The Notepad

I am going to discuss a method I've discovered, which is seeming to bare positive results. The method I will discuss will show my own way of writing and planning a song, which I've Simply titled "The Notepad".

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Ever since I picked up a guitar, my soul aim was to be able to write songs. Two years in almost, I still haven't got one song (both music and Lyrics) done. This article will discuss reasons why I personally haven't finished a song, and also a new method I've developed which seems to be guiding me forward rather well. Why do I personally Fail at Songwriting? This is the question I asked myself a few days ago, and it's in my nature to try and find the answer. So I booted up the computer, and looked up why exactly Songwriting is a hard business. My search gave me tonnes of reasons. These are the few that personally effect me: 1. There's a chance that I forget riffs I make up, as I sometimes don't record them. 2. Riffs I do make up become stale when I play them. 3. I can never think of a way to progress from, or apply this riff 4. I become Demotivated. So what did I do about these issues I had? Okay, well, I took a look back at my rather epically failed songwriting past, especially at the times that I becan to have a song form. I noticed that I kept going through a certain process. This process is most likely flowing through your mind if you have gone to this article seeking help with songwriting. Basically, you strive to get a riff down. Afte you pin a riff down, you really want to get the rest of the song done, so you mess around, and see what sounds good. It's here the problems start. From here, you either just trail off, and end up with a structureless drone of riffs and chord progressions, or you slow down, become demotivated about your playing, and leave it somewhere to die in the back of your brain. So I thought more and more, and I wanted to figure a way to keep the ball rolling when it comes to songwriting. It was then I came across two things: 1. I found an interview by one of my favorite musicians, discussing how he writes songs. He said that he'd always think two moves ahead, so he never get stuck. He would find a riff he liked, and becasue he had already thought previously what he wanted to do next, he could keep going through the song. A rather impressive strategy I'd say. 2. I am a member of a Nightwish page on a social networking site. At the moment, they're writing the next album in the summer camp they go to, and they uploaded a bunch of photos, which I decided to look at. Basically, I wanted to see what the environment this band had when songwriting. It was then I found a certain photo. It was a massive board with a song title at the top, and a big plan of a song structure. It had allsorts. There was bits slashed out, references to chord progressions and techniques in the verese and chorus, and a big arrow with "Pantera" written on it; most likely a suggestion of influence. I was blown away by the plan Nightwish had set out, which inspired me to write about... The Notepad It was now the time i decided I wanted an organised way of keeping my mind on songwriting. After a few hours of planning, I came up with this version of common "Planning Out" songwriting techniques. I'm rather happy with how this method's coming along for me, so I thought I'd share it with you guys. So read on! What does my method Include? Well, first off, I need you to get yourself a pencil and a Notepad (hence the name). This notepad will be the basis of the system I'm going to show you. This method consists of several sections, each taking up 1-2 pages of the book (some bits even more so). Below, I have sectioned the different bits of the process in the order I'd do it. Feel free to mix and match these sections as you find most easiest. Section One: The Main Plan I take up the first page with the Main Plan. This will include the structure of the song, the Key the song is in and the Name of the song. Also, this page should be used to write down particular techniques you want to use in different areas. Here's a piece of one of My Main Plans as an example: Intro: Repeated Short Riff (x3) with alternate ending- Main Riff Repeat riff 2-3 times with two-chord pregression into verse Verse: Palm-Mute, Slide Use one section of "Main Riff" as an interval for vocals Maybe repeat for a second verse As you can see, I have written the beginning of a song structure, and what I want to use within the different parts. An easy way to do this, is just thing of a cool-sounding song structure in your head, and write it down straight away. This way, the basic gist is immortalised onto the paper, for you to experiemnt with. My example is incredibly simple. you can go into what chords/notes you exactly want to use, how long you want it to be etc, but I like to keep it simple, so i have room to experiment. And keep in mind, this section is prone to editing. Don't be afraid to edit your Main Plan if it's really necessery. Section Two: Lyrical/Music Theme In this section, we'll begin to think of a theme for our song to possess. I like to do this is in the form of a brainstorm, but any way you feel is best will suffice. Basically, just start writing down general ideas on themes for a song, and illaborate on them. An example from my own is I wrote down "Norse". I extended this to "Vikings", "Axe", "Longboats" and a few more. Basically, I just noted down random words from different areas; anything to give you an idea. From this point, choose a few of your favorite ideas, and illaborate further. Keep doing this until you come to... Section Three: Song Names In this section, you simply take your chosen theme, and write a bunch of name suggestions down. Use the whole page to figure out a goo name, and once you have one, write it into Section one for reference. Note: Many prefer to come up with Names later on in the process. Don't be afraid to skip this section until you need it. Section Four A: Musical Notes I name this Section Four A simply because it is one part of a process which can come in any order of each other. In this section, you jot down any music-based ideas. I do this by writing down in tab form any ideas I have. Also, use this page to write down ideas for other instruments for later use. Now, you've gotta be careful here. People can easily end up writing a good riff, playing it a few times, get bored of it, scrap it and never progress the song. For God's sake, so matter how much you hate it, you've gotta remember that you loved that riff when you first made it up, and it's only the fact you've played it so much that's making it boring for you. Keep it, and use it! Section Four B: Lyrical Notes In this section, it's time to get ideas for lyrics. What I like to do here, is write down small phrases which sound good to the theme. Eventually, you get a whole page of different quotes which could be used and experimented with. Begin with clusters of phrases, then as you go thorugh pages, slowly cluster together some ideas for chorus and verse lines. Section Five: Piecing Together This section isn't necessarily needed in the Notepad, but it's obviously needed to finish a song. Basically, take your collection of different pieces of music (I hope you wrote it lightly following your plan's specs, if not, very close to them) and piece them together, making sure it all goes smoothly, and like you want it to. After that, Look at your lyrical pieces. This is the tricky part, getting lyrics over your music. You can merely sing bits over the song, and see what it's like, or get the whole intrumental done, and continue with lyrics afterwards. Its entirely up to you. Well, that's it guys, my method of planning a song. I'm sure it's a pretty common method, but it seems to be working for me so far. Just remember to keep your Notepad close incase inspiration strikes, and happy songwriting!. As always, feel free to contact me through comment, Message or on my E-mail: coopercoe@hotmail.com Thanks!

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Metallica1554
    Pretty decent article, I'm in the same position and can't complete an idea that comes to my head in the form of a riff
    Dirty D McGee
    Disturbed_EMG wrote: I see the point/reasoning behind this, and I'm sure it will work for some people. I tend to just make my songs up (the basic idea anyway) on the spot, and if I like/disliked something I keep it, scrap it or try to improve on it. So, this doesn't have any bearing on me personally, but I know that the whole 'planning out a song' thing works for some people, so more power to you.
    Yeah, I tend to hear complete songs (minus the lyrics) and then go hunting to find what I'm hearing.
    zackisme
    i have a notebook, but barely write ideas in it. i'm gonna start doing this now and run everything in it by my friends (trying to start a band) and see what comes out of it. it seems like a really good idea
    5lX5TRlNG5
    Thx I'm gonna start writing sons soon and this is like I struck goldat my fingertips! I already printed this and trying to fit riffs together THX
    ttc217
    good article man. I feel the same way; I always come up with good riffs and progressions, and then try to run from there and try to create the rest of the song. I eventually get lost and never complete a song. I will try this out and hopefully it helps. thanks!
    johnpatrickf57
    any system that works for you is good, the main thing i think is to just stay with it. a good song can take 10 minutes or ten years, (ive got both). now inspiration, there is an ingredient that causes the dough to rise. so....get some inspiration and your tunes will start and finish themselves, all you do is lay em down.
    dragozan
    Mr. HaYsEeD wrote: Great article! Focuses on the "technical" aspect if I can call it that. I just want to add, and feel free to disagree, it's just something I've picked up and think is important. The way you sing the lyrics is important to how you get the meaning of the lyrics across and the emotion in the lyrics. Thus planning this out in the early stages will help you write the music to suit the whole idea of the message you want to get across i.e. not having metal riffs for a love song etc. Just my 2 cents
    Thisll work great man but it can be difficult without a system of planning out how the notes go. obviosuly, the easier was would be to write it out with sheet music form, but yeah, apply this if you can
    Mr. HaYsEeD
    Great article! Focuses on the "technical" aspect if I can call it that. I just want to add, and feel free to disagree, it's just something I've picked up and think is important. The way you sing the lyrics is important to how you get the meaning of the lyrics across and the emotion in the lyrics. Thus planning this out in the early stages will help you write the music to suit the whole idea of the message you want to get across i.e. not having metal riffs for a love song etc. Just my 2 cents
    Disturbed_EMG
    I see the point/reasoning behind this, and I'm sure it will work for some people. I tend to just make my songs up (the basic idea anyway) on the spot, and if I like/disliked something I keep it, scrap it or try to improve on it. So, this doesn't have any bearing on me personally, but I know that the whole 'planning out a song' thing works for some people, so more power to you.
    Ic3
    my problem is that i have like pices of lyrics or riffs that i yust can't seem to puzle together
    dragozan
    KurdtStaley wrote: I've been using a similar method to this for a few months now and haven't really gotten great results. My real problem isn't the guitar, it's that I am never happy with lyrics I write. The structure of songs and the chords and melody seem to be things that come naturally to me and I write a lot of, but I am very rarely content with a lyric and so I never get much finished.
    This is true for so many professioanl artists, beleive it or not. An example is Lordi. They've released 4 albums, and are releasing a 5th in september. The singer has said that this 5th album is the first he's really proud of. IT took him 4 great albums to get to a state of musical satisfiaction, so i think the harsh trick to begin with is to just keep pressing on whenever you want to songwrite
    Myshadow46_2 wrote: Did you finish a song?
    As for this, I am currently halfway through my plan with the music to a song, which i'm rather proud about keep in mind, this method is adapted from common planning methods which have worked for so many
    KurdtStaley
    I've been using a similar method to this for a few months now and haven't really gotten great results. My real problem isn't the guitar, it's that I am never happy with lyrics I write. The structure of songs and the chords and melody seem to be things that come naturally to me and I write a lot of, but I am very rarely content with a lyric and so I never get much finished.
    Andragon
    Spell-check it next time. Good article. Many don't think of the "drawing board" as a useful technique.
    TheDissident
    I thought it was a pretty interesting and thought out article... the fact that it was well written as far as grammar and spelling goes is just a bonus
    turn_the_page93
    ive been playing guitar for like six years roughly, and i like to think that i jumped this hurdle like two or so years ago. i find that you shouldnt force material from yourself. i like to be inspired and WANT to write whenever i feel like it. alot of the coolest songs ive heard were usually spontanious with the moment. but anyways, i like it. this is a good, easy to understand article.
    blizzboy
    I can't complete a song unless I'm jamming with my bandmates. So if I come up with something small, a little riff I like (I don't write lyrics anymore), I just wait for the right time to throw it at them, and it tends to turn into something cool. It's always fun to practice with others, and it can help alot.
    thanatopsis_6
    Couple things I keep in mind: 1. some songs barely have lyrics at all and they're total successes.. 2. seems like a lot of people write the lyrics first and then tailor the music comp to them (which is why in the background it sounds less like music and more like they're trying to get the guitar to actually SAY the phrase..) 3. Just because there are so many examples and guidelines and FAQS (and terms like riff and hook and progression), don't ever quit just experimenting with your instrument like a toy.. Doubt all the greats got to where they are by learning everyone else's music first. Most of the true magicians sit for hours alone, with nothing but the guitar, hunting something NEW.. 4. And finally! Sad but true, we're all more creative when we're destroyed by life and sick as dogs. So try to pick up the pen for lyrics during your most fatalistic/defeated times..