A Systematic Approach To Song Writing

author: Afterhours date: 10/19/2009 category: songwriting
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There are many different methods that can be used when writing a song. Some people develop a hook and build the song around it, some may write lyrics then compose the music around it, others may write a chord progression then write lyrics around it..etc. The ultimate goal is to put it all together to create a song with a harmonically pleasant chord progression, a melody line that fits the progression, meaningful lyrics, appropriate lead fills and solos and an arrangement of various instrumental voicing which compliments the overall song. It may seem like a daunting task to some, but it's not as difficult as it may seem if you take a systematic approach. There is no right or wrong way to approach song writing, but for many people, the big stumbling block isWhere do I start? This is where my lesson comes in. While it is not by far the only or best way to approach song writing, I have found over the years that it works very well for me. I'm just sharing my methods as it maybe helpful to others. My method involves breaking things down into five steps or phases. The development of a chord progression and basic song structure. The development of lyrics. The development of a vocal melody/harmony lines. The development of lead fills and solos. The development of additional instrumental arrangements. 1. The development of a chord progression and basic song structure This is the initial foundation on any song. This is where a good understanding of music theory is very helpful. A solid understanding of intervallic relationships makes building chord progressions fairly easy. As we all know, certain chords resolve well into others. They just seem to just fit and sound good together. Knowing what the chords are in a given key is much more efficient when building a progression, rather than hunting and pecking or playing random chords until you stumble upon something that sounds good. For example, in the key of A Major, the intervallic relationship or triads would be;
I    ii      iii       IV       V       vi         vii*
A    Bm    C#m/Dbm     D        E     F#/Gbm    G#m/Abdim
Here's another example of the intervallic relationship in the key of D Natural Minor;
i      ii*     III     iv     v     VI        VII
Dm    Edim      F      Gm    Am    A#/Bb       C
Using this, you can build the basic structure of the song. You can develop a verse progression, a chorus progression, a bridge progression, a pre-chorus progressionetc. This becomes the foundation of your song. It doesn't matter if the song is rhythm based, riff based or arpeggio based, it's still developed around the progression. One of the benefits of developing the song around intervallic relationships is that you can transpose it into any key to adjust for the vocal range of the singer, but I'm getting ahead of myself here. Now that you have a progression and basic structure of the song, you can decide on what time signature and tempo you want it played in. Will it be an up-beat song, something dark melodic and driving, a smooth jazzy swing, a slow ballad.something in between? It's really up to you. At this point, a well-written progression and structure should sound pretty good just on it's own. The chord progression should flow well, create and release tension and create a mood or feeling which will be used to develop a theme for the next step or phase, the development of lyrics. 2. The development of lyrics Lyrics without music is really just a poem. Writing lyrics without musical context has traditionally given me the hardest time, and in a sense, it has lead me into this systematic method of song writing. Now that you have a basic mood and feeling created by the chord progression and basic song structure, you need to develop a theme for your lyrics. Certain rules of thumb apply, but like any rule, it can be broken. It only makes sense that if a song is written in a major key and has a bright, up beat rhythm, you would think of a lyrical theme that matches or at least complements the feel of the progression. A lyrical theme that was dark and melodic probably would create a sense of harmonic tension if written over a bright sounding progression. But then again, that maybe the something you want to do on purpose. In the end, it's actually up to you. 3. The development of a vocal melody/harmony lines The vocal melody/harmony lines, like the lyrical theme, should fit the basic mood and feeling of the chord progression. One thing to take into consideration is the syllabic count or timing within the lyrics. There's usually a natural sense of flow in music and having odd lyrical syllable timing in relationship to the underlying beat or rhythm can disrupt that sense of flow. 4. The development of lead fills and solos Once you get to the point of having a chord progression and the basic song structure, the lyrics and lyrical melody line down, you can start working on adding in the lead fills and solos. I usually do this after laying down the vocal tracks as it lets you hear where the gaps or breaks are within the singing. What you want to avoid is masking or playing over the singing. Lead fills normally sound better when they're played in the gapsthose parts of the song in between the lyrical lines. You can play directly over the lyrics, but those are usually in unison pitch and timing wise with the singingbut I don't consider those fills.I consider that more part of the instrumental arrangements. 5. The development of additional instrumental arrangements This is the final step or phase. This is the point where you would add in any additional instrumental arrangements to add depth and dynamics to the song. Adding strings, organs, horns.etc. can really build up parts of the song and make it sound full. That wall of sound leading up to breaks or during the chorus can bring out the dynamics of the song. Well, that's it in a nutshell. I hope this was helpful. I've included a link if you're interested in listening to some of my songs that I've written using this method. Myspace . If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me.
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