So you want to get into songwriting but aren't sure how to get started. Anybody can write a song and writing a song can be really simple or super complex. But like any craft, your songwriting is going to continue to grow and improve for the rest of your life if you keep practicing it. Here are some things others have explained to me that may help you learn better.
It helps to not think of songwriting as a new thing we have to learn how to do. Let's think of songwriting as something we already do but that we're looking to refine and improve on - because we all do already write songs.
Whether you're already a "songwriter" or not, you're kind of a songwriter because every day you use your words and voice to express your feelings to people. That's what songwriting basically is. Let me give you an exmaple. When you're happy the inflection of your voice leans towards major intervals and you're likely to speak with more energy. When you're excited you speak faster. When you're angry at someone, the words you use the way you speak is entirely different than when you're telling someone the story of why you're sad.
This is the idea behind songwriting! Using music and words together to express something to someone that they wouldn't be able to understand otherwise.
Now that songwriting seems a bit more natural to being a human being, let's look at some ways we can make our songwriting even more expressive and more quality.
Probably the first and most basic part of songwriting is melody. When we say melody, we're talking about a series of pitches or notes. The notes that you decide to use in your song will express different feelings and give new dimensions to your lyrics.
Let's take the song Happy Birthday with which I'm sure we're all familiar.
It's a great example of a happy melody that everyone knows.
Now here's an example of the same song with a melody that's sad. I want you to sing the lyrics for Happy Birthday over the sad melody below notice how complex it becomes. Did someone die? Is the person in bad health? Is it sarcastic?
This brings up another point. When you're writing, you don't have to invent a good melody. It really does seem like the melody has to be invented because the song isn't going to write itself, but really all you're doing is noticing the way a feeling sounds. For example, if I were to speak cheerfully to you, I wouldn't need to invent a way to express cheerfulness. From being a human being and being constantly around human beings, I naturally and intuitively am familiar with cheerfulness and how to express it naturally. If I came up with some innovative "new" way to express my cheerfulness in a conversation, and if it were truly new, you'd have no idea what it was and wouldn't know what I was expressing.
This doesn't mean though that there's no room for creativity. Our experiences are deep and complex and each of us views our experiences from a slightly different perspective. This can imbue our music with our own personality and sense of originality. As an artist, this can give your music authenticity as your natural characteristics find their way into each song you write.
All the time I hear great musicians who are interested in songwriting tell me they can write music but they just can't seem to write the lyrics. Here are some things that can help.
The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. -T.S. Elliot
Check out this website. It's not specifically for songwriting but it works for just getting you to write. Spending 15 minutes each day writing can really help you open up and get comfortable putting your thoughts on paper.
Part of good writing happens spontaneously and some of the magic comes from creating in the moment. Freestyling can be a good way of articulating how you're feeling and getting it out there in real-time. Feel free to set up a recording app on your phone and record it to listen back, or just do it without recording it.
Notice your emotional state and use that to rap about. If you feel confident start talking about your confidence. If you feel anxious or nervous your first time, just describe it in rhythm.
Write a Letter
Write a letter to someone who you have something compelling to say something to. Maybe it's your mom or someone you care about who means a lot but to whom you never have the right opportunity to express that care. Maybe you want to write a silly letter to a friend just to have fun. Just practicing writing in a natural way but feeling motivated to make the other person feel how you feel is a good exercise for writing songs. Notice the tendency to want to write straight from your heart and pour out your raw unedited motivation accompanied by wanting to edit and refine that expression to make it more understood or acceptable by that person.
Go on a trip!
Sometimes our lives can get a bit stale. Caught in a routine we stop noticing the things that make each moment of our lives vibrant. We can call this writer's block or a slump or whatever, but the basis is that we've stopped having experiences to translate into song. Sometimes shaking off the routine, being spontaneous, and putting yourself in an environment that supports you being in the moment can refresh your songwriting perspective.
Join our online songwriting circle! We host an online songwriter circle to stimulate creativity and build community around the practice of songwriting. If you want inspiration, it's great fun to work with other people who are passionate about the activity. Check it out and we'd love to see you at an online event.
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This is just an intro into songwriting. Delving into melody, lyrics, and chords can really jumpstart your progression into your work as a songwriter. Remember, songwriting is like any other skill and it takes time to make things that other people think are great. Be patient with yourself and just focus on making the best song you can right now.