Many aspiring musicians form bands, and want to branch into writing their own music and songs. Knowing how to get started can help the process.
Songwriting skills aren’t some mysterious talent for only a favored few. There are gifted individuals who start composing at an early age and have carved out an illustrious career writing music (Randy Newman). However, learning to create songs just requires practice and determination. These tips can help novice composers find their artistic voice.
#1. Start with your title and hook
Writing the title (or hook) first will help the process go smoothly. If you start working from chords or part of a melody, it will be challenging to fill in the lyrics later. Your personal ideas and experiences deliver the insight you’ll need for your music, so start with a title that engages the listeners curiosity and evokes an emotion.
Consider the song “The Hook” by Blues Traveler. Actually understanding the pertinent verse lyrics is difficult at first, but the excellent harmonica and addicting chorus made this a major hit in the mid 90’s. So, start with your idea first. Look for titles that will engage and intrigue listeners. The song will provide the answers they want.
#2. Develop your theme
Once you’ve decided on a title, now you need to flesh it out. For example, if you choose “Broken-down Shack” for your hook/title, think about words and phrases that complement and contrast the idea. Start brainstorming on paper. Not all of the words and phrase you write down will actually make it into your song, but this step helps get your creativity flowing.
For instance, words that complement the title include rusty, ramshackle, dilapidated, rickety, decrepit, and similar adjectives. Contrasting phrases could be something like strong against the wind, a fortress of safety, comfortable, clean, or unpolluted. Don’t stress over this part. It should be a free-association technique that supports your ideas and feelings about the title. The words and phrases you develop will be the basis for your chorus, verses, and bridge.
#3. Ask yourself questions about the tile/hook
The next learning step involves writing your lyrics. This can be done by answering questions about the title. With the imaginary “Broken-down Shack,” consider these ideas:
- What does the title mean to you?
- Does action take place?
- How do you feel about the meaning or action?
- Why did the action take place? Who’s involved?
- Do you have any hopes or fears about what might happen next?
- Can other people relate to the word images you create?
The last question isn’t as important as the others, because sometimes artists write songs that present a new experience to others. Also, when answering the questions, group your phrases into eight or ten words. That will make it easier to transform them into lyrics, but don’t worry about rhyming too much. That will come later.
#4. Find your melody and chords
Chord progressions aren’t copyrighted, so finding the chords that will support your melody is relatively easy. However, if you don’t already have an idea about the melody, speak the phrases you made out loud and listen to the cadence and inflection of your voice.
For example, say the phrases “How many times do I have to tell you?” and “How many times do I have to tell you!” to yourself. Do you hear the difference? By identifying the natural melodic structure of the phrases you want to use, you can help define the basic foundation of your melody. Start with the chorus and be sure to include your hook/title.
#5. Work on the parts of your song
A verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus structure is your best friend when you're learning to write songs. The verses and chorus contain the same melody and chords, but the bridge adds an emotional dynamic to the music.
Your chorus should include the most important answers to the questions you generated. Verses expand that theme. However, the bridge is where you can include insight and/or a turning point.
#6. Use technology and don’t get discouraged
There are many great songwriting tools available for budding writers. Noteflight is free and simple to use, and Apple's Garage Band is wonderful for creating original works quickly. Learning composition using notation software designed for that purpose removes some of the frustration.
Creating original songs is a great way to expand your musical abilities. Don’t get discouraged while learning, especially if your first attempts don’t end up as awesome as you’ve envisioned. Song writing is a skill that anyone can develop with practice and patience.