chorus if you can't make it sound good or it just doesn't feel right. Ever heard of "Wish You Were Here?","Time"? Pink Floyd mastered this. And they wrote excellent songs without choruses. Chorus may also be fit at the start of the song.

Bridge

Ok, now this is extremely optional. That's that part of the song that usually shows off a different melody, rhythm section and all. The bridge is usually put before or after a solo, on in between two solos. You get to be very creative here. You can use any kind of verse structure (AABB, ABAB, ABBA, AAAA etc) or maybe spoken poetry, echoes, voice effects... Anything you like. Or no vocals at all. Just a groovy section, a piano part, orchestration. Be creative.

Ending

You may end your song in anyway you like. With the chorus, with the first verse again, with a closure verse, a verse that was repeated throughout the song ("Stairway to Heaven," anyone?), a solo, a fade out, sound effects (maybe like a speech, a static, whatever). Again, whatever feels good/fits the song.

Beta Phase

This constantly happens to me. I think of a phrase, a name, a term, an expression, write it down and it stays on the wait until I find verses or ideas that could go along with it.

Don't be afraid to keep even the worse thing you've written, you can recycle it to a better song, or at least the idea or feel.

While on beta phase, songs will most likely be incomplete and waiting for an upgrade. That can happen at any time. Don't throw your creations away. They will cry. And you will miss them sometime soon.

Don't be afraid to change names and the whole concept of the song. That's what beta phase is for. Mold it as you like, make it be ready and waiting for closure. Don't worry about numbers. Right now I have 17 songs on the wait, and there will probably be more. They will probably marry each other and have beautiful blue-eyed babies. Think about that.

Beta phase is your friend. Use it to make the best of what you can gather, and improve it when you feel it is done.

Writing it Down

Don't keep your songs just in your phone or computer. Copy the files, create backups. If something bad happens (like a lightning bolt hitting your house and frying your computer - been there) you won't lose your babies. If possible, write it down on a paper. The old ways are the best ways. If you think they are too personal, hide it, but you must have copies. I have lost a lot of songs like this. It sucks. Protect your creation.

Melodies

50% of good lyrics are the melodies. Maybe even more. Find good vocal melodies. Sing over a riff or progression, find the notes, the rhythm. Led Zeppelin knew it all: "If you listen very hard/ the tune will come to you at last." You can also figure out the melody first. A lot of times I've found myself humming a melody, and the words would come naturally to it. Give it time, but give it your best.

Open Minded Writing

If you're writing a song for a band, you may also very well figure out what the instruments will be doing. If you listen to a lot of music, you'll start to realize that some parts can fit your lyrics and vocal melodies. "Oh, maybe I can put a power chord here, or the drums can double kick their way in, or the bassline could follow the vocal melody." Think like this and you will find yourself eager to start writing. Envision it. Imagine how awesome it would be if we put a guitar lick here, or piano arpeggios there. Think of the song as whole, it might help you. Especially with the mood. Create.

Repetitive Phonemes

You can use this resource to put emphasis to your phrases, make it be stuck in people's head. An example? Behemoth's "The Satanist":

I decompose in rapture ov hells
Dissolve divide disintegrate

You see, there's a lot of words starting with the letter D. That's a cool thing to do. Makes it catchy.

Rhymes

There's 100% chance you'll face the words "me," "you," etcetera. Those words don't have much versatile rhymers so don't worry in using "see, be, thee, free" and "true, through"... However, there some cool stuff you can think of. A song of mine, "Dark Chapters," has these lines "I was scarred by thy relentless aura/ I was cursed and transgressed/ To the dawn of a new era/ To the destruction of the past" - the words are not similar but they rhyme.

Singing

Try singing the song. Just singing the words you wrote. Make it sound good. Know the singer. If you are writing for you to sing, make sure to make the melody stay within your vocal range, pronounce the words clearly, with passion, with anger, with emotion. Or mumble the heck out of it like Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder in "Yellow Ledbetter." If you're writing for someone else, pay attention to their range. You can't make Lil Wayne sing "Holy Diver." Fit the vocals with the melodies. Make it memorable and sing with your soul.

Rule With the Iron Fist

You are the boss. Don't let riffs or vocal melodies tell you what to do. Tell 'em to shut up. Fire them. Learn to say no. Go for the best. Put them on hold if they don't fit the song you're currently working on.

Don't Take This Article Seriously

Music is art. And as every art, it comes from your heart and soul. Do what you feel is right. Sometimes you'll have to work hard, other times it will look like an invisible person told you what to write. Either way, put your heart to it. Honor it. Write, write, write. Eventually, you'll craft your masterpiece.

Okay, that's it for now. Hope I could make someone see or learn something they missed. Thank you for you attention.

You can call me Nero.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    DaliLama
    This is nice, I just gotta say Chris Cornell sings "call my name through the cream", not dream.
    tfgacg7
    Good eye,good taste.I couldn't remember it all so I looked up on some bad sources.My apologies.
    notevenklaus
    You name drop Maiden then say everyone but you and the cool kids like choruses. You can't have your cake and eat it too bud.
    tfgacg7
    I am sorry if it came like that to you.Thing is,this is about what makes for a successful song,not about my tastes or anybody else's.I did put some of my personal moans about pop artists though haha
    mitch75
    nice article - with positive encouragement to try different things and not be afraid of what ever comes out of your heart - thanks man
    dmage86
    Great article! Music writing is a nebulous subject that has no true right or wrong answers. To explain it in a way that excludes academic minutiae is difficult to do. Kudos
    LemSpike
    Repetitive Phonemes
    I believe the proper term for that technique is alliteration
    tfgacg7
    Thank you guys every much.For those of you who liked it I can only wish you the best of luck.For those who pointed out a few errors,I thank you and hope you do good in your future musical endeavors!
    marta.mia99
    That was amazing, thank you!! I'm a songwriter for quite a while and this helped with some things. Although, I've been having some trouble with finding new chords 'cause I feel I'm always using the same... But thanks!!
    tfgacg7
    I understand your situation.It's a very common problem.I face it every time and can hardly ever find my way around it properly.I am yet to find a good escape plan for that.It's very common to notice guitar players repeating the same lick over every solo they try to improvise or write.My tip for you is to learn as many chords as you can(look around the internet for them,and you can use the whole guitar neck or play around with the piano or keys)and find out how they relate to each other.I think a nice way to really get it down is to play a progression made up with the new chords only,then you get more familiar with them and can mix with the older ones.You'll notice you'll get better in knowing the theory and will have more stuff to play with.Don't be afraid to explore and expand your sound.I wish you luck!
    RickerHart
    Beta, I like that. I have about 50 beta segments scattered across different media and it's true that sometimes one will just pop into place in a most unexpected way. Thanks for the article! I used to stress that a beta piece had to represent the foundation of a song, now I can see that it is just a little ditty that hasn't found a home yet.