A Songwriter's Guide to Making Music

I’ve been writing songs for a couple of decades and it never ceases to amaze me what new and innovative ideas form in my head and how to sculpt them into a full blown song. 

If you’ve never written a song before the thought of doing so can be daunting. Where do I start? 

Start with what you know. Do you play an instrument, sing, or do both? Being able to play an instrument, such as guitar or piano, gives a musician a certain bit of leverage because they are able to form basic chords or melodies to gain access into a new song idea. If you sing yet play no instrument, you should collaborate with someone that can play an instrument so that you’re able to find the notes or chords you’re looking for…unless you like to sing a cappella. 

Some of the best songs revolve around a musician’s personal experience. Currently I am working on an album, songs derived from personal experiences that happened in 2020 and 2021. I’m sure everyone has had some experience in 2020 to write about. Write a song about the virus, lockdowns, snow storms, life, love, and the list goes on. 

First you need an idea for a song, as mentioned above look for any personal experience you want to share. Fans (family and friends included) love to listen to songs that resonate from a personal experience. They will feel embodied as if they themselves lived that experience, such as love, lost a loved one, and personal struggles. These are song topics people relate to. 

Now that you have a personal experience in mind that you feel like would make a good song, there are two approaches. Do I write the lyrics or the chord progression first? I will assume you are playing the instrument and singing (at least to get the ideas down). Sometimes the first verse to a song just hits me when I least expect it. I immediately write it down. Don’t fret, this is just a rough draft, not Shakespeare. Other times the idea for a chorus comes to me, same thing I’ll immediately write it down. On the flip side, there are times I’ll be playing my guitar and a chord progression just resonates with me, so I write it down. Either way write your ideas down as soon as you can. 

If you are collaborating with someone, you can approach it the same way. If you are the singer, the moment you get ideas down for a song, whether it’s a verse or chorus, write it down. If you are playing the instrument write your ideas down. Be mindful that you have to sometimes let ideas steep. What I mean is, when you get an idea for a song from a personal experience, just let it mull over in your mind. Just keep thinking about that experience and how you are able to put it into song form. Once a lyric or chord progression comes to you then write it down. 

I’ve never sat down and randomly wrote a song. That is not a good approach. You first need an idea for a song, best ones are from your personal experiences. Then at some random moment, usually for me it’s late at night while I’m watching Netflix, I will pounce on the idea as soon as it happens. First write down the ideas, then you can put all the collective ideas together and trim away into a full blown song. 

Once you’ve written down an idea for a verse, play around with ideas for a chorus. If you’ve got an idea for a chorus think of how you can tell the story for the verses. Remember that the verses tell the story while the choruses highlights the message of the song. It can be daunting writing the second verse. Keep in mind that you’re telling a story through song. The second verse is merely a continuation of the first verse. 

If you’re new to songwriting or just want some better structure in songwriting there is a formula you can use. The standard song formula is: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus. You can substitute the bridge for either an instrument solo, or reintroduce the verse or chorus as an instrumental. Either way, this gives the song a shift so that you don’t incur some level of monotony. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again people have a tendency of tuning it out and will no longer listen. 

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to write songs. Once you get some basic ideas down on paper, lyrics, chords, etc., you may find yourself tweaking this and that which is perfectly fine. Main thing is to get the song ideas down so you can build on it. Remember this is your song. You’re only limited by your creativity.

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