Sometimes when you’ve been writing songs for a while, everything you come up with can begin to seem a little boring. Sometimes when you have never written a song before, the task can seem near impossible. In either case, often times all you need is to learn a few new song writing techniques, and that is exactly what this article is about to teach you.
So the big question when writing a song for the first time is of course: Where do you begin? Exactly what sections of the songs should be written first and last? How much of the song should be planned before writing? Does my song need to have a bridge? The interesting thing is that even most professionals probably won’t have a definite answer for you.
There are some people out there who have been able to find a writing process that works for them. There are also some people that feel like they just can’t seem to get the hang of it. And then there are the people who believe that all methods are garbage and that music should only flow out "naturally".
While it is true that songwriting is certainly a personal experience, there are some methods that can be used to make the whole process easier. This is not to say that all methods will work equally for everyone, but its about finding something that works for you so that you can start having FUN writing music.
If you are completely set on the idea that songwriting should have no structure to it, then I welcome you to quit reading this article right now. Now, if you have chosen to continue reading and are seeking out ways that you can improve, then you are on the right track. You’ll find once you figure out a process that works for you, you will be inclined to write more often.
The following are some interesting techniques you can try next time you start to feel a little fed up with your writing. These only scratch the surface of whats possible, but its a good sample of what many successful writers have used.
1 Old Reliable
This is the tried and true method of writing a song. First you want to find a couple chord progressions for your chorus and verses. Sing over these progressions till you find an acceptable melody that works for you. You’ll probably arrange the song alternating the verse and the chorus until you reach the bridge of the song to change it up a bit. After this you might add a solo or instrumental break and another chorus or two. On top of this you could potentially write an intro and outro and there you have it.
With this method you will at the very least have the start of a solid song (especially if you are writing pop music). However, once you write too many songs this way, you risk sounding too predictable. This is a solid technique to know how to use, but probably shouldn’t be the only one you use.
2 Put The Intensity In Your Opening Line
Instead of writing your chord progressions or lyrics first, try to write a song in terms of intensity or dynamics and how you want it to develop throughout the song. Perhaps you want the intro of your song to be high intensity and and then quiet down into the first verse. Or maybe you would rather start off quiet and build the intensity towards the end of the tune.
Figure out if you would like the either verses or choruses to be the more intense parts of the song. Or maybe you want the first two choruses to be loud, and the final chorus to be quiet. There is really no one way to do it.
A great thing to do is to take a piece of paper and draw out your dynamics of the song before writing it. Where do you want the biggest part of the song to be, and how exactly do you want to get there? Once that is decided, then find chords, melodies and instrumentation to best suit that plan.
3 Begin By Writing The Lyrics
Often times a songwriter will begin writing a tune by finding a good chord progression to work with. So why not challenge yourself to do the opposite? There really aren’t any rules when it comes to songwriting, so by changing up what you write first, you will change up the feel of your usual writing completely.
People generally start by writing the music first because its much easier to fit words/syllables into a given chord progression than it is to find a chord progression that fits with a specific set of words. However, doing it this way usually forces you to come up with new interesting rhythmic patterns you have never tried before.
If you are a metal/prog rock player you will definitely want to try this and see what kind of odd time signatures you can come up with in your writing. Definitely will take some getting used to, but it’s worth it.
4 Take Lyrics From The People Around You (Money For Nothing)
Can’t seem to find any words or stories worth putting into a song? Then take words from other people (no, don’t blatantly steal someone else lyrics). What you can do is start a conversation with someone you know (or a complete stranger is even better).
Listen closely to what they have to say and write it down. With the right mind set, any conversation or personal anecdote has the potential to become a hit song. This is precisely how Mark Knopfler went about writing his hit "Money For Nothing". He went to an appliance store and struck up a conversation with one of the clerks, carefully transcribing what they were saying.
Theres no real skill required for this other than being able to really listen to the people around you.
5 Start By Choosing The Instruments You Want
Before actually picking up an instrument, decide in your head what instruments you’d like the song to have. Once you do, be sure to write it down so you don’t forget.
What you write down could look something like this…"The song will start with a soft piano intro until we get into the opening line of the song, at which point a string section will be added. At the first chorus I will include some bass drum and vocal harmonies in the back that will build up throughout the song. When the final chorus comes I will include a full drum kit and electric guitar. The outro will go back to the original soft piano."
This technique is not only easy, but its fun too! By imagining how you want the song to sound before playing it, you aren’t limited to your own playing abilities and you will probably write more interesting and complex sounds than usual.
6 Find A Writing Partner
Like I’ve mentioned before, music is best when shared. The same thing applies to writing music. Finding someone to write music with is a great thing to do to keep you on track and keep you writing often too.
A good way you can divide the tasks is to have one person compose the music, and the other compose the lyrics. It doesn’t matter who writes what first, and in fact it’s good to try various ways. Once one person has something composed, they can hand it over to the other person to finish.
Afterwards, the two of you can meet up to listen to the final product. From here you can both continuing to work on the tune until it is something you are both happy with and after that you will hopefully have a great new song on your hands.
7 Pick An Emotion Or Situation And Write About That
I’ve always enjoyed this method. Much like the title says, pick a specific emotion or story you want to write about. Don’t be too general when doing this. For example, "joy" is much to general. "The joy of falling in love", is not bad. "The joyful feeling of being in love when you are 10 years old and holding another persons hand for the very first time in an empty school yard" is a great start.
Once you have these details figured out, go on to make note of what musical elements you want to include. This being what kind of instrumentation you want to use, the time signature and the speed of the song, what kind of singers (if any) you want to be on the track, and so on.
Fill up at least one whole page with these details before touching your instrument. Don’t cheat this stage. Actually write it down so you aren’t left guessing later on. Once you have figured out these parts, the actually writing flow out much more naturally. It might sound like a lot of work now, but try it for yourself before you knock it!
If you want to see first hand how this technique works, watch the following video:
Write A Song
At this point you should hopefully feel inspired to start the actual writing process. What you are going to want to do is…
- Pick from one of the above methods (which ever one you liked the most)
- Shut down your computer and remove any possible distractions
- Begin writing a song
Set a time limit and give yourself a couple hours tops to write a full tune beginning to end (the world doesn’t need more half written songs). Continue this process once a day for at least a week and then you will have 7 new songs to enjoy. If you find you enjoy one of them enough, post it to YouTube and send me the link. I’m interested in hearing what you create!