If you haven’t written a song before, it might feel like something you just don’t have the innate talent for. I know, because I wrote my first song about two years ago. Before that, I thought I simply was not a songwriter. And the nonlinear creative process was initially very hard to wrap my logical, software-developer, project-manager brain around. I kept looking for 1-2-3 steps!
Sure, some people just seem to have fully-formed songs flowing out of them all the time. If that’s you, you don’t need to read this post. For the rest of us, here are five ways to write songs. I invite you to add a comment about how YOU write songs!
Five Ways to Write Songs
1. Start with Raw Lyrics
Keep a notebook with you and write down words whenever you think or hear or come across anything interesting. Or, take some time and actually sit down and generate words – with or without a theme, emotion or message. Make it a goal to fill a page or two with words – any words.
Don’t try to fit them into a meter, don’t try to rhyme them, and most importantly, don’t judge whether they’re worth the paper. Just get as many words down as possible.
I have a collection of raw lyrics generated this way. Some were generated with a guideline, theme, goal, message, or emotion behind them; others were just raw, undirected lyrics. Some were generated in idle time, others when I felt like I had something to say. Some of these raw lyrics are waiting to be mined for new songs; others have turned into the songs on my upcoming album with STAR, The Phoenix, The Flame.
2. Doodle on an Instrument
Turn on your recording software and let it run. Then, doodle around on an instrument – again, no judge. Just play around and record some sounds. Later, return to the recording and see if anything grabs you. Even a couple of chords can turn into a song. But don’t sit down intending to “write a song” – just sit down intending to explore and play. Write the song later, when you come back to the recording to mine it for ideas.
3. Start with a Riff
Jigsaw, the first track on my new album, started out as a riff written by guitarist and friend Alec Sims. The very first sounds you hear on this song are the exact riff we started with. That riff suggested an emotion, a message. Some lyrical ideas took place from there, suggesting the direction for more chords; and back and forth we went, adjusting lyrics and chords to complete the song.
4. Start with a Lyrical Hook
Faster Disaster, another song on The Phoenix, The Flame, started out with just the title words. I was in The Mission restaurant in San Diego when a combination of something in a magazine, plus a sticker in the window, brought those two words together in my mind. They sounded like a promising hook, so I wrote the chorus around that: “If it’s a faster disaster she’s after, she’s sure living right / If it’s a harder hit she wants, well, she’s in the right fight.”
5. “Borrow” a Song
Grab a notebook, get in the car with no particular destination, and turn on the radio. Use the songs you hear as a source for other ideas. Is there a phrase you can borrow from a song and then go in a whole new direction with it? Would you choose to write different words to the song? Pull over and write down words whenever you can. I’m not suggesting plagiarization, of course. But we’re all products of the music we’re surrounded with. Try tapping directly into it this way.
And finally, regardless of your method, here’s a piece of advice written to me earlier this year by composer Panos Kolias
“When composing, DO NOT FILTER, do not criticize. Have fun, be loud, try things out, hell – it’s the best part of the composing game. At this moment you are the best living songwriter that ever lived! Who are you to dare question the output of the best living songwriter in the world and the best of all times! It’s a very short moment; enjoy it, don’t destroy it.”
How do you write songs?
Thanks to Ryan C. Miller, guitarist of Guitar Villians, for this week’s article topic.
(c) 2010 Adrienne Osborn
Adrienne Osborn is a vocalist and performance coach based in Colorado. For more free articles and tips, visit http://www.PerformanceHigh.net.