What’s the Idea?
A simple 10-step introduction to songwriting, with links to external resources for further study/information.
What’s the story
I’ve studied music since I was a very small child, learning piano and flute from age 8. However, I didn’t venture into singing until age 15, and songwriting later still, in my early 20’s.
I wrote vocals for dance music producers back then, hard dance, trance, house, drum and bass, electro-swing, and eventually moved into writing whole vocals for myself as “Dragon”, and for my band, Ambivert.
People should do this because…?
Song-writing is a very healthy form of self-expression, and a great way to get something you want to say off your chest.
This can be very therapeutic. It’s also fabulous for people who already love to perform and want to do so with original material that they want other people to hear.
But song-writing doesn’t have to be for any of these reasons, you can do it simply because you enjoy the process.
It’s just for you, not for anyone else, or to work through something for therapy reasons. It can be just for your own personal satisfaction.
How do you do it?
Create the raw material for your lyric
1. Start with the title.This will help you stay focused on the overall idea of your song. Create a phrase that sums up what you want to say or look for a phrase that suggests a situation or emotion to you.
2. Make a list of questions suggested by the title.Ask yourself what you want to say about the title and what your listeners might want to know. Make a list of 3 to 4 questions.
3. Choose a song structure. Many of today’s big hits rely on this structure: Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus, but there are other options if you investigate song structure, or study music theory.
4. Choose one question to answer in the chorus and one for each verse. Write down a short phrase that expresses your answer. Look for images and action words to bring your answers to life. What is the singer feeling, thinking, and/or saying? What emotion is the singer feeling and how would you describe it? Try and add emotion to your lyrics.
Go to work on your melody and chords
5. Find the melody in your lyric. Pick a phrase or two from Step 4. Say them out loud. Now say them again but exaggerate the emotion in the lines whilst doing this. Notice the natural rhythm and melody of your speech when you do this, this is the beginning of your melody.
6. Begin to add chords to your chorus melody. Try a simple repeated chord pattern. Play with the melody and chords until you find something you like. Record yourself singing and playing, even if it’s only on your smartphone so you don’t forget it!
Develop your song in sections
7. Work on the lyric in your first verse. Focus on the question you chose in Step 4. Make your first line something that will get listeners interested: an intriguing statement, a question, or a description of a situation.
The second line could potentially restate the first line in a different way or add more information. Don’t move on too quickly, the listeners need time to understand what’s happening in the song.
Verse 1 should give the listeners enough information to understand the chorus when they get there. Go through Steps 5 and 6 with your verse melody and chords.
Connect your verse and chords.
8. Once you have a verse and chorus, create a transition between them so that they flow naturally. Chorus melodies are usually in a higher note range than verses because they’re more emotional, so you may need to raise your verse melody or change the last line to arrive there smoothly.
Build your second verse and bridge.
9. Choose another of your questions to answer in Verse 2. Use Step 7 to work through the lyric. Your second chorus will have the same melody and lyric as the first one, so you just need to add a bridge. The bridge isn’t a requirement but can add a lot of strength to your song. It adds a peak emotional moment, a realisation.
Write two or three lines which lyrically give the listener the best insight you can into the situation or emotion the singer is feeling. The melody should be different from both verse and chorus. Try using a chord you haven’t used before or changing the phrase lengths or motion of the melody.
Record a rough idea of your song
10. A simple piano/vocal or guitar/vocal can often be the most effective emotional statement of your song (if it’s a rock song, do an “unplugged” version). Practise both the instrumental and vocal parts until you are comfortable with them. The less you have to focus on when playing or singing, the more you can let go and feel the emotion in the song. Record for short periods then take a break. Keep the song and emotion fresh!
Stuff you may need
- Manuscript paper
- An instrument such as a keyboard or guitar.
- Condenser Microphone,
- PC/MAC or Laptop
- A package such as Logic, Ableton or GarageBand.