How to learn to write songs
If you’re already a musician or a music passionate person, you most probably started with an instrument in your youth, you saw the passion growing along the years and now you are wondering how to learn to write beautiful songs and express yourself at the maximum of the level. If you are a teenager who is most probably starting his/her path in music right now, this article could most probably open your eyes towards something that can be life-changing for any musician out there: how to write good songs and how to learn the correct process in order to take out the best from you music ideas and squeeze your creativity at the maximum of the level.
How can I write beautiful songs that stick in people’s head being soulful and meaningful at the same time?
Let me tell you something: if you google “how to learn to write songs” you’ll find plenty of results. Most of the time the advice is correct, but it can also be very confusing. It’s plenty of different and contradictory information out there and it’s very difficult to understand which is the most correct process to adopt in order to achieve the best results.
I’m not going to brag here. I started my career in music as a virtuoso guitar player. I am and I was the guy playing eight finger tapping all along, playing fast alternate picking and legato and all I was craving was to have people loving me for that.
I’ve had my own music school in Milan with hundreds of students interested in guitar techniques and how to become a virtuoso. I loved that, but I wanted more. Recently I decided to make a big change in my career and I took some extra time to expand my knowledge in production and songwriting.
Virtuoso guitar playing can be cool, but for me nothing is cooler than reaching anyone’s heart by telling a story, carrying a message, touching the deep feelings of the people, and unleash a change in them. Nothing is more satisfying for me in life.
So I decided to improve my formation, I started to take singing lessons recently and I’m growing up well vocally nowadays. I also started a band called Silent Utopia, and this gave me the opportunity to write the songs I wanted.
I’m a rock/metal songwriter now, but the advice I’m gonna give you can be applied in any style, it doesn’t matter if you’re a pop/new soul artist or a flashy rapper, a jazz songwriter, a country artist, or a rock head like me.
It’s all about collecting the best ideas, creating hooks, creating lyrics that are not wordy and go straight to the point. To use the correct repetitions and the right chord progressions: not over complicated but also not predictable: this is the real challenge.
I started to learn my skills by writing music for the guitar. My first album is definitely not the classic shred guitar hyper virtuoso album. My idea has always been to write songs that can be adapted and played with a lead guitar. So, no long and boring 7 minutes prog-metal virtuoso songs (I would have been able to do it of course) but more attention to simplicity and soulful melodies.
You can listen to my most successful here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSxTlpxaTpU
Concerning the songwriting still, I’m and I’ll always be in “learning mode”. There’s always something new to learn and room to improve. Of course, you would need some courses that would help you, and I hope that this article will be a good tip for you in order to improve your songwriting skills, it doesn’t matter if you’re a navigated musician or you’re starting your path right now. I’m bringing you through the process I’m following nowadays and you’re gonna be part of it.
Songwriting: how to start efficiently
Going back to what I wrote above, songwriting is an art. The more I learn it, the more I see that it’s infinite.
If you google around, you can be VERY confused. It’s plenty of “10 steps to follow” article around, and it’s a true mess.
Everyone says the truth and its contrary. It’s overwhelming.
The truth is that there’s no truth at all. You can start writing songs by lyrics, by a melody, by a rhythm idea… By anything really. It’s plenty of rules but the truth is there are no rules at all. What really matters is the result. What really matters is how you transform your ideas into something useful, that carries a precise message.
My step-by-step process to write songs
As I told you, there are many processes. If you’re a professional songwriter, you’ll find something you know already here, so just in case leave a comment at the bottom of the article to help the users.
Let’s assume you’re an entry-level songwriter, and you’re approaching this science for the first time. Let’s assume you have a very low/poor music theory/harmony knowledge but you want to get through this fantastic creative world.
- Create your archive and always bring with you something to note your ideas during your daily activities:
Creativity is a process that is more efficient when comes naturally. Despite any professional composer has got the right technique and focus to compose even when not super inspired, definitely, the most interesting ideas come when not expected/predicted. At least, this is how it works for me.
My technique is to note ANY idea I could have during my daily activity by just recording myself singing or tapping the tempo or any other way that could help me to fix the idea that came suddenly into my mind
Just sing along you nana-nana or tap the tempo, or whistle it. It doesn’t matter.
To do this I use some gadget that helps me to fix my idea and archive it, or I just use one app on my mobile and I send everything to my archive via email.
This is very cool and useful. If you’re in one of those days in which you’re lazy and unfocused, struggling to find a good idea to work on, you only have to go to your personal archive and choose the best input to work on.
It’s a real wonder when you come back and suddenly you jump into an idea you forgot to develop in the past, but it’s still there.
If you want to be a serious composer and songwriter, please build your ideas archive. Don’t let life itself bringing away your best moments. When an idea (a melody, a rhythm…everything) comes out spontaneously, when developed you listeners will feel the same feelings in their bones.
So, choose one idea that you would like and develop: a chord progression, a melody, a rhythm pattern.
We will talk about the concept of HOOK in another article 😉
- Please be a good nerd and study at least the fundamentals of music theory
Well, you can tell me that it’s plenty of successful musicians and songwriters out there that don’t know a thing about music theory and still can write a good song.
Maybe it can be true for some, for many others it’s an urban legend. A lot of famous singers have songwriting teams behind their shoulders. These guys are professional in music, the most of the time received formal music instruction.
Apart of that, to write good songs you don’t have to be able to analyze The Rite of Spring, you’ve to be able to understand most the movements of the degrees in major and minor scales. You’ve to understand which is the main connection among the different chords and which are the most important chords progressions in famous songs.
This will be really helpful for you.
- Understand the song structure
You can choose to be a prog artist and just screw this passage, but even the most tricky Dream Theather’s songs, has got a Verse, a Pre-chorus, a Chorus, a Bridge.
The standard construction for a song is:
There are all the possible variations to this basic structure: the best thing you can do is to analyze the most famous songs.
Start easy with Let it be by Beatles or U2’s songs. Start from something very simple, with at least 4 chords. You’ll see easily that the most famous Pop songs nowadays are based pretty much on the same chords constructions. Your task is to understand what does work and what doesn’t. Don’t be scared about analyzing songs from top 10 Pop Billboard. Sometimes in the mainstream circuit, there are masterpieces, sometimes, as you may know, there’s crap.
Here is not about the aesthetic judgments, it’s about understanding what works and what doesn’t.
By then, create your song structure. Please mind you’ve to fix a BPM for the song you wanna make.
If you work with a DAW like Logic Pro, Cubase, Protools, etc, you can easily see the length of your song, and fix the general setup, included the structure. Working directly with a DAW is top for me, it really makes a difference in the quality of my work.
If you’re old style, just grab a piece of paper and note a general structure. Make the effort to visualize the song from the beginning to the end in your mind. The more is detailed, the more it will be easy for you to go through the next steps.
- Pick up a chord progression and sing along over it, trying to apply the first idea you found before.
You don’t have to be a pro singer, even if taking some good singing courses can help a lot. You only have to nana-nana or mmmm-ing on your music. It’s easy: just find a link between the chords you choose and your voice.
You’ve to be able to find a good melodic/harmonic/rhythmic idea that merges efficiently with the chords you choose.
Concerning this topic, I’ll dedicate some more deepening on my Patreon page
This step is VERY important
Here’s where you understand if your idea is working or not. So be sure you’re having goosebumps while playing and singing at the same time.
Choose ONE good idea for each part of the song, not more. You’ve to be direct and concise, you don’t want to waste precious time. Go straight to the point in any section and don’t overwhelm the listeners with thousands of ideas.
The process could work more in this way:
One main hook idea for the entire song (mostly it goes to the chorus)
One single good idea for the verses and the other part of the songs.
Operate synthesis: you want that the length of each part of the song is reasonable. The chorus has to be the catchiest part, so keep in mind that the other sections have to prepare/embellish the chorus, and guide the listeners to it slowly and progressively
- Sing the entire song structure from beginning to the end on the tempo
I mostly use a single metronome, this helps me to understand what works and what doesn’t.
Lyrics are of course a big huge thing in songwriting and I’ll talk about it in another article. Writing good and catchy lyrics is an art. A good book I can advise you to read is this one. In Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling you will find a step-by-step guide to write your best possible lyrics.
I’ll dedicate more time to this topic in another article.
Keep in mind this is only the beginning of the trip. The topic is huge and I’m only scratching the surface.
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