11 simple songwriting tips

Added on Saturday 17 Jan 2015

1. Play lots of cover versions including lots of blues based songs. Learn the catalogue of songs from your favourite band. It's teaches you lots; tension and resolution, chords and chord structures, common chord patterns, common song structures.

Learning other peoples songs is learning the language and vocabulary of songwriting. You can learn songwriting structure from books - and that might help - but for me - and I suspect for you - playing songs as enjoyment is the best way.

"..most of our act were covers - we did millions of them.." Paul McCartney on the Jonathan Ross Show

2. Try to let your subconscious write the song: songwriting - certainly at the start of the process - is not a technical exercise; songs are not poetry written to a strict meter; not mathematics; not a puzzle that requires brain power to solve.

So don't think; just get out of the way; it wants to be written - catch it rather than writing it. It's not a logical process - it's a creative process; you already have all the tools you need.

"How does a person create a song? A lot of it is being open... to encounter and to... be in touch with the miraculous." Joni Mitchell

3. How do you come up with melodies? Hum tunes or make nonesense words while playing along with chords or find melodies on the notes of those chords.

'Can you hum?' was what Lionel Richie was told after asking the in-house songwriters how to write songs..

4. Write so often that it becomes a habit. Expect to write a huge amount of really crap songs. You will need to write those bad songs to get to the good ones. The more songs you write the quicker you will recognise the good and the bad. The more you write, the more you will write.

5. Inspiration produces a new song, craft is needed to finish it.

6. When you have an idea - write down absolutely everything related to it. It can really help if you are struggling to write the words for your song. This is also a great technique if you are writing collaboratively - it creates room for everyone to contribute their thoughts.

7. Recognise that most songs are made up of repeated blocks of chords. 2 chords repeated, 3 chords repeated, 4 chords repeated. If you stumble on a chord pattern you play those chords in different orders, different lengths.

8. Learn your instrument - play different styles, different instruments, different keys.

9. Review your song until it's right: get rid of cliche, get rid of verses that say the same thing. Get rid of words that don't sound good when you sing them. Listen to the how the song develops; does it stay interesting all the way through - does it develop dynamically?

10. Play your songs to people and in different environments. Overcome the fear of people not liking your songs; play them soon after you write them; you will get a sense of whether or not they are good. Record your songs and listen back with a critical ear - don't be afraid to throw away verses, change the order of verses, change the structure; experiment.

11. Ask yourself, Is there magic in this song I'm writing? A song is not words, a song is not music, a song is not just words and music.

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