Approaches to Songwriting
A lot of music students come in with the question of “How do I write a song?”. So, I analyzed my own songwriting, and came up with three basic approaches to sparking the songwriting process. All three are important, and tend to lead into each other.
Carry a notepad or take notes on your smart phone. Begin writing down interesting words, or things that you see. Be more tuned into the world around you, and keep lyric writing in the front of your brain. Once you have some words, you can either write a melody around them, or play chords and force the words to fit within a chord progression into a melody. The benefit of writing lyrics first is that you can say exactly what you want to say, and make the lyrics as rich as you want up front. Also, sometimes creating the words up front causes a songwriter to use phrasing that they normally wouldn’t use. These phrases can be very original and creative.
The garble approach is one of my favorites. I tend to do it alone because it can be awkward for other people to hear you “garbling”. The basic idea is to come up with a chord progression first, or a riff. Then, you begin singing nonsense over the chord changes or “garbling”. Soon, you’ll begin to form actual words and phrases. I love this approach because it is a very organic approach. There is very little thought in this approach and a lot of natural reaction. The benefit of this approach is that you will sing melodies, consonants, and phrases that naturally flow within the progression or riff that you are playing. Also, the words that come out will be a stream of conscious. You will say things that are in your mind already. This is great if you are at a lost for what to write about.
We all are guilty of humming in our cars. Typically, it’s other tunes we have heard, but sometimes a melody will just pop in your head. I tell my guitar students to carry some kind of recording device. Today, it’s easy to record yourself on a smart phone or an IPod. For this approach, you simply hum a melody and then lock it into chords and words. My guitar teacher, Robert Newton, told me one time, “Melody rules!”. He was speaking of the importance of melody. It is very true. Just go listen to the top hits. Typically, the words are pretty shallow, and the melody is very strong. So a strong melody can create a big hit! Also, if you have a melody first, you aren’t locked into a specific chord progression. One of my favorite things to do is to change chords under the same melody. It makes it sound like you are playing a different melody each time.
So are you a poet, garbler, or a hummer. I consider myself to be all three at different times. Here are three things you can do to spark your creativity and songwriting:
1. Carry a notepad, or use your smart phone, and write down lyrics.
2. Create a new riff or progression on you instrument and try to sing along.
3. Start humming and record your melody ideas on a voice recorder.
If you are a songwriter in Columbia, SC, here are some things to check out:
Wednesday- Lucky’s Burger Shack Irmo, 8 pm
Conundrum is a local music hall that features a lot of local & regional songwriters as well.
Good luck writing!